Clash of the Directorial Titans: Christopher Nolan vs David Fincher
The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world—David Fincher, the prince of darkness versus Christopher Nolan, the patron saint of blockbusters.
On one end of the spectrum, you have a master craftsman of the greatest caliber. David Fincher goes to work with both a camera and a chisel, sculpting his films with singular precision. He is an artist. He is a logician.
At the other end, you have a visionary who specializes in marrying complexity with simplicity. Christopher Nolan’s ivory tower is founded on a bedrock of grandiose ideas. He is a futurist among filmmakers. He is a dreamer.
On the surface, both Fincher and Nolan are the same in that they are both directors of motion pictures, but they don’t operate on the same playing field. In fact, they don’t even play the same sport.
Fincher is all robust cynicism; his films are markers on his quest to bring to light the dark heart of humanity. He is a master of mood and atmosphere. He trades in precision, and so do his characters.
Nolan builds his projects around one grand idea; his films are markers on his quest to elevate blockbuster filmmaking. He is a master of ambition and scale. He trades in conjuring awe and astonishment.
A Visionary and a Craftsman
In many ways, Fincher and Nolan are heir apparents to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, respectively.
Nolan is beloved because he has harmonized consistency, complexity, accessibility, entertainment, and engagement - there is simply no other director in the world who routinely makes inventive and engaging blockbusters that aspire to be more than your standard popcorn fare.
And he does all of that without alienating his audience. On the contrary, he makes them feel intellectually empowered. The majority of Nolan’s movies are structurally complex but don’t have similar thematic depth, at least not to the extent of his peers’ work.
And then there’s Fincher, a man consumed by his fervent devotion to authenticity.
Considering them both purely and solely as directors, David Fincher is superior. There is a strong case to be made for Nolan being a better Auteur; which he unquestionably is, because Fincher isn’t one.
But as a director, Fincher is elite. Nolan is likely to win several other directorial battles, but against Fincher, he is but a kite dancing in a hurricane. He never stood a chance.
Fincher’s filmography is staggering. Se7en and Fight Club haven’t aged a day. They remain immensely engaging thrillers to this day.
Fincher's Delectable Oeuvre
Zodiac is one of the finest films of the 21st century.
Although it is ostensibly a taut procedural about the said manhunt, ultimately, Zodiac is a meticulously crafted tale of obsession and how the pursuit for the killer entirely consumes the lives of the film’s three principal players. It is equal parts understated, sumptuously atmospheric, and unnerving.
And it wouldn’t have been that without Fincher’s ridiculously painstaking methods. He is a pedant of the highest degree.
Even his relatively weaker efforts, such as Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, are incredibly engaging. Fincher is incapable of being uninteresting. And as a director of actors, he reigns supreme.
And then there is the marvel that is The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin’s script is insanely hyper-verbal, even by his standards. And Fincher visualizes it with such remarkable finesse, the film is bursting at the seams with energy.
The Social Network was not merely exceptionally put together; it was incendiary and inspired filmmaking, a feat of stunning craftsmanship.
A searing and soaring symphony of Sorkin’s kinetic dialogue and Fincher’s remarkable precision, The Social Network marked a truly glorious collaboration between writer and director.
Se7en, Zodiac, and The Social Network are near-flawless movies; they are perfectly paced, incredibly acted, stunningly scored, gorgeously shot, and relentlessly engaging. And his other efforts aren’t half-bad either.
Musicians play their instruments. Christopher Nolan is an uncommonly talented musician. He is the best in his row.
But David Fincher?
Fincher plays the orchestra. He is a maestro.