September 9, 2016

Watch: David Fincher Shows How to Create the Ideal Plot Twist

With The Game, David Fincher crowned himself king of plot twists.

What is the feeling we have when we see a remarkable plot twist? It's almost physical: as if your heart stops beating for a second, or you forget to breathe. The Sixth Sense. Psycho. The Usual Suspects. We love these twists, because after we've watched the film, as we sit quivering over a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee, we ask, How on earth did they pull that off?

Fincher deceives viewers by over-using the close-up, calling attention to all sorts of elements and making them think that each is a clue.

This video essay by Nathan Shapiro shows us how David Fincher does it—or at least shows us the puppeteer's strings. (Shapiro spares no spoilers in his examination of the film, so those unfamiliar with it might want to watch the movie first.) The video walks us through the components of the film, both camera techniques and plot techniques, that set the stage for the film's final "gotcha."

One technique Shapiro mentions is the close-up. Typically, filmmakers use close-ups to draw our attention to an object, be it a face or a part of the setting; this technique can help to build mood, underscore a film's thematic material, or simply set off an emotion in the viewer which will help create a particular effect. Shapiro indicates that Fincher deceives viewers by over-using the close-up, calling attention to all sorts of elements and making them think that each is a clue to what might happen next, when in fact the real answer lies elsewhere.

Shapiro also draws our attention to the film's needle-in-a-haystack method of storytelling. As The Game's protagonist becomes more and more anxious about the "game" into which he's been drawn, he begins to go through numerous possibilities for an explanation. Are any of them correct? It doesn't seem that way, and yet... as the possibilities multiply, the film's plot becomes a bit like a shell game. Can we be confident in any conclusion about the film's outcome? Or is the solution we seek under another shell entirely?

We also see how the use of foreshadowing makes the film's conclusion all the more startling. Are the protagonist's adventures within the confines of the demimonde he's entered simply going to conclude in a way that recalls his father's death, of all things? It certainly looks that way. But wait! The movie's not over yet. At this point, viewers may have broken into a cold sweat, looks of wonderment on their faces. Such is the beauty of a great plot twist.

If you haven't watched The Game, give it a look. And if you'd like to learn something about how to build a plot twist, watch this impressive piece.      

Your Comment

6 Comments

The reason the film wasn't respected was because it was way to far fetched that anyone would jump off the roof exactly where he was supposed to. That was a deal breaker for me.

September 9, 2016 at 11:37PM

0
Reply

This Nathan Shapiro guy who made this video essay owes Tony over at Every Frame A Painting a serious shout out. This video essay basically does most of what Tony did in his Fincher piece, only not nearly as well. He even uses the exact same excerpts from Fincher's commentary tracks and ends with the SAME clip of Fincher talking about perverts.

September 10, 2016 at 2:08AM

0
Reply
Daniel King
Videographer, Editor
154

Hey, it's "this Nathan Shapiro guy". So I just watched the Tony Zhou video you mentioned, and omg you're right. I am a huge fan of his channel and his videos are WAY better than mine (not just the Fincher one), you're right about that too. Although in this case, this is actually a major coincidence that I had no idea about until I saw your comment. I used that part of the audio commentary because it comes from the actual commentary track that is on the Criterion Collection copy of The Game (and it fit with what I wanted to talk about), and I used the clip at the end (which had nothing to do with my video) because I remembered seeing it on the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo special features and thinking it was a hilarious clip of David Fincher. I just thought it was funny so I put it after I was done. I will be putting a link to Tony's video though in the description now, since you pointed out they are so similar. Thanks for the info!!

September 10, 2016 at 6:42PM

0
Reply

"Parallel development" doesn't just happen with screenplays. What seems the best approach is in the aether and good storytellers will often come upon the same - even if untravelled - road. Like I tell young writers: no, it doesn't mean XX "stole" your idea -- it means your idea is a good one because it's in the creative aether calling out to you both. Good video piece (his, too).

September 19, 2016 at 10:31AM, Edited September 19, 10:36AM

3
Reply
avatar
Todd Slawsby
Director
74

I totally forgot I had seen this movie! It's a great film.

September 12, 2016 at 1:38PM

2
Reply

My biggest problem at the time of the film's release was, and is: it's called THE GAME. Knowing how studios market, no one was going to call it that and have it end with killing Michael Douglas (as another comment mentions, it was further hindered by a ridiculous amount of things that shatter the suspension of disbelief).

All that said, still a GORGEOUS film and -- like all Fincher work -- a masterclass on cinema as a visual art. I just don't think the "twist" element of it was ever that great.

September 19, 2016 at 10:35AM, Edited September 19, 10:35AM

0
Reply
avatar
Todd Slawsby
Director
74