The tone of this trailer seems a little … off … somehow (what, publishing rights to Nilsson’s “Without You” were too expensive?), but I think Fincher & Co. are attempting to speak in a kind of (cynical, ironic) code to the legions who have read the (cynical, ironic) book.
An opinion piece in The Daily Beast ignited a half-baked controversy in the blogosphere last October by taking The Social Network‘s screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, to task. Writer Rebecca Davis O’Brien perceived the film as misogynist — or sexist, or something — complaining about the absence of strong female characters in the film. On that count, she is largely correct. The Social Network is about a group of young men inventing something that became fundamental to how people communicate online. But is that, by itself, indicative of some kind of unfairness toward women?
There’s a frightening symmetry to the process of aging that David Fincher, making his cruellest picture since Se7en, illustrates to eerie effect in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That the film’s titular, time-unstuck protagonist is portrayed by Brad Pitt, that blue-eyed specimen of softly chiseled macho beauty, only adds to its implicit threat that we’re all on the way to decidedly less-attractive ends. That its magical backwards-aging VFX work is accomplished through a technique so advanced that it becomes hard to know where Pitt’s physical presence leaves off and the digitally enabled simulacrum takes over adds to the film’s metaphysical chill. Coming out of the theater, not only are you three hours older than you were when you went in, but you get the sense that your too-human flesh is also that much closer to obsolete.
Zodiac is a film to lose yourself in. Directed by David Fincher with a perfectionist’s eye for performance and an obsessive’s attention to detail, it’s also the director’s first film that’s primarily about people, instead of its own impressive ideas. That’s not to diminish the impressive accomplishments he’s made to date, especially in the modern classics Se7en and Fight Club, but to underscore how Zodiac intensifies and deepens the connection between technical facility and sublime impact.
Grubby, grimy, scary, bloody, cynical, violent, dangerously whacked-out and very, very funny, Fight Club is itself an act of provocation. It’s a blast at staples of late 20th century life — everything from the Ikea catalog and air travel to Blockbuster Video and the auto industry. It’s also a blast in the face of state-of-the-art Hollywood, putting megabucks to work supporting a study in hallucination. And it’s a challenge to the mainstream audience, which is asked to sympathize with subversion and keep up with a storyline that demands a fairly substantial leap of faith on the part of the viewer. Fight Club is a pitch-black comedy and a phantasmal psychological thriller about the end of the world as we know it, and it’s several times fresher and more exciting than anything I’ve seen this year.
Filmmaking itself is a bit of a game. Directors, actors, screenwriters, and editors play it with their audiences all the time. You use diversionary tactics, you pluck at heartstrings, you appeal to the emotion, the intellect, and the libido of your audience. When the movie is complete, the studio marketing department plays the game, as well. The object of the game is to get butts in theater seats. On a slightly more high-flown level, the object is to engage, stimulate, and please your audience to the extent that they feel gratified by the experience — and tell their friends about the little game you’re playing so that they can buy tickets, too. And the filmmakers find out whether they’ve won when the box office receipts start coming in.
David Fincher, whose brilliant career as a director of music videos encompassed such highs and lows as Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and Rick Springfield’s “Bop ‘Til You Drop,” has helmed an almost overly stylish thriller about the evil that men do and the myriad ways to punish them. And this thriller is so unlikely on its surface that when the machine kicks into high gear and the characters really start to matter to us, its impact seems all-encompassing and lingers for days after viewing.