Fight Club – 1999
Director – David Fincher
Starring – Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter
Firstly, I’d like to mention that this review was a special request from a friend of mine. Normally all it would get would be a little bullet review simply because I had already seen it, although I do confess it deserves quite a bit more attention. So, here we go.
Back in 1999, before I had read the book, learned the rules, and become swept up in the fervor that was Fight Club, I was blissfully unaware of what lay before me. At the time, I was living in an apartment with 3 other guys, all of which lifted weights, and were at least partially if not completely into the pathos of the film. All of us were in our twenties, none of us were in solid relationships and each of us was steeped in the malaise of the 90’s. Everything about Fight Club not only seemed fresh, it was fresh. Released the same year as the other major 1999 film with a genre defining plot twist, The Sixth Sense, I had no clue as to where Chuck Palahniuk’s tale of hard-won maturity was taking me.
Whether or not you like the film, Fight Club grabs away your attention, and doesn’t let you have it back until finished. As the very definition of slick and flashy, but with the added bonus of subtext, the film sets forth with a social commentary unique to its place in time. Equal parts special effects display, close examination of the modern-male condition, romance, and suspense film, Fight Club is unapologetically brazen and wonderful.
For those lucky enough to not know what it’s all about, here’s a brief rundown of the plot (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it). The narrator, sometimes referred to as Jack (although we never actually learn his name), is stuck. He finds himself constantly running the treadmill of the daily working-grind. Business trips, catalog shopping, and time spent avoiding everything of substance in his life is taking its toll, and he finds himself unable to sleep. In an attempt to turn his life right side up, Jack meets a girl (Marla), makes new friends (Tyler), and goes through the process of systematically dismantling his life in an attempt to put it back together again. From nameless worker bee, to co-founding an underground street fighting ring, to working to bring down the system all in the name finding cure for the omnipresent male aggression that he suffers from, Jack walks a very long path to find himself in very familiar territory.
Despite its somewhat fractured method of telling it’s story, Fight Club is a fairly straightforward film. Using a very visual, and interactive method of walking us through the narrative, we are placed directly into the character’s nerve center. We see first hand, from Jack’s point of view, his plain, drab apartment being populated with equally plain, drab furniture. We watch as his work-life gets drowned out by his new passion for fighting, and we feel the same panic when the boundaries of his comfort zone are reached.
Fincher utilizes the same grimy chic aesthetic that he used in Seven, and would later use in Panic Room. Going along with the themes of the source material, everything is worn, threadbare, and ultimately falling apart. From the house that Jack and Tyler move into on Paper St. to the tenuous relationships that hold our main character to his old life, we watch as the very fabric of his life is torn apart. Aside from dressing the set accordingly, Fincher utilizes destructive imagery, achieved through the combination of CGI and simple practical effects. Lighting, post-production coloration of the film, as well as on and off-screen narration provide a glimpse into the inner workings of the distressed mind of our main character.
What to say about the acting…I’ve never liked Brad Pitt better than I do in his role of Tyler Durden, and Edward Norton, coming off of his fantastic run of Primal Fear, and American History X, achieved a level in his career that he hasn’t before, or since. Helena Bonham Carter provides the perfect foil to the Pitt/Norton duo, by playing crazy with issues in a really grounded sort of way, and numerous wonderful supporting roles are filled out by familiar faces, such as Meatloaf, Zach Grenier, Jared Leto, and a whole host of others that you’ve seen even if you don’t know their names yet.
Since my initial viewing, I’ve come to watch the film time and again on DVD, and I find that the story has changed a bit. Coming out of the theater the first time, I felt empowered as a film student, a movie goer, and as a young man who didn’t quite know what he wanted out of life. The macho posturing and gratuitous justification of the character’s extreme measures seemed completely justified to me. Damn right I wanted to take something back from the world that had taken so much from me! I too, wanted to punch my way into a happier life, have my anger and discontent work for me instead of against me, and find that dysfunctional, messed up girl who “got” me. (What!? I said I was in my 20’s.) Needless to say, I grew up. My selfish view of the world changed, and I stopped being so focused on my own problems. As I grew, and watched the film again, I realized there was a satirical bent to the film that I didn’t see when I was steeped in selfishness. Now that I had a changed view of the world, and myself in it, I could understand the fact that the film wasn’t preaching anarchy, or violence. Instead it was illustrating the nature of youth, and the power of experience, and acceptance as a means of learning and growing out of it.
Fight Club is a near perfect film, right up there with The Royal Tenebaums, The Big Lebowski, and Children of Men. A true 10!
“That dude is the other dude, and then he shoots himself.” – Ashley