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This week, we're taking a break from the mad geniuses we've profiled of late and jumping straight into the mind of a straight genius, no mad qualifier necessary. David Fincher began his directing career in music videos, creating some of the most iconic videos of all-time from Madonna's "Vogue" to Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun." He also gave us one of the best videos ever made for Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love" with the gorgeous Betsy Lynn George...

 

No artist is fully formed out of the womb—except perhaps Orson Welles—but there are traces of Fincher's exacting composition in this video. He was clearly thinking of what he could do with a full narrative outside of the under five minute structure of music videos. Sex is also dripping out of every pore in that video's body, though it's not quite as omnipresent in his work. Fincher wields sexuality as a weapon, particularly in his last two films, blurring the lines of sex, power, and violence in increasingly disturbing ways.  

There's no through line in his career when it comes to sex, however. Sometimes he uses it to titillate, sometimes to repulse, and sometimes to do both at the same time. Fincher's very clear about his intentions on this, and he's simply giving the people what they want...

 

Once again, we can't go back to the beginning, because outside of a shot of Deborah Kara Unger in her bra in The Game, there's no female nudity to speak of in his first three films. Film four, however...

Fight Club (1999) 

Arguably the most misunderstood film of the 90s, Fight Club was the kick in the balls the 90s needed right there at the end—101 days of the 1990s remained when the film was released. Derided at the time by high minded critics as nihilistic and wanton in its apparently gleeful celebration of anarchy, its dialogue and dogma have since become a rallying cry for small minded individuals who either didn't understand it or stopped watching before it ended. Tyler Durden's quips and wisdom have permeated our culture, most of them being wielded by folks who either don't know or don't care that they're repurposing a satire of their own amoral value system. 

Fight Club is making fun of the guys who think the world owes them something, not lionizing them or siding with them as some sort of pillars of virtue. The film lost much of its relevancy when 9/11 happened and anarchy no longer seemed like an innocuous threat to civilization. Still, it's an absolute blast of a film to watch, mainly because of Fincher's technical genius and his cast's willingness to stoop to just about anything he asks. 

 

When she was cast as Marla Singer, The Narrator's fellow abuser of people's trust, Helena Bonham Carter was mostly known for stuffy period British dramas like A Room With a View or The Wings of the Dove. However, she totally steals the whole film with her performance as someone beyond jaded, yet who is still desperate for human connection. She's a sexual dynamo that can only find satisfaction from the Narrator when he's in Tyler-mode, though their frantic sex scene above is a complete cgi creation. Bonham Carter does slip a nip in the scene where she asks Edward Norton to see if he feels a lump in her breast...

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

A series of false starts plagued Fincher's career after Fight Club, with him making only two filmsin the ensuing eight years—2002's Panic Room and 2007's Zodiac—which are arguably his worst and best movies, respectively. Both of them were skinless, though. Nudity would have a brief role in Fincher's 2008 effort, loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story of the same name about a man who ages backwards. Benjamin Button would reunite Fincher with Brad Pitt for the third time, here playing the title character.

Fincher and screenwriter Joe Roth narrowed the focus of Fitzgerald's original tale, making it more of a love story between Benjamin and ballet dancer Daisy (Cate Blanchett) with the two constantly re-encountering one another throughout their lives. The film's nudity is fleeting and romantic, unlike the fleeting and decidedly unromantic nudity of Fight Club. Just past the two hour mark, the two go skinny dipping in the ocean and make love on the beach, though the buns we see don't belong to Blanchett, who either used a body double or had her clothing digitally removed. It's a bit too difficult to tell...

 

There's also a sexy shot of Blanchett getting dressed right near the very end of the film...

 

The film was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Fincher's first nomination for Best Director. He had gone from something of a pariah earlier in the decade to once again being one of the most celebrated technical filmmakers. His next film, however, would effectively silence any naysayers or doubters that he was back in top form.  

 

The Social Network (2010)

Like the ad campaign for Kubrick's Lolita, there could have been a similar one for this film where the catchphrase was "How did they ever make a movie about Facebook?" It seemed like an improbable proposition, one that couldn't possibly work, but Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin both saw the inherently cinematic elements of the story of Mark Zuckerberg turning Facebook into a global giant in under five years. The film brought even more acclaim Fincher's way, though he was more interested in the boardroom and courtroom proceedings than he was Zuckerberg's love life.

There's no nudity in the film, but we did get our first taste of just how sexy Dakota Johnson was when she flaunted her butt cheeks in her tiny Stanford undies...

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

After casting Rooney Mara in a small but pivotal role as Zuckerberg's ex in The Social Network, the two re-teamed the following year for a loose adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, the first adaptation of the book in English. The book—and its 2009 film adaptation—had a lot of disturbing sexual content, something Fincher had danced around in the past, but never really delved into. The film's first poster let the world know, however, that this was going to lean hard into the story's sexuality...

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This meant we could expect Rooney Mara's nude debut in this flick, which was big news at the time. The actress got all of the piercings her character had done professionally, including having her nipple pierced. She later remarked that she removed all the piercings after filming except for the nipple piercing, in case a sequel should ever arise, stating, "It's not something I want to ever get re-pierced. So I'm going to keep it in." 

Anyone familiar with the story knows that Mara's character, Lisbeth Salander, is what is now commonly referred to as a "hacktivist," digging up dirt on wealthy and powerful people and using that information to blackmail them. Early in the film, however, she finds herself at the mercy of an abhorrent social worker who comes to visit her at home and ends up tying her up and viciously assaulting her following another sexual humiliation at his office earlier in the same day...

 

It is a vicious, brutal, and terrifying scene, one which Fincher lets play with very few cuts. He knows that her vengeance will come later in the film and wants the audience to get emotionally invested in Lisbeth's revenge ploy. Fincher is outstanding at manipulating his audience, and this pure manipulation at its finest. As Lisbeth's path begins to cross with that of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), he walks in on her topless in bed with a similarly topless Elodie Yung...

 

Blomkvist, and by proxy the audience, assumes she's a lesbian, but later in the film the two hook up. Salander's sexuality is never overtly addressed, but she's either bisexual or fluid enough to not care what's attached to the thing giving her pleasure...

 

Her sex scenes with Craig find her constantly telling him to shut up, or physically holding her hand over his mouth to shut him up...

 

This gets a bit convoluted near the end of the film where Salander seems to be pursuing a relationship with Blomkvist, only to have her heart broken when she sees him together with his ex. This was invented for the film, presumably to bring about some closure to the story without explicitly promising a sequel—which obviously never manifested itself. Without proper closure to that storyline, however, it leaves things sort of muddled and further confuses the character's sexuality.

 

Gone Girl (2014)

Fincher stuck with another bestselling literary adaptation for his follow-up—and, as of press time, his most recent theatrically released film. Author Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay for her own novel, streamlining this twisted tale of a woman getting revenge on her moron of a husband for carrying on an affair behind her back by framing him for her own murder. Reese Witherspoon had purchased the film rights to the book and, for a time, was going to play "Amazing Amy" the titular missing woman.

When Fincher came aboard, however, it became clear that she didn't fit his vision for the character, though she did retain a Producer credit on the film. Fincher instead cast Rosamund Pike, who brilliantly plays a woman with ice water running through her veins, always trying to maintain the upper hand on everyone around her, and improvising like a true sociopath when her plans go awry. When Pike's Amy discovers that her husband, Ben Affleck, is sleeping with one of his students (Emily Ratajkowski), she hatches a plot to eventually kill herself and frame him as her murderer. 

How much of a moron is Affleck's Nick? Well, when he's under a ton of suspicion, he still reaches out to his side chick, Ratajkowski, who happily shows up at his sister's house to bang him on the couch...

 

Pike, meanwhile, sees her plan fall apart in the film's second act when she is robbed by a desperate pair of twenty-somethings, and she turns to her old flame Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), to rescue her. Little does poor Desi suspect that he will eventually be offed by Amy when she decides to burn her old plan to the ground and frame poor Desi as her kidnapper instead...

 

While this is straight out of the book, it's easy to see Fincher latching on to this as being a simultaneous combining of pleasure and pain. She chooses to slice his throat just as he's climaxing, bathing her in a fluid bath the likes of which are normally reserved for a Dušan Makavejev movie. It's a chilling moment, one that Fincher chooses to let play out, leaving Pike's Amy covered in Desi's blood for the next several minutes of screen time. Once she gets home, she gets Nick alone in the shower to explain to him how everything's going to play out, before literally and metaphorically washing away all of the blood on her hands...

 

It's the sort of thing another director would really call attention to or lay on thick. Fincher trusts his audience enough to know what he's doing or where he's directing your attention, and like Kubrick, nothing ends up in his films accidentally. Fincher's only directing credits since this film were on Netflix's House of Cards and Mindhunter, shows for which he is also a producer/creator. He's also still technically attached to direct the sequel to World War Z, which would reunite him with Brad Pitt for the fourth time, though that film has had plenty of problems itself.

No matter what he puts out next, odds are its going to be a technical marvel, a film that's gorgeous to look at, and also likely has some twisted sexual dynamics. After all...

 

Check out the Other Directors in Our Ongoing "SKIN-depth Look” Series

Francis Ford Coppola

Ken Russell: Part One

Ken Russell: Part Two

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Park Chan-wook

Robert Altman: Act I

Robert Altman: Act II

Adrian Lyne

Martin Scorsese

Jane Campion

Bob Fosse

Dario Argento

Wes Craven

Tobe Hooper

Todd Haynes

Danny Boyle

Stanley Kubrick

Paul Thomas Anderson

David Lynch

Brian De Palma

Paul Schrader

Paul Verhoeven

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Non-nude images via

For a further appreciation of Fincher's craft, I highly recommend this video...