Where the Truth Lies: David Fincher and Digital Cinematography

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fincher(Author’s Note: This half-assed essay was written for my Intro to Computers, so it’s not as great as it could be, but I thought it my be fun to post anyways.)

Beginning with 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher would plunge himself into the world of digital filmmaking, utilizing it to his advantage and augmenting his already outstanding body of work. By using this (relatively) new form of filmmaking, he would delve into an artificiality which, ironically, would be able to parse out the truth and lies in our everyday lives.

Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

large zodiac blu-ray4xThough Fincher had been working with digital visual effects since Panic Room in 2002 (evident in the well-known “through the wall” long take (RCCR)), and much more heavily in his follow-up Zodiac in 2007, Fincher began to embrace digital cameras in 2008 with his film The Curious of Benjamin Button. Though it was filmed in parts on the Arriflex 435 and Sonu CineAlta F23 cameras, which shoot on 35mm, he used the Thomson VIPER FilmStream Camera to shoot the majority of the film, which he had also used for Zodiac (IMDb, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Technical Specifications ).

large ben button blu-ray1There’s an irony in his uses of digital technology up to this point, particularly with regard to Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. With the former, we are presented with the obsessive Jake Gyllenhaal, restricted in his efforts to uncover the identity of the Zodiac Killer by analog technology: handwritten puzzles, the unsatisfactory equipment of the police department, and uncooperative investigators. Yet this is shot with slickness using the VIPER camera, an ironic juxtaposition of technologies, almost painfully hinting at “what could have been done” had these same people been able to access such wondrous modern technology. In Benjamin Button, we see a man, the eponymous Button (Brad Pitt) aging in reverse, beginning his life in a time when analog technology was a form of modernity. The clocks turn back, and it becomes even more important that digital cameras capture this irony, especially given the film’s reliance on digital face replacement. And despite these two harsh contrasts, Fincher and his cinematographers are able to parse out the elusiveness of capturing tangibility: in one, there is the attempt at going after “identity”, and in the other there is a desire to search for what “time” is.

The Social Network

the social networkFincher’s complete embracement of the medium was on The Social Network, where digital cinematography didn’t so much serve as a form of irony, dramatic or otherwise, but as a form of expressionism. Here, the use of the Red One MX (IMDb, The Social Network: Technical Specifications ), which was specially built and modified for Fincher for this film in 2010 (Luzi). The Social Network, which details the rise and sort of fall of (a fictional) Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Facebook, benefits exponentially by being shot on digital as Fincher is able to examine the artificiality of Zuckerberg and push past that to look at the vulnerability.

It is particularly that artificiality which is of interest. The very “social network” he launches is a means of ostensible connection, but as revealed in the film, it’s a tenuous kind of connection, where the digital interface is nothing compared to the best friend (Andrew Garfield) he loses in the process. And while, contextually, the digital cinematography makes sense, Fincher’s decision was made more out of convenience. With that being said, there is certainly an interesting aspect to the film’s frames: they’re packed with information, meticulously composed, and yet there’s a slightly diffused quality to the lighting, as if, like Zuckerberg’s mind, there is a haziness in every room.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

dragon tattooIn adapting Stieg Larsson’s novel, Fincher, shooting on a Red Epic and Red One MX (IMDb, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Technical Specifications), would return the same kind of irony that permeates Zodiac, but the characters in this film, however, were not limited to technology of the 1980s. It is in the digital world building, however, that the film succeeds. While the move to make the respective moden gumshoes, Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a print journalist, and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a computer hacker, almost trade mediums is interesting, Dragon Tattoo’s suspense is amplified by creating a dangerous, sinister world digitally, as if suggesting that such a world, which existed in a digital intermediate in The Social Network, has permeated our real lives to a dangerous level.

Gone Girl

GONE-GIRL-Movie-HD-Trailer-Captures00004_1_11When asked at a press conference at the New York Film Festival’s premiere of Gone Girl about the influence of digital cinematography informing his aesthetic for the film, Fincher answered coyly, saying that it made little real difference in how he realized the look of the film. He added that he did want the film to take on the look of a reality show (Stuart). Shot on a Red Epic Dragon (IMDb, Gone Girl: Technical Specifications ), Gone Girl’s use of a digital camera to create its aesthetic is as important, if not moreso, than in The Social Network.

When peeling back the layer after layer of an enigmatic, pulpy thriller that itself probes at concepts of truth and authenticity within society and interpersonal relationships, the carefully crafted frames and the digital sheen are paramount to strengthening the thesis of the film. Amy Dunne’s (Rosamund Pike) palid face is unreadable, blank and yet perfectly manipulative, not unlike the digital world.


gone_girl_header-620x435Since his first venture into using digital cinematography and creating an entirely new aesthetic to his work in Zodiac, David Fincher continues to utilize the technology to inform the thematic and subtextual content of his films. With ironies and examinations into truth and fiction, from Zodiac to his most recent film Gone Girl, digital cinematography isn’t merely a way for Fincher to make movies, but a way to make art.


IMDb. Gone Girl: Technical Specifications . 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2267998/technical?ref_=tt_ql_dt_7&gt;.

—. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Technical Specifications . 2008. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0421715/technical?ref_=tt_ql_dt_7&gt;.

—. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Technical Specifications. 2011. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1568346/technical?ref_=tt_ql_dt_7&gt;.

—. The Social Network: Technical Specifications . 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285016/technical?ref_=tt_ql_dt_7&gt;.

Luzi, Evan. Jeff Cronenweth on Shooting “The Social Network” with Red One Mysterium-X. 16 January 2011. <http://www.theblackandblue.com/2011/01/16/jeff-cronenweth-on-shooting-the-social-network-with-red-one-mysterium-x/&gt;.

RCCR, User. Panic Room Long Take. 3 April 2008. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Qh7jFJ6zWw&gt;.

Stuart, Jamie. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth on Gone Girl, Digital and Working with David Fincher. 24 October 2014. <http://filmmakermagazine.com/88054-cinematographer-jeff-cronenweth-on-gone-girl-digital-and-working-with-david-fincher/#.VP0ci_nF98E&gt;.


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