Fight Club (1999)
“Works great even on blood stains.”
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
Synopsis: An insomniac office worker looking for a way to change his life crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker and they form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more…
We always want to be someone we’re not, it seems. That’s the premise upon which all movies are built – the fleeting opportunity to share the experiences of people who are more interesting, adventurous and brave. And cool. Because cool is a very rare quality in a human being – one which, if you need to strive for it, is something you will never possess. Brad Pitt is cool. David Fincher realised this in 1999 when he cast him as Tyler Durden in Fight Club, cinema’s most twisted wish-fulfilment movie, and then turned things around by asking its heterosexual male audience ‘what if being as cool as Brad was a path to self-destruction which, as a by-product, threatened to destabilise the very fabric of society?‘
Edward Norton plays an unnamed insomniac office worker. His insomnia is a consequence of a typically materialistic existence which the film identifies as pretty much the cause of all that is wrong with the world. He peruses the contents of an Ikea catalogue as he sits on the toilet, and works conscientiously on the contents of his wardrobe. One day he meets the ultra-cool Tyler Durden (Pitt), a unique individual with an equally unique perspective on life. When the narrator’s apartment is blown up, he phones Durden, who agrees to let him move in with him on the condition that the narrator first hits him as hard as he can. Thus begins the Fight Club of the title, a covert organisation whose members meet in deserted car parks and basements. The club seems to assume a life of its own, rapidly expanding and developing into an anarchistic organisation carrying out acts of terrorism against consumer organisations. Then, as the narrators misgivings become impossible to ignore, Tyler Durden disappears…
Perhaps Fight Club’s supreme irony is that it’s an anti-consumerist tract originating from a production system that thrives on the very thing that it pretends to condemn – a fact which makes the narrator‘s rebellion ring kind of hollow when you think about it. It’s a bit like Hugh Hefner condemning pornography, or 20th Century Fox endorsing Pirate Bay. This message is dressed up in clothes designed to appeal to one of the industry’s key strategic targets – young men under 25 – by challenging what it considers to be the fading masculinity of the modern male. More than any other demographic, young men under 25 are likely to be attracted by the call to arms of freedom through violence that Fight Club preaches. That self-destructive aspect of the story becomes secondary in much the same way that the ultimately nihilistic consequence of Fight Club’s ideology is overshadowed by the flashy style and the self-consciously cynical narration. What we remember about Fight Club is that publicity shot of a tousle-haired Pitt, cigarette clamped tightly between thinned lips, a bloody horizontal wound on the edge of his six-pack, bottle of beer clutched in one hand. Cool.
Story-wise, the movie doesn‘t really stack up. Too many strands conflict. The narrator travels the country without knowing it while (just about) holding down a full time job. That he could unknowingly maintain a dual personality without inviting at least some perplexed questioning from those around him – in particular, the character of Marla Singer, played with damaged-looking finesse by Helena Bonham-Carter – beggars belief, and becomes glaringly obvious when Jim Uhl’s screenplay has Marla sidestep asking the obvious questions. But why let such trivialities get in the way of business if the theme and subtext are so achingly cool? Just gloss over it with another scathing sound-bite: I am Jack’s single-mindedness of purpose…
At the end of the day, the only real message that Fight Club delivers is that the creation of anarchy depends upon a foundation of highly organised and strictly disciplined attention to detail. Much like making a movie.
(Reviewed 30th August 2012)