How David Fincher Seamlessly Merges Motion with Emotion

The director’s camerawork is so precise that it can commandeer your perception.
By  · Published on March 20th, 2018

David Fincher is a perfectionist,” actor Jesse Eisenberg told The New York Times in a 2010 interview. “You hear about people who work tirelessly, meticulously to get what they are after, but David is the real thing.”

Though Fincher has rebuffed the label of “perfectionist,” his precision as a director is certainly unmatched. With his well-known penchant for painstaking filming techniques (Fincher shot the opening scene of The Social Network 99 times), he approaches articulating his vision with intense clarity and care. But what is the larger intention behind his eccentric exactness— what is David Fincher really “after?”

In his video essay “How David Fincher Hijacks Your Eyes,” The Nerdwriter explores the effect of Fincher’s precision. Throughout his filmography, Fincher frequently synchronizes camera movement with character movement, so that the camera perfectly matches the speed and direction of a moving character. This technique is mostly imperceptible, but it immerses us in the emotional worlds of the characters which, as Fincher so wisely understands, are largely expressed physically. That’s what lies at the heart of his visual precision; by closely tracking characters’ movement, Fincher is really capturing their behavior.

By honing in on physical movements, Fincher wants to reveal the minutiae of how we express behavior. And for Fincher, behavior is everything. So much so that he gave Robin Wright this advice before her directorial debut on House of Cards: “Behavior is the most important thing of every piece of material that you read, you perform in, and you direct. Look at the behavior.”

For Fincher, behavior externalizes the internal, so the way a character moves can reflect internal characteristics, like who a character is, what a character wants, or how a character feels. For the viewer, this technique locks us into the characters’ movements, which deepens our connection with them. That’s why, while Fincher regards his own filmmaking style as fairly detached, his camerawork is subtly personal. 

Check out the video essay below to learn more about how David Fincher tracks movement to connect us with characters and effectively “hijack” our perception:

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Writer, college student, television connoisseur.