Fincher Film School: Paint It Black

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David Fincher has been labelled all variations of a 'prince of darkness'. Perhaps rightfully so, as his movies mostly are crafted with a signature color palette of dark tones, mostly green and blue. Beyond aesthetics, why does Fincher shoot his movies this way? Because it looks cool? Or is there an additional layer of meaning to the colors in his films? is proud and grateful to bring you the second installment of the newly launched Fincher Film School, with compliments to contributor Juan Hernandez. In this episode, Juan is taking a closer look at Fincher's use of color to support narrative -- a subliminal and often overlooked directorial task.

Please do share your thoughts, observations and your feedback. Critical and constructive discussion brings forth the most rewarding insights after all.

Paint It Black: A Look at David Fincher's Color Palette
by Juan Hernandez


  1. Very nice! I will definitely add this article to my collection ;)

    My hope is that you will be updating this article with every new Fincher movie or with any new discovery you will make. I'm sure there's plenty more of this "color" stuff, that we haven't noticed yet ;)

    One suggestion for future analysis. The most obvious that comes to my mind ;) Final scenes from Se7en (contrast between the desert (in full sunlight) and dark, rainy city). I'm sure others will add their suggestions :)

    Thanks for this guys!

  2. I was always curious about the yellow tone in Zodiac. If you look closely, you can see right from the beginning this bright, yellow tone. There is a frame in the text of Juan where the pillars of the office have that particular tone, not only them but the chairs have the exact tone amongst other things like downey jr. vest and jacket, envelopes etc.

    I was always wondering what this is all about...

    1. Hey, after watching Zodiac for the second time I've come to realize, what I think is the association of the color yellow with the taxi cab that the Zodiac shot the driver in, as well the school bus(es) that the Zodiac threatened to shoot with the children inside. The color yellow also becomes increasingly strong and apparent in scenes where Robert is obsessing over the Zodiac. It also seems like the pillars in the Chronicle office were yellow to highlight how important the Zodiac was at the time, then later being repainted as dark blue, essentially forgetting about the Zodiac because he was old news. I never figured out the significance of the orange color, which showed up more in the second half of the movie (in Robert's car, the costumes, etc.)

  3. Yeah, there's an interesting thing about the color yellow in Zodiac. There's characters frequently wearing yellow clothing throught the film. But I'm not really sure what it means either.

    I read that yellow is associated with intellect, and a funny thing I noticed is that whenever someone is investigating about the zodiac, they're usually wearing something yellow.
    This could mean that Fincher is associating the yellow color with the person who's currently obessesed with the zodiac. The stronger the yellow tone is, the stronger their obssession is.

  4. As with all matters of film analysis, all we have is hypothesis. The only person, who may absolutely know what a particular color means in regards to the narrative may be David Fincher himself -- and I say "may be" because who knows if some of these, after all, weren't "a gut instinct".

    At any rate, I agree with Juan's assessment that the memory of Harriet's disappearance is colored differently from the rest of the narrative in order to set it apart. Whether that was done to suppose those were the "happier days" may be called into question: Henrik Vanger certainly wouldn't think of that day of Harriet's supposed death as a particularily "happy" memory. To me the yellowish tint signifies that these memories are still vivid and alive in his recollection. My interpretation would be that while the natural colors have faded from this memory that yellow tone could suggest these memories have been burned into Henrik's memory; also, they may be fading like an old color photograph.

    In regards to Zodiac, I must say I have neither looked into color psychology nor made any effort to interpret the colors as a key to the narrative. Up until now, though, I have to say that I had perceived the color palette of Zodiac -- especially all things yellowish, orange, beige and brown tones -- as "typical" of the seventies. Maybe, beyond narrative function, some choices here were informed by wanting to emulate a "typical color palette" of the era in question, whether from the actual colors, textiles and such or the look of 1970s film stock.

  5. Really cool, guys, thank you! I like the observations about Dragon Tattoo. I think the first example is actually taken from different scenes in the movie, right? I think Henrik and Michael meet in the morning and then they talk for a very long time and so of the two screenshots, the darker but warmer one could be also because it was already getting dark and to give a feeling of it getting cozy or something. Anyway, very insightful! I think Fight Club is also very interesting to look at for color. Whenever I think of Fight Club all I seem to remember is a sick kind of green tone... :-)

  6. This great, Juan! Thanks for the never seen before insight into Fincher's films and the color he uses to create the emotions of the characters and the overall tone of the film.

  7. Even though it was a good read, I think its just digging too deep for meaning. For example the red dress in Benjamin Button, if you watch the extras and listen to Finchers commentary he just says that it was a dress that Costume Designer and Cate liked so they went with it. So it might not have been much more than that. So most of the points made might be coincidence, might not.