David Fincher’s new film, Gone Girl, is his latest adaptation of a populist novel (after Fight Club and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), this time written by Gillian Flynn. In a classic use of the unreliable narrator, we follow Nick Dunne (played in the film by Ben Affleck), who may or may not have killed his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Fincher brought the regular team together, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross back to do the moody music, as well as cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and editor Kirk Baxter. The film has been getting much acclaim since debuting at the New York Film Festival on Friday (including our own positive review), and the inevitable Oscar talk (*heavy sigh*) has already begun ahead of the film’s wide release this coming Friday.
This is to be expected from a new David Fincher film. If the 21st century had to name its defining director so far, you could do worse than Fincher, who has spent the new millennium exploring obsession (Zodiac), time and identity (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), corruption and misogyny (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and our very existence within the modern world (The Social Network). Oh, and I guess there’s Panic Room. He’s a populist entertainer with more depth than most, and more technical ability than even more, so it seems worthwhile to take the opportunity of a new film to look at some of his best moments.
5.) “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!”, “Seven” (1995)
There was no way this scene wouldn’t be on this list. One of the most suspenseful and iconic movie endings in recent memory, it is disturbing and brilliant and it’s to Fincher’s credit that he didn’t listen to notes from the studio to change it. From the slow revelation (we see Somerset, played by Morgan Freeman, look in the box, but only his reaction, not the contents) to the frustrating quandary it leaves the characters with – will Mills (Brad Pitt) kill John Doe (Kevin Spacey) in order to fulfill Doe’s twisted mission and prove his point? In a slickly-made if grimy-looking cop film like this, a show-stopping ending makes the impact even greater – this is considered one of the most memorable film endings of all-time for a reason, and it was an early indication that this Fincher fellow had something unique and bold.
4.) Attempted Mugging, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011)
I could’ve chosen any number of great moments in Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel, from the Enya scene to the attention-grabbing animated opening set to Trent Reznor and Karen O’s “Immigrant Song” cover. My pick is a simpler, non-musical moment that serves as an insight into the character of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and is also an exquisite piece of action choreography (it’s common for an otherwise-great Fincher scene to be further supplemented by some technical feat). When a man snatches her bag in the subway, she takes a moment to think before acting, then starts off after him up an escalator, catches him, gets her bag, then slides back down the escalator and swiftly into the subway as its doors close. She’s noticeably shaken by having to do this, used to keeping her head down, yet she screams like an animal in her attacker’s face once she’s beaten him and it’s all the more terrifying without the sound. You don’t want to mess with this girl.
3.) The Chemical Burn, “Fight Club” (1999)
Fight Club was my favourite movie throughout high school, and it’s only in recent years that the film’s misguided frat boy fanbase has led me to distance myself a bit from the film. What these fans tend to miss is the movie’s entire point – this celebration of masculinity, all these ideological stances Tyler Durden takes on, none of it is sustainable or championed by the film. This is perhaps most clear when Tyler forces the narrator to endure a chemical burn, because, “Without pain, without sacrifice, we have nothing.” Tyler is full of great quotes like this, quotes that are all over Tumblr (“This is my life and it’s ending one minute at a time”), but none of them really mean anything or hold up under scrutiny. He’s a freshman philosopher, and that’s the point. None of us are special or unique snowflakes, and that’s okay!
2.) The Break Up, “The Social Network” (2010)
Admittedly, this scene owes much to Aaron Sorkin’s superb rapid-fire script, but it’s worth noting that no one else has ever made Sorkin look so good. Neither element would work without the other, and together they complement each other fruitfully throughout the entire film. But it was immediately in our faces with this opening scene, with Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) breaking up with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). It’s a virtuoso sequence with Fincher, Sorkin, Mara and Eisenberg all on fire at once, with words flying, exposition being rushed past, the ending being set up and laughs overwhelming the dialogue. It’s unbelievable to watch, and the fact that it then leads into one of the best opening credits sequences I’ve ever seen is almost unfair. (Fun fact: Fincher made Eisenberg and Mara perform this scene 99 times before calling cut.)
1.) The Basement, “Zodiac” (2007)
David Fincher has never made a straight-up horror film since his debut, Alien³, but its scenes like Robert Graysmith’s visit to Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer) that make you wish he would. This supremely tense sequence has Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) looking into a lead about a movie poster artist he believes to be the Zodiac killer. Vaughn just worked at the same theatre as the guy Graysmith has his sights on, but there are few moments more stomach-churning than when Vaughn says, “That’s my handwriting. I do the posters.” The floor drops out, and even though we know that the real Zodiac killer has never been identified, that doesn’t matter right now. Then they go down into the basement, another bad sign, and it only gets worse. It’s helped by Fleischer’s eerie performance and the soundtrack, but the truth is that Graysmith is an unreliable narrator (like Gone Girl‘s Nick Dunne, or Fight Club‘s narrator) and we may just be falling for his paranoia. But in those moments, you fall hard.