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Happy Birthday, David Fincher! Here Are Our Favorite Scenes

Happy Birthday, David Fincher! Here Are Our Favorite Scenes

Opening Scene from “The Social Network

Nigel M. Smith, Managing Editor

David Fincher doesn’t strike one false note in the opening scene of “The Social Network.”  The 9 page two-hander scripted by Aaron Sorkin, who deservedly won an Oscar for his screenplay, sets the stage for what’s to follow. It opens on a tense conversation between future Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Oscar-nominee Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend (played by Fincher’s future “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” star Rooney Mara) that escalates at a rapid-fire pace as Zuckerberg begins to reveal his true colors, causing her to break up with him on the spot — much to his surprise. For Fincher, the scene is subdued. There’s no fancy camerawork, no striking imagery. The opening is all about showcasing Sorkin’s dialogue, to get you accustomed to it. It’s well known Fincher likes to shoot countless takes to get a scene just right, and in this opener his mad method works wonders. Eisenberg and Mara make the challenging dialogue wholly their own, often speaking over one another, with Fincher’s taut cutting only adding to the dizzying back and forth. The scene leaves you exhausted, yet excited for what’s to come.

“What’s in the box?!” from “Se7en”

Casey Cipriani, Assistant Editor
Fincher’s “Se7en” is a very disturbing film indeed, but also one of the best thrillers in cinema. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt play two detectives in an un-named city of perpetual rain and urban decay. Freeman’s Detective Somerset is retiring soon, with Pitt’s Detective Mills having just transferred to the department. They’re investigating Kevin Spacey’s John Doe, a serial killer who gruesomely murders those who embody the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Wrath, Envy and Gluttony, forcing his victims to die by the very means of their sin. The performances from Freeman, Pitt and Spacey are frighteningly top notch, but this climactic scene consistently has viewers on the edge of their seats and adds to Fincher’s legacy of creating disturbing yet powerful moments. There’s little creepier than when Det. Somerset opens the mysterious box and utters these chill-inducing lines: “California stay away from here, stay away from here now, don’t come in here. Whatever you hear stay away. John Doe has the upper hand.” 

“This is the Zodiac speaking” from “Zodiac”

Ben Travers, TV Editor
If Damon Lindelof needs any help ending “The Leftovers,” a show refusing to answer its biggest question, perhaps he should employ the help of Mr. David Fincher. In 2007, Fincher took on perhaps his most challenging project to date: adapting a detail-oriented serial killer mystery, revolving around the identity of a murderer who’s never revealed. Clocking in at a robust two hours and 37 minutes, “Zodiac” feels like it takes no time at all. Thus is the effect of Fincher’s intricately choreographed drama, a film that pulls the viewer into the mystery just as much as the characters were in the 1970s. It’s no wonder “Snowpiercer” director Joon ho-Bong called it “a masterpiece,” and said “there was really nothing to find fault with about it, down to the cinematography, art direction and action.” I would add it’s also downright terrifying, thanks to the framing provided in the unforgettable opening scene and all the following murder scenes — not to mention the unusual, and very creepy, sound design. 

Chemical Burn from “Fight Club

Zainab Akande, Intern
Fincher’s cult classic is both parts gritty and psychological as it spirals into the elaborate dissociation of an everyday man (Edward Norton) and his alter ego, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Here, the climax of their dueling forces reaches a fever pitch as Pitt’s character forces Norton to face the dark truth of a world grounded in reality, of a godless place where enlightenment can only be achieved by through divine suffering — in this case, the chemical burning of a hand. This sentiment is captured in Tyler’s crooned line, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything,” before he grants his counterpart salvation in the form of a pseudo-baptism by vinegar.

The Car Accident from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Shipra Gupta, Editorial Assistant
Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story of the same name lacks the finesse of “Fight Club” and “The Social Network.” The value of a film, however, mustn’t always be derived by the sum of all its parts. Stand-alone scenes and sequences can speak volumes about a filmmaker’s storytelling capabilities — particularly the sequence selected here, in which Benjamin muses how Daisy’s car accident was the result of a sweeping domino effect. The relentless pace of the sequence literally resembles the motion of dominoes as they collapse over one another. It’s a breath-taking, magical accomplishment that students and critics of the filmmaking craft should continue to reference for years to come, despite the fact that the film, as a whole, is not one of Fincher’s greatest accomplishments to date.

The Game Begins from “The Game”

Emily Buder, Community Manager
“What do you give a man who has everything?” That’s the question Sean Penn’s character poses to his brother, Nicholas (Michael Douglas), an exceedingly wealthy and morally inept businessman, on Nicholas’s birthday. The gift? The Game, a sort of experiential therapy package that quickly devolves into an invasive takeover of Nicholas’s life. Both film noir and expertly-paced thriller, “The Game” showcases Fincher’s ability to weave significant character development into a high-concept film. Nicholas, who built his fortune on manipulation, is systematically manipulated until all that remains of the man are metaphysical questions. “The Game” is Fincher’s most underrated masterpiece. 

The Opening Credits from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Eric Eidelstein, Intern
While some are divided over which “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” adaptation they prefer, the opening credits in Fincher’s version should remain the undisputed champion. Featuring a human-like figure covered in black paint, the sequence is a surreal, striking and empowering opening to the film. It also boasts a terrific cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” produced by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, with vocals by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O.


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