January 2, 2012

Classic Review: Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jim Uhls. Based upon the novel by Chuck Palahniuk.
Cast: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Zach Grenier, Rachel Singer, Bob Stephenson, Thom Gossom Jr., Michael Shamus Wiles, Joon Kim, Jared Leto, Peter Iacangelo

David Fincher brings to life Cuck Palahniuk's anti-establishment novel about an unusual support group formed by an insomniac. The atmosphere and black comedy ooze as freely as the blood that splatters from the Fight Club participants, making this a must see for all.

After his doctor refuses to help with his sleeping problems, an office drone insomniac (Edward Norton) starts attending support groups as a "tourist". He finds that the emotional catharses that he gets from these groups allows him to sleep at night. However, when he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) another tourist, his life is once again disrupted when the insomnia returns. Soon after, his situation worsens when his apartment is destroyed in an explosion on the same day he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Seduced by Tyler's message of anti-consumerism, the two end up forming an underground Fight Club, where men are able to empower themselves through the age old method of beating themselves up. However, fight club is only the beginning for Tyler Durden who has bigger and more explosive plans for the group.

The Queering
I'll get this out of the way right now, Fight Club *is* my all time favourite movie, so forgive me if I gush a little bit during this review.

Overall, Fight Club is a thematically complex tale that explores the darker, more primitive side of human nature that society insists upon repressing. While Fight Club is a violent film, it does not mindlessly promote violence. The consequence of the masculine id run amok are shown in graphic detail as Tyler Durden leads Fight Club (and later Project Mayhem) down an increasingly depraved path. By the end, Tyler Durden is revealed to be just another problematic authority figure and the stark hypocrisy of the cult-like Project Mayhem which requires conformity and unquestioning obedience of it's members, cannot be ignored.

Starkly nihilistic in it's worldview, Fight Club does not allow for easy interpretation or analysis. One could call it a critique of masculinity, a scathing condemnation of consumer culture, or a celebration of mindless anarchy. All of these interpretations could be considered valid. Those who have problems with Fight Club, are probably going to be the same people who like their themes wrapped up into a neat little bow, delivered on a silver platter, and with a pretentious voice over explaining everything on the side.

Consider testicular cancer survivor, Bob Paulson (Meat Loaf), that the narrator meets early on when going to support groups. Bob's condition was caused by taking steroids, in a blatent attempt to conform to societies standards of masculinity. In short, by through his attempt to be the most macho man possible, Bob ends up emasculated and pathetic. When Bob later joins fight club, he is able to regain the masculinity he lost while pursuing societies narrow view of what constitutes the ultimate man.

The overarching theme of Fight Club (if it can even be said to have one) is how modern society, which places a high value on mindless consumerism and unquestioning obedience to authority, has completely degraded the human experience. It is easy enough to envision the narrator as a Marxist hero, completely ground down by the system, to then rises up to engage in a violent proletariat revolution against the bourgeoisie. He starts the film as a somewhat cynical, but still rather typical office drone and has, or at least claims to have, nearly everything. He does not realize that what he lacks is meaningful human interaction and ultimately, his isolation and loneliness is what allows him to be seduced by Tyler Durden.

Edward Norton gives a brilliant performance as the besieged narrator. Brad Pitt, who at the time Fight Club was in the process of transitioning from a popular pretty boy celibrity to serious thespian, plays Tyler Durden with an animal magnetism that commands the attention of the camera whenever he is on screen.

The most memorable and hysterical scene has the narrator beating himself up in his bosses office. The second most memorable scene, which is much darker and riff with religious implications, has Tyler burning the narrator's hand with lye in order to force him to acknowledge his own mortality.

Fight Club istself is rich with religious subtext. From a Christian perspective, Tyler Durden can be seen as a modern Messiah, whose message spreads quickest amongst the poor and working class, offering them hope that they could not otherwise obtain. Nortan, on one of the DVD commentary tracks points out that one can also interpret Fight Club through the lens of the Buddhist teaching of obtaining enlightenment by first killing the values of your society, then the values of your parents, then those of your mentor, and then lastly, your own. Others have also made a connection with Zen Buddhism.

There are two homoerotic subtexts worth pointing out, such as the one that exists between the narrator and Bob, who spend each most of their screen-time together in each others arms. The other subtext exists between the narrator and Tyler Durden, with the narrator acting like a jilted lover when Tyler refuses to divulge his plans for Project Mayhem. Considering Tyler Durden's line about "Self improvement is masturbation" and a certain key plot twist, the Freudian implications of this subtext are particularly mind-blowing.

Overall, it is the dynamic thematic content that gives Fight Club it's most lasting power. There are very few movies that come close to achieving it's high level of pragmatic philosophical outpouring and outraged ravings. As I said, it is my personal favourite movie and I doubt that any other will come close to unseating it.

Since you are not your bank account, there is no reason not to fight tooth and nail to empty it in order to be sure to see this movie.

The Rating


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