David Fincher is the auteur of many awesome and cleverly constructed movies. Some of his films are even in the cult film list. He touches modern world dreams and shows audiences the transformation of dreams to problems. He has his own signature that can be understood from his all movies. Signature is director’s “certain recurrent characteristics of style over a group of films” (Sarris 562). In this paper, David Fincher’s signature and the structure of his films are analysed by auteur theory. According to auteur structuralism, auteur theory takes “a group of films of one director and analyse their structure” (Wollen 576). In this paper, David Fincher is analysed by his three important films that are shooted in different times of his director experience. These films are Fight Club (1999), The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008), and Gone Girl (2014).
David Fincher says “Some people go to the movies to be reminded that everything’s OK, I don’t make those kinds of movies. That, to me, is a lie. Everything’s not OK.” in one of his interview. He shows this pessimist side of him in his films. All three of his movie that are covered here end with sadly. The story of his films is the modern world wishes and problems, mostly. In his stories, the city and especially the middle class ideals are transformed into a nightmare. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there is a wish: To be younger as time goes by. This modern life wish is processing by problematic way. Film shows audience this is not as good as they desire. Fight Club’s story is to break the narcotization effect of consumer culture on people. Insomnia, non-stop working without any internal gain, and buy needless stuffs for achieving internal welfare are big problems of modern life. This film tries to make awareness about these problems by touching to masculinity. In Gone Girl, the main problem is marriage.
The other thing that the pessimist side of David Fincher can be seen is the end of movies. All three of his movie that are covered here end with sadly. In addition to sad ends, there is nothing to do to change this ends. This ends happen like godly punishment. There is no way out. Audiences feel that hopelessness wanders in their blood. In Gone Girl, Nick Dunne should endure Amy in all his lifelong. Amy manipulates the laws and there is no justice for Nick. All he can do is to make a living in peace with Amy. This makes audience feel uncomfortable. After the film, audience queries the laws. In the end of Fight Club, there is explosion of economic bank centres, namely, Narrator cannot be succeed to save the modern life. Moreover, He shot himself from his head, most probably he will die. If he survives, his life ends in prison. None of the possibility is good. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the story goes to inevitable end: Death. By either getting older or getting younger, the end is the same. And everything loses its meaning when there is death.
In David Fincher films, there is no hero and heroic events. Nobody saves the world or even himself. In one of his interview, for answering the question that is about whether he likes to make superhero films, he says:
“I’m not interested in doing “A Superhero”. The thing I liked about Spider-Man was I liked the idea of a teenager, the notion of this moment in time when you’re so vulnerable yet completely invulnerable. But I wasn’t interested in the genesis, I just couldn’t shoot somebody being bitten by a radioactive spider — just couldn’t sleep knowing I’d done that. ”
Daily life issues are things that he interested in. So, the characters who has his/her own personal problems, and moreover has own existential problems are the characters that he tries to find. Like he mentioned above, main character of Fight Club, Narrator, is an insurance officer that has insomnia. In Gone Girl, main character is a married man, Nick Dunne, who cheats his wife. Except for Benjamin Button. Generally in his films, average people face to extreme things that are not extraordinary. Generally in his films, average people face to extreme things that are not extraordinary except Benjamin Button. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Benjamin born as eighty years old man. Even so, he faces the normal life problems. None of David Fincher’s characters tries to save the world. There is no heroic meaning of their actions and also there is no heavenly gain.
David Fincher does not comply the mythic structure of storytelling in his films. The character has no noticeable change in any stage through the way that goes to his aim. In addition, David Fincher says that he is “not interested in the Hero With a Thousand Faces”. The main character does not have a mind teacher. He is alone on his own way. Almost all of the films have elements such as claustrophobic, depressive, dark, isolation, and loneliness. This dark atmosphere he created is the most important part of the story. Benjamin Button comes to world alone and most of his life he is lonely. These parts are the ship times and the adventure that he goes after his daughter is two years old. Narrator, in Fight Club, is alone. His loneliness is at the level that he creates imaginary person, Tyler Durden. Before Tyler Durden, he goes to group therapies just to be listened by someone (Fight Club, 00:16:17). In Gone Girl, it seems like there is a difference because Nick Dunne has a sister who is her best friend. Yet, in story, there seems that they are not so much close each other. He could not say that they have problems with Amy (Gone Girl, 00:50:48). Moreover, he did not even tell her Amy did not want a child (Gone Girl, 01:00:34).
In David Fincher films, before he wants to show, nobody can understand what is going on. He hides the truth masterful. In Gone Girl, until he shows audience to Amy’s cleverly prepared plan, everyone thinks that Nick can be able to kill Amy. In Fight Club, David Fincher makes audience huge shocked. Even after he shows that Tyler Durden is an imaginary character, a lower self, many of audiences cannot believe. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, audiences learn Caroline is Benjamin’s daughter with Caroline. Audience becomes also a part of the game.
David Fincher chooses the film stories from books. All of three movies are the books firstly. Fight Club is a book, has the same name, written by Chuck Palahniuk in 1996. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a short story that named the same as the film written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921. Gone Girl is an adaptation from the book written by Gillian Flynn in 2012.
The color usage of David Fincher is formed from deep yellow or blue color tones. It can be easily said that he uses only this two color. In Gone Girl, neither yellow nor blue color represent the past. Both of them are used both in past and present. In Fig.1 there is deep yellow and in Fig.2 there is blue color usage. Both scenes are from past.
In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there is weighteness of deep yellow and blue colors. In this film, the present time, Daisy’s hospital room, always has a blue color. Yet, blue is also used in past time with deep yellow. Fig.4 is the picture from present. In Fig.3 there is yellow color usage from past.
In Fight Club, there is also both deep yellow and blue color usage. But, because this movie is more darker, the tones of the colors are darker too. In Fig.5, there is yellow usage and in Fig.6 there is blue color usage. Fig.6 is the darker one. When audiences look at color usage, they can easily notice David Fincher’s signature.
Lighting is one of the most thing in film. “The same scene filmed in a different light would produce a different impression” (Metz 68). While the lighting is so important, the effects of auteur on lighting is a special for their own. David Fincher completes his depressive and dark side of his film with the low key lighting. There is almost never high key lighting usage in his film. In some scenes, he uses extreme low key lighting. He uses this to make audience pay closer attention to what they see. In Gone Girl, he uses close up with extreme low key lighting like a warning as seen in Fig.7. The diary is an important element on both storytelling and as the clue for Amy’s game.
In Fight Club, all fighting scenes are shot with low key lighting. In the beginning of something, there is extreme low key lighting like the first fight of Tyler and Narrator and Fig.8, the gone of Tyler. David Fincher uses this lighting for focusing something.
In The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, extreme low key lighting usage is not as much as it is in Fight Club. But also here, this lighting is used for pointed out something. The important events of Benjamin’s life are mostly shot by using of extreme low key lighting like in the scene of Daisy’s first dance in front of Benjamin. In Fig.9, there is something big almost happen, too. Benjamin faces with the evil side of war, the real war. After these couple scenes, he lost his captain that is one of the important character of his life.
David Fincher Films’ one of the feature is that he never cuts the background sound if background is noisy. Generally in important scenes, that audiences learn information about story going, he uses this technique. This engages audience’s attention to story. So, this noisy background sound acts like low key lighting. In Gone Girl, in bathroom scene, while Nick repeats the sentence that he want to say on TV about Amy’s sickly and obsessively bad side when she gets home. There is too loud water sound to almost not hear Nick’s words. This is because the thing that Nick wants to do is so important. David Fincher uses background sound to gain audiences attention on this scene. In The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, in the scene that Benjamin goes to New York to see Daisy after her show. On the backstage of the show, between the dressing room, there is an atmosphere of celebration. There is too much background sound. This sound level uses to point that Daisy reject Benjamin. This scene is important, so David Fincher provides audience understand that, in his own way. In Fight Club, there is not too much background sound usage to take attention. Instead of it, there is whispering usage. In the conversation of Narrator & Marla, in restaurant there is dish sound and the background sound is not noisy but Narrator talks like whispering and for audiences this is hard to hear it.
The camera usage of David Fincher is also special. He generally uses stable shots. Almost none of his shots in movie is shaking. His camera is not like someone watch something. He use camera like there is no human behind camera. Moreover he uses the camera movements to break the reality. In Gone Girl, when Amy comes home and falls Nick’s arms, camera pans up like to say the audiences that this is fake. In addition to this, he uses camera movements sharply. Stable and heavenly movements of camera make audiences understand what will happen is absolutely going to be happen. There is no way that it would not happen. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, he uses pans up for showing Daisy’s accident.
David Fincher loves narrating the story while showing. His every movie has a narrator. The story generally begins with the narration. In Gone Girl, audiences learn story from Amy when she writes the diary. In The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Caroline reads to Benjamin’s diary while audience watch it. In Fight Club, Narrator narrates the story to audience. In addition to narration, there is many dialogue usage to give audiences and also characters the information. In dialogues, when character learns new information, the story makes more dramatic. And how they relates the new information with past-knowledge, and the reactions of the meaning that they gain are important for Fincher films. In Fight Club, Narrator understands Tyler Durden is an imaginary human being from the dialogues that he makes with his environment. Also, in the hotel scene, while he talks with Tyler, Tyler forces him to say the truth of he is the same person with Narrator. In The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, David Fincher deceives audiences with dialogue. When Caroline asks Daisy that when she met her father, Daisy says afterwards. Audience thinks that Caroline is not Benjamin’s daughter. And when Caroline reads her birth, she asks Daisy whether Benjamin is her father. The new information is strengthened with dialogue, again. In Gone Girl there is a lot of conversation scene that gives information. For example, in the scene that Nick learns Amy’s pregnancy with the stick, he also asks her whether it is true or not.
David Fincher uses editing cleverly. All of his three movie that covering here begins with the present time scene and goes back to past where all the story begins. In the beginning of Fight Club, audiences see almost the last scene that Tyler puts the gun on Narrator’s head, without one important detail, not seeing Tyler. They do not understand what is going on, who are the narrator, what the bad man wants from him. And then, the story begins. In Gone Girl, the same thing happens again. The last scene of the film is given in the first scene, a man fondles woman’s hair. In this scene, nothing can be understood. In The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, the story begins with an hospital room of Daisy. She narrates an important story, a reverse clock story. In the end of the movie, this clock story reaches the end. After this metaphoric story, Daisy wants Caroline to read Benjamin’s diary. When the diary ends, Daisy continues to narrate the rest of their story until the death of Benjamin. So, here also the film starts with the end. However, there is breaks on the past story with the present time shots.
David Fincher’s shot size usage is also cleverly and purposely. He uses close ups so rarely but when he uses he says that this is important, keep attention on this. In The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, there is close up to hummingbird. It symbolizes infinity and for Benjamin it relates with the loved person. He saw it with close up when Captain died and when Daisy died, David Fincher shows it in close up, again. In Gone Girl, there is more close up shots than David Fincher generally uses. This is because there is a lot of clues to solve the enigma of Amy’s gone. All of them important and almost all of them shows in close up shots. In Fight Club, soap is important and there is close up shot to it. Like the noisy background sound or extreme low key lighting, David Fincher uses close up shots to seek audience attention. There is also close up shots on blood as in Fig.10.
To show bloody body is the one of his signature thing. In every movie, even the story has no violence itself, he uses bloody body scene. In Fight Club, there is lots of bloody body scene. There is also close up shots on blood as seen in Fig.10. In Gone Girl, There is one murder scene but in it there is too much blood and Amy who has bloody body does not clean up in three sequences as seen in Fig.11. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there is fighting sequence. In the death of Captain, the signature of Fincher, bloody body, can be seen as in Fig.12.
To sum up, as an auteur David Fincher has his own signature both in stories of his films and technic side of his films. This signature can be seen in editing, close up shots, color and sound usage, and also low key lighting by means of technic. By means of the story, in one side he shoots depressiveness, sad ending, and loneliness, and in the other side naturality, daily life problems and anti-heros. The most impressive side of his films is their darkness, by means of lighting and color usage and by means of scenario.
Metz, Christian. “Some Points in the Semiotics of the Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism. Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen. 6thedition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 65–71.
Sarris, Andrew. “NOTES ON THE AUTEUR THEORY IN 1962.” Film Theory and Criticism. Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen. 6thedition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 561–564.
Wollen, Peter. “The Auteur Theory.” Film Theory and Criticism. Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen. 6thedition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 565–580.