Essay by Daniel Lapinski
David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky stand apart for their innovative filmmaking styles, respect for their audience's intelligence, and willingness to venture into dark territory. Hailed by audiences and critics alike, they have established themselves two of the most distinctive and consistently interesting American directors working today.
Fincher and Aronofsky are perhaps most noted for the innovative and stylistically daring psychological thrillers with which they got their starts. Aronofsky's π brings touches of surrealism and mysticism to the genre, while the complexity and aesthetic touches of Fincher's Seven proved hugely influential to filmmakers in the past two decades.
Yet Fincher's and Aronofsky's filmographies show a willingness to expand into new territory. Especially poignant among their respective oeuvres are two epic (in scope, scale, and length) and deeply personal examinations of time, mortality, and the power of love in the face of these: Fincher's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Aronofsky's The Fountain. These directors films are further linked by their exploration of an number of similar themes: violence, masculinity and the myth thereof (e.g., the conflict between Randy "The Ram's" macho image and struggles in his personal life in Aronofsky's The Wrestler, or the ultraviolent vision of masculinitypaired with ample homoerotic undertonesdepicted in Fincher's Fight Club); the all-consuming power of obsession (see Max's dangerous and debilitating preoccupation with his work in π, or the single-mindedness with which Zodiac's protagonists pursue the titular case); and the self-destructive behavior to which this obsession can often lead.
Along with their shared thematic interests, both directors are well known for their meticulous, sometimes perfectionistic approach to technical matters in their films, from Fincher's careful manipulation of the film stock of Seven and Fight Club to achieve the desired look to Aronofsky's insistence on minimizing the use of computer-generated imagery in favor of more organic special effects in The Fountain. In recent years, Fincher has become noteworthy for his embrace of digital technologies and, with films like The Social Network, the artistic possibilities for this new medium he has demonstrated. Aronofsky, on the other hand, has largely stuck with film, using Super 16 mm film for his most recent pictures (The Wrestler and Black Swan). Together, these directors illustrate a through line from dedication to cinema's celluloid origins to exploration into the possibilities of its digital future.
Fincher and Aronofsky's distinctive visions and uncompromising styles of filmmaking have made them two of the most celebrated auteurs working in Hollywood. With rich filmographies – including prestigious prize-winners and contemporary cult classics – their films are not afraid to venture deep into the dark in order to find the light that might be hiding there.
(David Fincher, 1995) · In a dark, noir-inflected examination of evil, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play two homicide detectives on the trail of a serial killer who murders his victims in accordance with the seven deadly sins. Employing a bleach bypass technique to achieve its signature dark and gritty atmosphere, Seven marked a high point in '90s American cinema, earning a place on Roger Ebert’s "Great Movies" list and helping to turn Fincher into a household name.
runtime: 127 min format: 35mm
(Darren Aronofsky, 1998) · Aronofsky’s feature-length debut stars Sean Gullette as brilliant but troubled Max Cohen, who attempts to discover the mathematical explanation for everything. His work attracts the attention of a powerful Wall Street firm and a Kabbalistic sect of Hasidic Jews who vow to obtain Max’s results for their own ends. Shot in stunning black and white reversal film for $60,000, this surreal psychological thriller announced the arrival of a bold new director.
runtime: 84 min format: 35mm
(David Fincher, 1999) · "The first rule of Fight Club isYou do not talk about Fight Club." Persuaded by a mysterious nihilist named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) to leave his sterile middle-class existence behind, an unnamed corporate drone (Edward Norton) becomes immersed in a world of underground fight clubs. Closely adapted from the Chuck Palahniuk novel, Fight Club's raw editing, delirious meta-cinematic touches, and darkly comic tone make it the definition of a cult classic.
runtime: 139 min format: 35mm
(Darren Aronofsky, 2000) · Based on Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel of the same name and featuring a haunting Clint Mansell score and a jarring style of rapid cuts, "Requiem for a Dream" follows four characters' descent into drug addiction as they attempt to achieve their vision of the American Dream. Earning Ellen Burstyn an Academy Award nod for Best Actress and cementing Aronofsky's reputation as an important auteur, "Requiem for a Dream" is a profound and harrowing masterpiece.
runtime: 102 min format: 35mm
(David Fincher, 2007) · Based upon Robert Graysmith's book about the infamous Zodiac killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the late 1960s-early 1970s, Zodiac stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with the case after his newspaper receives encrypted letters from the killer. Hailed by critics as one of the best films of 2007, "Zodiac" is a dark psychological thriller that transcends the formulas of its genre.
runtime: 157 min format: 35mm
(David Fincher, 2008) · Loosely based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Brad Pitt stars as the titular charactera man born on Armistice Day who ages backwardsand the life-long love affair he has with Daisy Fuller (Cate Blanchett). Epic in its scope and structure, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a powerful examination of love, loss, and life. It received thirteen Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture and Fincher's first nod for Best Director.
runtime: 166 min format: 35mm
(Darren Aronofsky, 2008) · Mickey Rourke stars as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging professional wrestler attempting to revive his career in the face of ailing health, repair his relationship with his estranged daughter, and find love with a stripper (Marisa Tomei). Garnering its stars Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, the film has been well-received by the pro-wrestling community for its realistic portrayal of a man's struggle with demanding art.
runtime: 109 min format: DCP
(David Fincher, 2010) · Penned by "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin (who won Best Adapted Screenplay for it) and hailed as one of the best films of 2010, "The Social Network" casts Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, chronicling his rapid rise from moody Harvard undergrad to legally-troubled billionaire. Earning Fincher a Golden Globe for Best Director, "The Social Network" is a cool and controversial portrait of a man and the new millennium he helped to shape.
runtime: 120 min format: 35mm
(Darren Aronofsky, 2010) · Aronofsky's companion piece to "The Wrestler", "Black Swan" is a psychological horror story starring Natalie Portman in a Best Actress-winning role as a young, sheltered ballerina who is haunted by hallucinations and doppelgängers as she explores her darker side in preparation for her lead role in Swan Lake. Receiving five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, "Black Swan" is a dark and eerie take on self-discovery in an art world. s
runtime: 108 min format: 35mm