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Interview: David Fincher Talks Violence, Unpleasant Revenge & The Odd, Perverse Relationship That Drew Him To 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist December 21, 2011 at 11:00AM

Filmmaker David Fincher’s brain works in such a way that it moves too fast for his own mouth. He’s constantly ping-ponging around in conversation to a point where he loses you and then you realize, like his beloved protagonist Lisbeth Salander, as played by Rooney Mara, he’s about five chess moves ahead of you and has been discussing four things at once.
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David Fincher Interview

Filmmaker David Fincher’s brain works in such a way that it moves too fast for his own mouth. He’s constantly ping-ponging around in conversation to a point where he loses you and then you realize, like his beloved protagonist Lisbeth Salander, as played by Rooney Mara, he’s about five chess moves ahead of you and has been discussing four things at once.

His adaptation of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is one of the most anticipated films of 2011 and it’s finally arrived. In theaters today, Wednesday December 21, the picture is a mood-soaked and atmospheric one that is, in part, a riveting, complex detective story and a classic mystery. Many of his ardent fans will be happy to find Fincher back in his serial killer genre, but the picture is much more than just a synthesis of the obsessives in “Zodiac” trying to solve an unsolvable crime and the inhumane psychopaths in “Se7en.” As Fincher sees it, ‘Dragon Tattoo’ is also a non-traditional odd couple story. Two people that social circumstances determine shouldn’t have met, but cross paths and strangely complement each other in myriad ways.

Always a fascinating and candid subject – you can read some other parts of our interview here – Fincher spoke at length about “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,’ challenging the notions of what revenge is, stretching out of his comfort zone, casting his “Anti-Bond” character, the unpleasant things he’s trying to express when depicting violence on screen and much, much more.

Franchises are beast unto themselves, you’ve done them before. How do you feel about them, were there considerations you had to take before making them, and how does this one differ?
No, I think I don’t think in those terms. It was a totally different thing because it was a cinematic franchise as opposed to a literary franchise. My job in this was just to try and take a book and put it into cinematic terms. I really never felt any responsibility to a second movie. I never really felt responsibility to… I felt responsibility to the actors that are embroiled in, contracted to two and three.

Is that because you say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to let franchise concerns factor in,’ or are those pressures and concerns there?
No. I like these people, I like Daniel Craig, I adore Rooney Mara, inordinately, and I don’t want them entering into an agreement that is going to in any way hurt my relationship with them. That’s my priority. As it relates to a franchise, do I want to see a sequel to this? Would I be happy for everybody involved? That would mean a lot of people went to see it and enjoyed it. Do I think it needs a sequel? No, there’s a bit of an emotional cliffhanger, but the story itself is complete.

Right, it’s more self contained than the other two.
Yeah, and again I haven’t given the second and third books near enough scrutiny to be able to comment. I’ve seen Steve [Zaillian’s] script for the second one and it’s really good.

You were talking in the press conference about how this thriller, serial killer element doesn’t interest you as much as the relationships.
It’s not that it doesn’t interest me, it’s that it’s not the test, it’s not the thing… I certainly don’t feel like, ‘Wow, I really need this on my reel.’ I never felt out of my wheelhouse. I knew that there were things I could kind of speed through.

Do you like to push yourself out of your wheelhouse?
Absolutely, otherwise what’s the point? It’d be fucking boring.

So the element in ‘Dragon Tattoo’ for you is the relationship.
The thing that I hadn’t seen, the reason that I felt that people were embracing the book or were drawn to it was this foreground partnership. This bizarre… it’s not a love story, it’s an odd, slightly perverse, extreme friendship. I just, I hadn’t run across it.

That’s one of the things that Scott [Rudin] was initially selling. He said, “You’re going to read this and you’re going to see what evil men do and the crime scene photos and you’re going to roll your eyes but there’s something here between these, there’s a very odd new wrinkle.” And it’s this foreground story, and I don’t think the story is just [Rooney Mara’s] Lisabeth Salander [character]. I think it’s her in relation to [Daniel Craig’s] Mikael Blomkvist [character]. And we were very concerned that we weren’t going to be able to find somebody who wanted to play the guy to “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”

He’s not as colorful a character.
Yeah. And the fact that Daniel had the wit and the kind of vision of himself that allowed him to…I mean it’s an incredibly generous performance and it’s incredibly…you have to be a kind of elevated person to want to say, ‘I’m going to take the piss out of my other franchise,’ I’m going to go in a totally different way. We talked about it over dinner, he’s not the anti-Bond, he’s, I think, in the book he bangs a lot more broads than James Bond ever did in one book. But the notion that here’s this guy, a sort of sweater-wearing, let me write this down with his ball point pen and his post it notes and his complete misunderstanding of… I mean he gets his ass handed to him at the beginning. You don’t meet him under super heroic circumstances.

Right, he’s a wronged kind of character.
And in a cool way...it’s not just that he was wronged, he was wronged and he was silly.

But his character’s ultimately proven right.
Again that’s not…the issue here is not whether or not their nefarious goings on--anyone who’s a billionaire is probably responsible for the death of more than one person. But you know, we talked about [how] we needed a little Geraldo from him. We needed a guy with a straight face who could say, okay, we’ve just dived into the outside of Al Capone’s vault and we’re clearing the rubble away and we’re looking inside and there’s nothing. Back to you guys in the studio. We needed someone who could kind of do that. And that was interesting.

People make a lot of fuss about the violence in your films. Were there considerations for Rooney when you were shooting that rape scene?
Yes, for both Rooney and [the other actor, Yorick van Wageningen]. When you ask somebody to partake in the presentation of these kinds of ideas, you have a moral responsibility to them as an actor and as another human being, to make sure that they are, to the extent that they can, they are comforted in knowing that we are going to facilitate their humanity while you record these images that are incredibly inhuman and inhumane. And so there’s that, there’s a responsibility to showing this kind of degradation that I take on.

And then what you’re trying to articulate with that degradation?
I’ve shown these sequences to people who say they’re very offensive, and that’s the point. That is my point, my point is that rape in movies shouldn’t be titillating, it should be offensive. That’s the power of "A Clockwork Orange," it’s revolting. It should leave a bad taste in your mouth. I wholly respect Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” or even I mean you look at “Star 80," there are moments in that movie that just completely challenge your ideas of revenge. I don’t know to the extent that this was true, was Stieg Larsson was supposedly so upset by a rape that he witnessed, and that the fact that he did nothing… we needed to put the audience in those shoes. And it’s not about the revenge element. To me that’s the problem and not the solution. To me the solution is that if you’re going to tackle this kind of subject matter, the point is to put it in the proper perspective, which for me relates to both her subjugation and the inhumane treatment that she suffers at the hands of this man, and her retribution is… I don’t want to see people cheering.

There are revenge films, but this is not pleasant revenge.
No it’s not "I’ll Spit On Your Grave" and it’s not supposed to be. There’s a very interesting moment in the movie, and you watch the audience watch the movie, when she goes to [the] apartment [of the man who has already violated her] and the audience literally start to squirm. And you go, “Wait a minute, why is she doing this? Why is she putting herself in harm's way? What kind of disbelief are you asking me to set aside?” And that’s an interesting, provocative relationship to the audience, because they’re immediately unsettled by the circumstances. They’re immediately unsettled in a way that the lead character in the movie seems not to be. She doesn’t seem to be holding her safety in the same esteem that the audience is. And then, subsequently, what happens to her is all the more frustrating because it’s not only an affront on your sensibilities but it also makes you downgrade your respect for the character. And then when she returns, the audience experiences anxiety because she’s losing them. She’s losing the audience. They are starting to not care about what happens to her, because she is not a responsible vessel.

Then when we realize what it is that she’s done and how many moves on the chess board she’s been able to look ahead, she wins you back in a way that can never make up for the fact that she has been violated, and can never wholly look up to, to the, ‘I spit on your grave he deserves it’ way of thinking. It’s a much more compelling and adult transaction. I think that it creates a kind of frequency as she then pours all of her attention into the [missing girl character of the film] and we begin to see the corollary…how he’s at the fulcrum of the past and the present, and that to me becomes…not on a narrative, make sure you connect the dots, make sure you understand this kind of thematic and almost, it’s almost like an undertow or a rip tide, [Daniel Craig’s character] becomes [trapped in]. And the investigation that she is allowed into, that he ensnares her into, becomes all the more important to her kind of salvation in an odd way.

What are you doing next?
No idea. I’m sleeping for three weeks.

 “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” opens today, December 21, in wide release. You can read our review here.

This article is related to: David Fincher, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Interviews


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