David Fincher and the Cinema of Doomscrolling

A conversation with Adam Nayman about the filmmaker’s style and obsessions.

Alex Shephard
January 18, 2022
Critical Mass (The New Republic)

David Fincher’s films are full of doubles, puzzles, and tantalizing glimpses of the director himself. As Adam Nayman writes in his new book about Fincher’s films, Mind Games, “Fincher imposes his presence through the actions and psychologies of thinly veiled proxies: Clockmakers and safecrackers; hackers and terrorists; detectives and serial killers.” These are films that are, like their director, obsessed with procedure and appearance—and intent on puncturing both.

These films are, perhaps because of their complexity or their (at least outward) coldness—or perhaps because of Fincher’s own past as a director of music videos and advertisements—misunderstood or even dismissed. In the past decade alone, Fincher’s The Social Network and, especially, Gone Girl have received radical reappraisals, while Zodiac has been seen by many as one of the best films of the twenty-first century. Mind Games is particularly valuable in its willingness to critically engage with much of Fincher’s less-appreciated output—from his work in advertising to films like Benjamin Button and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But Nayman, the author of similar studies of the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson, also deepens the understanding of films by situating them in an oeuvre that has been obsessively looking at many of the same themes for decades.

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Riverside Chats with Tom Knoblauch: Adam Nayman on “David Fincher: Mind Games”

Tom Knoblauch
January 16, 2022
Riverside Chats with Tom Knoblauch (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

Riverside Chats is a series of conversations hosted by Tom Knoblauch exploring culture of all kinds, broadcast from the Heartland. Listen on KIOS 91.5 Omaha Public Radio on Mondays and Saturdays or on your favorite podcast app.

Adam Nayman is a critic at The Ringer and Cinema Scope and he is also the author of The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Room Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, which he discussed in an earlier episode of this show.

His latest book, David Fincher: Mind Games is a critical and visual survey of the filmmaker behind incredibly influential works include Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl, and more. Nayman gives context, analysis, links themes, and conducts interviews with various people involved across Fincher’s career, grouping Fincher’s work around themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige, and relationship dynamics. Today he talks about Fincher’s career and shifting place in the cinematic landscape.

Check out David Fincher: Mind Games wherever you get books.

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A short Q&A with “David Fincher: Mind Games” author Adam Nayman about “Gone Girl”

Gone Girl is really an iconic account of a woman sending her husband back to the streets, when you really think about it.

Hunter Harris
January 15, 2022
Hung Up

Leos think about other leos a lot, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Tonight, I wanted to think a little bit more about OOMF Back in his Gone Girl Era, or, that specific Ben Affleck quality/intonation/villainous chin that makes everything he says come out all wrong. What better movie is a case study for this than the movie in which it was deployed demonically and perfectly? I am speaking, of course, about Gone Girl.

Tonight: a short Q&A with David Fincher: Mind Games author Adam Nayman about the 2014 David Fincher, um, love story. “Gone Girl is a culmination of one of the things I really like about Fincher: it’s a movie about communication, the way that we kind of self mediate our images online. It was kind of ahead of the curve in that way. It still feels very state of the art — even though it’s not really a Twitter, Instagram movie, and some of the actual social media features on it date it to 2014 — it just feels really post-millennial and contemporary,” Nayman told me.

Devoted Hung Up readers will recall that Nayman and I previously talked about Phantom Thread and his Paul Thomas Anderson book, Masterworks.

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Connecting the dots between Gone Girl, Zodiac and David Fincher

Illustration by Hsiao-Ron Cheng

Mind Games author Adam Nayman discusses the connective tissue between David Fincher’s films and why we can’t help comparing him to Paul Thomas Anderson

Radheyan Simonpillai
December 22, 2021
NOW Magazine

In the David Fincher film Zodiac, cartoonist Robert Graysmith obsessively pours over legal documents, testimonies, and geographic patterns. He connects the dots that won’t necessarily give him conclusive answers regarding the titular San Francisco serial killer but will nevertheless make for a pretty good book that paved the way for a masterpiece film. I like to picture Toronto film critic and author Adam Nayman doing the same for his book David Fincher: Mind Games.

Nayman scans Fincher’s work, from the music video for Madonna’s Express Yourself to last year’s endearing look back at authorship in Mank, writing chapters on each movie with forensic detail and riveting insight. Mind Games, which comes with a lovely foreword from Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho, is the latest in Nayman’s series of comprehensive books on the greatest white male directors of our generation, sitting nicely alongside The Coen Bros: This Book Really Ties The Films Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks. And there’s an argument to be made that this book is the most fascinating of the three.

More so than the others, Fincher’s movies inspire divisive reactions. Movies like The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and Mank rack up the most Oscar nominations while being pilloried by many critics. Se7en and Fight Club earn dorm room notoriety, which in turn is weaponized against the films themselves. Some of his greatest work in Zodiac and Gone Girl doesn’t quite get the love it deserves. But Fincher is the kind of filmmaker whose misses are infinitely more fascinating to me than the best that a Christopher Nolan puts up.

Nayman discussed Fincher’s canon with NOW in a conversation about the imprint he leaves on his films and how he compares to Paul Thomas Anderson. The Licorice Pizza filmmaker has a very different kind of career, but feels oddly linked to Fincher.

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Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

BETA (WPR): The exacting and evolving genius of filmmaker David Fincher

Film critic Adam Nayman’s ‘Mind Games’ explores the successful perfectionism of the ‘Fight Club,’ ‘Se7en,’ ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Zodiac’ director

Doug Gordon, Adam Friedrich
December 18, 2021
BETA (WPR)

In 1985, aspiring director David Fincher was tapped by the American Cancer Society to make a PSA. Riffing off Stanley Kubrick‘s “2001,” Fincher put forth one of the most provocative and memorable commercials ever featuring an in-utero fetus smoking a cigarette to demonstrate the dangers of pregnant smoking.

This PSA was just the beginning of Fincher’s ability to utilize the shared language and visuals of film to express a point. He would move next to directing music videos where he famously invoked Fritz Lang‘s “Metropolis” while directing Madonna’s 1989 video for “Express Yourself.”

Film critic Adam Nayman told WPR‘s “BETA” that Fincher’s cinematic ambition was present in all of this early work before he became a household name directing transcendent films like “Fight Club,” “Se7en,” “Zodiac” and “The Social Network.”

“I think that he was part of a cycle of music video directors who were drawing on movies for the music videos. So, by the time they ended up making feature films, the visual language and the ambition were already there,” Nayman said.

Nayman is the author of “David Fincher: Mind Games,” a comprehensive critical companion book to Fincher’s career output thus far. It’s the third installment of Nayman’s deep dives into generational filmmakers that includes the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Read and listen to the full interview

Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

David Fincher’s Zodiac. Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation

Edited by Matthew Sorrento, teacher of film studies at Rutgers University-Camden, and David Ryan, academic director and faculty chair of the Master of Arts of Professional Communication program at the University of San Francisco.

Foreword by Christopher Sharrett

Contributions by Jeremy Carr; Daniel R. Fredrick; Deborah L. Jaramillo; Martin Kevorkian; Rod Lott; Theresa Rodewald; Jake Rutkowski; David Ryan; Christopher Sharrett; Matthew Sorrento; George Toles; Christopher Weedman and Andrew M. Winters.

David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), written by producer James Vanderbilt and adapted from the true crime works of Robert Graysmith, remains one of the most respected films of the early twenty-first century. As the second film featuring a serial killer (and the first based on fact) by Fincher, Zodiac remains a standout in a varied but stylistically unified career. While connected to this genre, the film also hybridizes the policier genre and the investigative reporter film. And yet, scholarship has largely ignored the film.

This collection is the first book-length work of criticism dedicated to the film. Section One focuses on early influences, while the second section analyzes the film’s unique treatment of narrative. The book closes with a section focusing on game theory, data and hegemony, the Zodiac’s treatment in music, and the use of sound in cinema. By offering new avenues and continuing a few established ones, this book will interest scholars of cinema and true crime along with fans and enthusiasts in these areas.

University Press Copublishing Division / Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
Pages: 274 • Trim: 6 x 9
978-1-68393-326-7 • Hardback • December 15, 2021 • $105.00 • (£81.00)
978-1-68393-327-4 • eBook • December 15, 2021 • $45.00 • (£35.00)
Series: The Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Series in Law, Culture, and the Humanities
Subjects: Performing Arts / Film / History & Criticism, Social Science / Criminology, Performing Arts / Film / Genres / Documentary

More details: Rowman & Littlefield

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Also available from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Behind the Scenes of David Fincher’s Fight Club

Adam Nayman on the Production and Cultural Impact of the Still-Controversial Film

Adam Nayman
November 24, 2021
Literary Hub

The following is an excerpt from the new book David Fincher: Mind Games, by Adam Nayman.

Fight Club was adapted by screenwriter Jim Uhls from Chuck Palahniuk’s cult 1996 novel of the same name, which traced its gestation to a Portland-based author’s workshop specializing in “dangerous writing.” The enclave’s transgressive, minimalist mandate would be allegorized in Fight Club’s eponymous bare-knuckle boxing group, whose members become the acolytes of Tyler Durden Project Mayhem, in effect going from pummeling one another to “punching up” against the forces of late capitalism.

In his foreword to a 2004 reprint of the novel, Palahniuk reflects on the book’s themes of catharsis and self pity and ties them to a literary moment “[full of] novels that presented a social model for women to be together.” He cites bestsellers like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt and notes the lack of corresponding masculinist examples; with the calculated humility of a writer who no longer worries about his advance, he proposes that his breakthrough novel’s popularity was a simple matter of supply and demand.

The question of whether Fight Club, in either literary or cinematic form, fills that void deepens it, or disappears down it—or if, like Tyler Durden, such a void ever really existed in the first place—was open at the time and remains so. Twenty-five years after its publication, Fight Club looks like a signal work anticipating, dramatizing, and perhaps exemplifying a condition recently identified as “toxic masculinity,” loosely defined by New York Times essayist Maya Salam as “a series of cultural lessons . . . linked to aggression and violence.”

Read the full excerpt

Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

The Film Comment Podcast: The Mind Games of David Fincher

David Fincher by Michael Avedon

Devika Girish and Clinton Krute
November 23, 2021
Film Comment

This week’s conversation focuses in on David Fincher—a director whose decade-spanning body of gritty Americana—from the grim moral drama of Se7en to the revisionist Hollywood tale of the recent Mank—has inspired both obsessive fandom and derisive dismissal.

A new book by Adam NaymanDavid Fincher: Mind Games (out November 23 from Abrams Books), offers a canny and timely appraisal of the director’s filmography. Adam writes that, “Over the past thirty years, Fincher has cultivated and maintained a reputation that precedes him of formal rigor and technocratic exactitude, of moviemaking as a game of inches.” Film Comment editors Devika Girish and Clinton Krute invited Adam and critic, filmmaker, and former NYFF director, Kent Jones—who’s written about Fincher many times over the years in FC—for an illuminating deep-dive into the Fincherverse.

Listen to the podcast

Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

Adam Nayman on David Fincher’s Complicated Auteurism

David Fincher by Jack Davison

Nick Newman
November 23, 2021
The Film Stage

Few film books in recent memory made waves like Adam Nayman’s Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, a too-rare melange of authorial talent, topical interest, and opulent presentation. Last year Nayman and I spoke at length about the tome that no doubt you’ve seen in bookstores (big and small alike) since.

Nayman has returned with David Fincher: Mind Games, another Abrams-published doorstop on another double-capital-A American Auteur, lined again with essays that surprise in their capacity to find new perspectives and provocative readings on films for which there seemed no more room. Finally able to talk in person—thus, you’ll (please) read, at greater length—we sat down for a talk on writing thousands of words on someone for whom a consistent critical standing is tougher than meets the eye.

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Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

Adam Nayman Talks David Fincher’s Adman Past (And Present)

A conversation with the author about his new book, “David Fincher: Mind Games”

Sydney Urbanek
November 17, 2021
Mononym Mythology

Adam Nyman is a fellow film critic and the author of several books about films and filmmakers, including but not limited to The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together (2018) and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks (2020). (Though we’ve never crossed paths in person, he also teaches in the department where I did my Master’s program.) He opens Mind Games with a dedicated discussion of the decade or so before Fincher ever made his narrative feature debut with ALIEN³ (1992), but then continues to come back to his commercial and music video work for the remainder of it, wisely treating his adman past as, well, more of an adman present. A few weeks back, Adam and I chatted for an hour about Fincher’s short-form oeuvre, but also his features because—again—the two aren’t as discrete as a lot of people believe. Our conversation has been edited for clarity, but not really so much for length.

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Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman