This courtesy I will forever appreciate more than Fincher will ever know — for the opportunity to sit down and pick my favorite director's brain one on one; for the resulting interview, which I have no qualms admitting is the most substantial piece I have been able to put forth through this blog. And also for this: Unlocking Fincher's secret.
Yeah, strike that last sentence, I'm just messing with your heads. But as the title for this entry implies, Fincher has given me an imperative that I have found extremely helpful, and its depth of meaning (or potential interpretation) has only grown on me.
In the interview, Fincher and I talked about his directorial process and decision-making, his obsessive perfectionism, his instinct for story, and the then upcoming "Dragon Tattoo" and "House of Cards". Aside from these very topical things, however, Fincher would also share anecdotes that were meant to remain within the confines of a personal conversation — and not necessarily intended for the blogosphere.
In other words, it is hard for me to express the degree of gratitude I feel for such an open and vulnerable conversation, and especially for Fincher's stature in granting me the full discernment of what I would decide to include in my public retelling of our meeting.
Last things last, upon departing I asked Fincher to sign my Fight Club DVD I had brought along, and that he did.
Given the context, this dedication clearly stands as an appeal not to distort or sensationalize the contents of our conversation. Meanwhile, having re-watched several of Fincher's movies, I personally have come to see another meaning in these words — a motto that seems to express Fincher's ethic as a storyteller.
By the time Fincher came aboard "Se7en", the screenplay had supposedly been over-developed to a generic, run-of-the-mill thriller, sporting a climactic show-down and a triumphant protagonist, saving his beloved from the hands of the evil killer [true or not, I picked up this origin story from the internet; so well... it's gotta be true]. In a fortunate turn of events, then, Fincher was sent the wrong, namely the very edgy first draft of the screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, which had him hooked.
"I know that I am true to the things I am interested in," Fincher says in our conversation. "I like stories to unfold in certain kinds of ways, and I don't like shorthand, and I don't like to be told who's evil. I don't want to know who the villain is, I don't want to know who the hero is."
This was certainly Fincher's recipe for approaching "Se7en"; but it seems equally apparent in "Zodiac" and "The Social Network".
Brad Pitt's character provides the perfect description of a clichéd psychopathic killer in "Se7en": "C'mon, he's insane. (...) Right now he's probably dancing around in his grandma's panties, yeah, rubbing himself in peanut butter."
In stark contrast to the severe and depraved nature of his crimes, John Doe is portrayed as a calm and methodical intellectual. In addition to the movie's gut-wrenching twist-ending, I believe it is this that elevates it beyond the general fare of the genre: The narrative refuses said shorthand, and it is obviously determined not to establish a conventional good-vs-evil constellation and moral verdict, as most narratives do.
As far in as the third act, immediately preceding the film's cathartic und shattering resolve, "Se7en" provides a stage for a prolonged dialogue of the opposing factions. While Doe, by record of his crimes, is distinctly the "bad guy", the film nonetheless keeps spinning an engaging discourse, attempting to blur the lines between Doe's twisted ethics and David Mill's temper — challenging the audience not to rely on preconceived categories of judgement by the narrator, but to morally evaluate the characters, their rhetoric and actions for themselves: "It's more comfortable for you to label me insane," the villain muses appropriately. "[However] I doubt I enjoyed my work any more than Detective Mills would enjoy some time alone with me in a room without windows."
In the film's final moment, Detective Mills (and the audience with him) feels emotionally compelled — and ethically justified — to cross the line and take justice into his own hands — thus exposing the very fragility of our moral categories and imperatives.
I believe to see this same virtue of truthfulness in Fincher's narrative approach to "Zodiac"; where Fincher knowingly and obsessively chases all clues and circumstancial evidence of the "Zodiac killer" case, only to conclude that sometimes truth can only be attained subjectively, while remaining objectively elusive; and in "The Social Network", where the director embraces each character's viewpoint as equally valid, allowing an overarching "truth" of the fictionalized account to arise from the sum of its parts — and not by force of its imposed narrative structure.
With the most recent resurgence of media outlets parroting the ever-lame Fincher-is-shooting-so-and-so-many-takes theme, I was reminded of my interpretation of Fincher's process: I believe that against all the pressing necessities of tight shooting schedules, swing sets, release dates etc., Fincher is after truthfulness — especially so in the performances of his actors, whom are the primary mediums to empathically relay the narrative to us.
Fincher has said before that he was interested in 'microfractally exploring' the nuances of each character. A sophisticated ideal that demands time, patience and an uncompromising determination. Truthfulness — in this specific context — is attained through exhausting the actors' pretense and self-perception, preconceived notions, and easy answers.
If you bought everything I wrote up to this point, well, here's the bummer: It's all just my interpretation.
But whether Fincher's words reveal a deeper wisdom and principle of his methods, here, or whether I am just wildly reading into the random first utterance that popped into his head that day — I do believe the imperative to "be truthful" provides a useful template and guiding question when creating and refining (cinematic) narrative; and that at least it concurs with certain aspects of Fincher's craft that elevates his films above many others.
So truthfully: I wanted to share these thoughts with you because all of it means something to me — and may mean something to some of you as well.