In the end of Fincher’s noire crime drama Seven, there’s a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Read by Morgan Freeman’s character, William Somerset, he says, ” ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”
The world is not a fine place. David Fincher highlights this through his cinematic style. In fact, his cinematic worlds are similar to that of Taylor Sheridan. Often Fincher depicts depraved societies hauntingly similar to our own. Corrupt politicians; biblical killers; underground clubs we’re not allowed to talk about (but you know the name of).
Unlike Sheridan, it’s easy to say Fincher’s films aren’t true-to-life because of their emphasized spotlight on evil and/or mischievous subject matters. David Fincher applies his style through various filming techniques that make his movies appear shaded and the backgrounds quite distant. Sheridan’s perspective is a broad picture. He shows the complexities of mankind from a wide angle. No character is truly good or bad. Fincher, on the other hand, finds a way to zoom in on the individual and blur out the light around them. I mean this literally and figuratively.
Bad people win. That’s how it is. Entertainment platforms will have you believe the opposite. People dive into books, movies, TV and Netflix to escape the harsh reality around us. Dark movie theaters keep our eyes averted towards the light. When the credits roll, people step outside and pause. They say, “It got dark already?”
In Seven, John Doe completes his mission to effectively personify the Seven Deadly Sins. Even though he’s killed, there’s hardly satisfaction knowing he’d won. In Zodiac, Robert Graysmith finds Arthur Leigh Allen working in a hardware store and looks him in the eye, just as he aimed to do. But when the credits roll we see Arthur Leigh Allen, the prime suspect, died of a heart attack before police could bring him back in and face incriminating evidence. In Gone Girl, Amy returns home to Nick. Nick is absolved of any suspicion he murdered his wife, but Amy keeps him hostage in the marriage, blackmailing Nick into staying with her.
Even in defeat, the villains triumphant. Or the hero is so far gone it doesn’t even matter anymore. People who leave a David Fincher film are thrilled to see the light of the stars above them. No neat bow. Chewed up loose ends. We feel uncomfortable, unsettled, because it reminds us how depraved our world is. And what we watch from Fincher might as well be a dramatic documentary.
The stereotype goes that whereas most of the Western world is fixated on media sex, Americans are fixated on media violence. While this may be true, I know plenty of Americans that enjoy good media sex too.
I kid. But this stereotype has traction when you consider Hollywood’s notoriety for churning out films saturated with violence. Going so far as to make movies where the only redeeming factor is violence. Horror movies do it for shock. Action movies do it for fun. The effect of violence has been so overused in modern media that it’s ironically no longer effective.
Except in David Fincher films. The difference? Fincher uses fictional violence as a tool, not as the foundation for his movies. Violence and brutality is ingrained in human nature, similarly to sex. It shouldn’t be shied away from, but it also shouldn’t be overdone. When sex is overused, we get porn. When violence is overused, we have fictional snuff. While Fincher’s violence can be shocking, disturbing and make people squeamish, he does so in a way that propels the plots and characters of his movies.
In Zodiac, violence is used to create a sense of urgency to catch this killer before he does it again.
Same goes for Seven, but in Seven violence is also used to show two sides of the same coin.
When Lisbeth is brutally assaulted in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it was hard to stomach, but the scene allowed Lisbeth to prevail and flip the power balance against her attacker. This flip proves to the viewer that Lisbeth is not to be trifled with.
In Fight Club, violence is a means of self destruction, a pivotal theme in the film and the book. So it seems, the harsher the beatings, the higher the enlightenment.
Like swearing, it’s all about timing. Two wristwatches and a wall clock.
Like I said before about Seven, violence is used to show two sides of the same coin. John Doe (Kevin Spacey), Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) view the city they live in as a putrid cesspool. The only differences comes by their individual means of dealing with their disgust. John Doe murders those he’s disgusted by; Somerset quits his job to walk away from it all; and Mills claws his way into the city to help make a difference.
In Gone Girl, Nick and Amy are unhappy in their marriage. But both characters act out on this depression in different ways. Nick (our supposed hero) has an affair which is commonly frowned upon. Amy fakes her death to frame him for murder, which is not only illegal, but frowned upon as well.
Fight Club, well … I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it. But those who have know what I’m talking about.
One coin, different sides.
Anti-heroes are essential to a David Fincher style film. When our protagonist’s ideals are so in line with the antagonist that they might as well be running parallel, supporting our hero gets complicated. It is not cut and dry. It is certainly messy. In many cases, Fincher’s characters are not only flawed, but downright crummy people. To see that they’re only one push away from the brink is discomforting. And this discomfort creates an anti-hero on screen.
Brutal and unforgiving, David Fincher hammers his style, offers viewers a glimpse into the microcosm of human nature. Our reality is grim, but not nearly as grim as the high-focused spotlight Fincher puts on darkness, showing us how world is not a fine place, but certainly one worth fighting for.
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Featured Image Source: IMDB David Fincher