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.