Should I Watch..? 'Fight Club'
What's the big deal?
Fight Club is a philosophical drama film released in 1999 and is based on the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. Directed by David Fincher, the film stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton as two guys who set out an underground society for men who feel numbed by society's limitations. The film also stars Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf and Jared Leto. Studio executives at 20th Century Fox were worried about the film's box office potential and unsure exactly how to market it. This resulted in a mixed reaction from critics when it was first released and a below-expectation return from the box office. However, the film's stature grew over time and it is one considered one of the best films on the 1990's as well as an innovator in terms of cinematography, effects and narrative complexity. The film continues to be controversial with its levels of violence and anti-establishment message still resonating with audiences almost twenty years later.
What's it about?
Our unnamed narrator is an insomniac car recall specialist who is generally indifferent travelling from place to place with little to show for it. His doctor, instead of treating his insomnia, decides that he should attend a support group for survivors of testicular cancer in order to show that his own problems don't actually amount to much. To his surprise, the Narrator finds the experience useful and begins attending lots of support groups - all of whom assume he has the same needs they all do. However, he is disturbed from his new-found peace by another imposter - the hot smoking mess known as Marla Singer - and the two of them recognise themselves in the other. They agree to swap numbers so as not to bump into each other at the same meetings.
Returning from another mind-numbing business trip, the Narrator meets Tyler Durden who is an eccentric soap-producer and soon, the pair strike up something of a friendship. Upon returning home to find it ablaze, the Narrator calls Tyler and they meet in a bar where they discuss the perils of consumerism. But the moment outside the bar when Tyler asks the Narrator to punch him is a moment that will completely change everything in the Narrator's life which quickly spirals out of control...
Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date (UK)
12th November, 1999
Academy Award Nomination
Best Sound Effect Editing
What's to like?
I first watched this years ago in my early twenties and didn't quite get it. Now that I'm approaching my forties (though not just yet!), I absolutely understand the film and its nihilistic message of anti-establishment, anti-consumerist and individuality in a society that rewards conformity. Now those are some seriously deep issues for any film to approach but Fight Club tackles them head on - this is one film that never shies away from portraying the emptiness that many people feel and it barely masks the anger beneath these ideas. No wonder that the number of actual 'fight clubs' increased after the film's release because so many people identified with it.
Norton is fantastic as the Narrator, as confused by events as he is empowered by them, but the film belongs to Pitt who pits in the performance of his career as Durden. Carter also deserves tonnes of credit for playing a role totally against type and for my money, is somewhat underused in the film. The interplay between Norton and Pitt is solid gold and possibly against your will, you find yourself nodding in agreement as they discuss the meaningless value society places in your possessions, usually purchased because we absorb the flood of advertising around us. Fincher is a director of real skill and uses every trick he knows to deliver a film that looks and feels as grubby as Tyler's rundown house but still uses subliminal messages and images throughout to make the film itself feel a product of Project Mayhem. It's a film that rewards intelligent audiences and multiple viewings as well as film-makers who have been emulating the film's look and style ever since.
- Palahniuk felt the film actually improved on his book. The idea first came to him after he was beaten up on a camping trip and none of his work colleagues asked him about his injuries. He felt that if people wanted to know about his injuries, it would require a level of personal interaction with him that nobody possessed - in other words, they didn't care enough to acknowledge what had happened - and this 'social blocking' formed the basis for the book.
- After the sex scene, Marla was supposed to say "I want to have your abortion" but the studio president objected. Fincher agreed to change the line on the proviso that it wouldn't be changed again so Fincher changed it to the line that appears in the film. The studio president objected again but Fincher refused to cut it.
- Marla Singer's phone number is the same number given by Teddy in the film Memento, a Hong Kong restaurant in Harriet The Spy and a mental institution in the TV series Millennium.
- As Tyler is giving a speech at Fight Club, he says "We've all been raised on television to believe that one day, we'll be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars." As soon as he says the word 'rock stars', he looks at Leto - the frontman of rock group Thirty Seconds To Mars that he formed in 1998.
What's not to like?
Obviously, the film's tone is midnight-black but the lighting didn't quite have to be - it can be hard to make out what is going on at times but this fits in with the film's deliberately surreal atmosphere. The film's visual effects - the splice cuts and deliberate degradation of the film itself - give the film an unsettling feel and make it difficult to watch but again, this is exactly how it should be so I shall ignore this for now. Incidentally, the film contains a full-frontal shot of some bloke's trouser-junk somewhere so don't complain to me when you find unsettling! Consider yourself warned.
The first time I saw the film, the famous twist came out of nowhere and I remember finding it a bit silly as though the film couldn't figure out how to reach some sort of conclusion. Watching it again and knowing the twist, the film becomes almost an experiment as you try to see what the clues are and whether the film actually supports its own theory. It isn't as confusing as something like Pulp Fiction and its non-linear story-telling but Fight Club is that rare kind of film that rewards attention and intelligent viewers such as yourself. It practically begs to be viewed at least twice and trust me, you really won't mind watching it again.
Should I watch it?
Fight Club is like a massive bar of dark chocolate - it's not for everybody and it might not do you any good but by God, you're gonna enjoy it anyway! The film, for me, is not just utterly brilliant but one of the most powerful and essential movies made in my lifetime. It speaks to the disaffected and disillusioned like no other film I have seen, my generation's Rebel Without A Cause. If any film can get me wanting to read the book then it's a winner (which is sad, now that I think of it) but what better recommendation can a film have?
Great For: men over the age of 30, sufferers of a mid-life crisis, travelling soap salesmen
Not So Great For: younger viewers (this is absolutely for over-18's only, let alone the subject matter), idiots who think this glorifies violence and domestic terrorism, anybody who refuses to read between the lines
What else should I watch?
Fincher's dark and atmospheric style is stamped all over Fight Club so if you enjoyed the likes of Seven and the American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo then you'll enjoy this just as well. Personally, I still enjoyed Alien 3 despite Fincher's continued disassociation with it - it's isn't as great as the first two films but it's still an atmospheric and oppressive thriller as Ripley once again must fend off cinema's most recognisable alien baddie on an all-male prison world. I can also recommend The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and not just there aren't enough Benjamins in the movies.
Part of the strength of Fight Club is that there aren't many films that can match the film's power, messages or impact. American Beauty makes a similar appeal to middle-aged men suffering from disillusionment but focuses on more sexual affairs and issues instead of graphic violence. American Psycho, by contrast, positively revels in such gleeful bloodletting.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox