Fight Club

Bottom Line: Stylish, preposterously original black comedy.

Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christina Cabot, David Andrews, Edward Norton, Eugenie Bondurant, George Maguire Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday, Richmond Arquette, Zach Grenier

1st RULE: You do not talk about Fight Club.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about Fight Club.
3rd RULE: If someone says “stop” or goes limp, taps out the fight is over.
4th RULE: Only two guys to a fight.
5th RULE: One fight at a time.
6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.
7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.
8th RULE: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you HAVE to fight.

By definition, I’ve already headed myself in the direction of heavily fracturing the first and second “rules of Fight Club”, as famously spoken by actor Brad Pitt as Tyler Darden. But what do I care? Moreover, why should I care? In the modern age, especially, we could take a walk around any given city and perhaps spot out a couple hundred people whom present themselves as reminders of the psychosocial, nihilistic main character. If there was one person living on this earth who had a story this bizarre to tell–and actually lived to tell it–I’d actually be a bit more scared than impressed. Fight Club opens with a following of a bored, stressed man (Edward Norton) who would give anything to be just about anyone at a higher status than him. He works at an office by day, and by night, he spends his spare time in a necrophobic state, attending group therapy for just about every imaginable disease that he doesn’t have–only to find himself back at home losing another night of sleep to his chronic state of insomnia. Everything changes when this man, whose name beyond “Narrator” is not once revealed, meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an airplane he has boarded for a business trip. The word “carefree” in no way begins to describe Tyler; “reckless” is only slightly better. It’s fairly ironic that even though he works as a retailer for soap bars, his lifestyle, domicile, and speech are all filthy in their own rights. To look up to someone as disgusting as Tyler would dig our Narrator, whose condominium has now been burned down, out of his almost bottomless pit. After being taken under Tyler’s wing, and into his dilapidated house, he is hesitantly brought into a world of reckless behavior, self-destruction, ignorance, and–above all–the co-foundation of Fight Club.

The reaction Fight Club received initially didn’t always hold it in the highest of regards. It is widely regarded as one of the most controversial films released in 1999, got recognition as the most confusing movie ever made, and even warranted a two-star review from Roger Ebert, who wrote: “Fight Club is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since Death Wish, a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up.” Although the thirteen years since the film’s initial release have brought quite a laudable amount of well-deserved praise (i.e. a #10 placement on IMDb’s Top 250, an 81% Rotten Tomatoes score, and a particularly large cult following), the original reactions are–at a certain level–agreeable. The film can tend to be confusing, especially near the very end, but perhaps it isn’t the most mind-boggling motion picture ever conceived (Memento, anyone?). The heavy controversy, as well, is what would be expected of a film, albeit a hideous encouragement for giving the film the “silent treatment” during its weeks of theatrical availability. In just its own plot, Fight Club is an unsoundly violent and engagingly surreal film, fueled alongside the story with drinking, smoking, and sex. It was cut and sometimes even banned in nations overseas, due to two particularly gruesome beatdowns. Looking at Ebert’s words on the film, “fascist” isn’t the best word to employ for description’s sake, but in no way is it “frank” and “cheerful” in this method. The film does, in fact, celebrate violence, but only in the vein of several other classics (i.e. Raging Bull, Braveheart): we wouldn’t see so many freshly beaten wounds and scars, if the point wasn’t to develop complex characters and maintain a heavily engaging plot.

Fight Club is no better than it has any right to be. With an A-list cast featuring stellar performances from Brad Pitt (Moneyball, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Edward Norton (Red Dragon, American History X), and Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter, Big Fish), the script–an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s equally contentious 1996 novel of the same name–is taken to a whole new, far more grandiose level. Attach an unmissable nod to director David Fincher (Se7en, The Social Network), whose most impressive ornaments include a brilliantly surreal opening title sequence and the most timely and appropriately sparing cues for jump cuts, and the result–though not set up the best–is an overwhelmingly involving black comedy. It makes the merely acceptable and consistently similar update Never Back Down seem a worthless, trashy, unintentionally hysterical ripoff.

A MINUS

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18 thoughts on “Fight Club

  1. Nice review. I ADORE this movie. It actually was my favorite for a while. I’ve seen it countless times and I’ve also read the book. I think it’s pretty close to perfection and I’m surprised to see it described as a confusing movie. I don’t see that at all.

    • If you visit ChaCha.com (an INCREDIBLY useful search engine that gathers together one answer reportedly based on human input), or alternatively text 242-242, and ask what the most confusing movie ever made is, you’ll get Fight Club as an answer. I agree that very, very little is confusing. I’d guess it’s a reference to how weird the whole story sounds. A man trying to discover what real pain is through testicular therapy, meets a hand soap retailer on a work trip, moves in with him upon finding his house is nothing but the remains of an arson, and then co-founds Fight Club. I don’t know about you, but reading that evokes several “WTF??”s from my mind (though when presented, it is awesome), and if the book is anything like the film adaptation, I have to wonder how thoroughly the publishing agent read through it. So I guess that little reference (assuming that’s what “confusing” is supposed to mean), transformed into a bad joke on ChaCha’s part. We could look at the bright side and say that both of us–let alone at least half the people who’ve seen it–have both seen AND completely understood the “most confusing movie ever made”. Yay, I finally feel smart!!

  2. I’m always fascinated with how history has a way of re-evaluating films. I remember this bombed at the box office when released back in October of 1999. It only made $37 million against a $63 million dollar budget. Add to this that it only got one lousy Academy Award nomination for Sound Effects Editing (It lost to The Matrix). Time has been so much kinder to this film. Thank goodness!

    • This kind of necessary re-evaluation has happened, in fact, to several classics, and for several different reasons. The first three that come to my head are Citizen Kane (1941), The Shining (1980), and Blade Runner (1982).

  3. I watched this for the first time just a few months ago; great film. I suspect I would have had more attachment to it had I seen it when it was new (as I was very much the target market at the time), but it still holds up reasonably well.

    • The first thirty minutes. I found the setup to be very awkward, and I suppose that’s what left an impact on the eventual opinions of critics like Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin, who both grant it shameful middling scores.

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