David Fincher's 1997 thriller The Game screens tonight on 35mm in MUBI's "Bastards of Hitch" film series at New York's 92YTribeca. Though the fetishized decay of 1995's Se7en played a large part in securing Fincher's place as an A-list director, for his follow-up thriller he promptly exchanged textures of pervasive rot for a tone of melancholy elegance that is felt in both the imagery and the sounds of The Game. The film's reflective, piano-driven score by Howard Shore honed its observations in on a single character's emotional state in contrast to the rumbling sonic oppressions Shore previously created for Se7en.
Fincher intelligently defers to Shore's music to permit the audience a slim opportunity for emotional alignment with the film's lead character (one of the film's many ties to Hitchcock is Fincher's challenge to the audience to root for a generally unlikable character). From the opening lines of the script, investment banker Nicholas Van Orton, iciest of protagonists, appears to be a modern-day Scrooge who has isolated himself behind his sterile fortunes and consistently pushed away anyone who might show him love. Yet during the film's introductory title sequence, before the movie proper has even started, Fincher plants a kernel of redemption deep within the character, knowing that this first impression will be hardest for an audience to shake. The faux-home movies running underneath these titles establish the traumatic, foundational childhood experience that has haunted Nicholas his entire life. The vulnerability that is palpable in Shore's accompanying opening cue insinuates into the viewer, almost subliminally, an instant compassion for a young boy's lost innocence at the witnessing of his father's suicide. It conveys the same fear and pain hiding behind Michael Douglas' impenetrable facade in his portrayal of the grown-up Van Orton, and it is a deft display of economic, non-verbal storytelling that the Master of Suspense might have appreciated himself.