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Two friends form an underground organization called ‘Fight Club’ where men meet in an attempt to regain their basic, primal nature in a world of consumerism and material greed. Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk.
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Any movie that can spiral Rosie O’Donnell into chronic insomnia is a movie well worth watching.
This is what the then talk-show-host revealed to her viewers back in 1999, right before she gave away the surprise ending and pleaded for everyone to avoid the film at all costs. And she’s not the only who hated it. Roger Ebert remarked that it was, “A celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up.” Rex Reed from the New York Observer famously called it, "A film without a single redeeming quality, which may have to find its audience in Hell."
Welcome to our first of four Most Controversial Films of the Last Decade: FIGHT CLUB.
Jack (Edward Norton) is a thirty year old Recall Coordinator living alone in an anonymous big city. Spending most of his time travelling around the country to various automobile crash sites, Jack doesn’t appear to have any lovers or significant relationships, instead savouring his “single-serving friends,” ie. the person sitting next to him on the plane between take-off and landing. In fact, everything in Jack’s life is single-serving -- food portions, hotel shampoo, q-tips -- which mirrors the isolation he feels in his everyday life. When Jack’s apartment mysteriously blows up, leaving him without any possessions or a place to stay, he calls one of these single-serving friends to help him out. Tyler Durden is everything Jack isn’t -- good-looking, liberated, and totally unselfconscious -- and under Tyler’s tutelage Jack begins the
Director David Fincher (Se7en, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is at his best here. His start in commercials and music videos is apparent; his fluid, succinct style entices the viewer to watch with horror every moment of the crushing headlong descent into madness that is Jack and Tyler’s journey. Fincher has a habit of making his films incredibly dark -- literally -- but here his blacker-than-black blacks and desaturated colours perfectly compliment the content. Norton, Pitt and Bonham Carter couldn’t be better cast, especially Bonham Carter who does a lot with an underused character. Jim Uhl’s brilliant script, based on the equally brilliant book by Chuck Palahniuk, is both resonant and satirical, ricocheting from dry condemnations of our consumerist society to edgy send-ups of support group circles and flimsy suicide attempts. ‘Fight Club’ is one of those cinematic masterpieces that dares to comment on the state of modern society despite the discomfort it may cause us to watch it. It is perhaps significant that the film was released in 1999, the very last year of the 20th century.
The controversy surrounding ‘Fight Club’ stems somewhat obviously from its revolution around violence, both in theme and content. I’m convinced that reviewers were largely threatened by the former -- nihilism, the unfruitful search for God, violence as an answer to the dulling of our senses through ‘the American Dream’ of a person’s value being measured by his possessions and status -- because violent scenes in themselves are hardly unusual in American cinema. This theme is the most important element of ‘Fight Club,’ albeit hard to grasp if you can’t see the forest for the trees (ie. the significance for the violence). The script could easily be misinterpreted and exploited by those less mindful than Fincher, Pitt and Norton, and even they admit the film wasn’t necessarily made to be watched and enjoyed by a mainstream audience. The challenge in
In his review, Ebert commented that women (like myself) would see through the ‘macho porn’ exterior of the film. Even though I disagree with that statement, he wasn’t completely off in his sentiment. The film’s second and third acts overdo the ‘fight’ in ‘Fight Club’, driving the gimmick way past home and well into the back shed. (In the DVD commentary Norton remarks that the excellent sound effects contribute to making people uncomfortable. Try watching his fight with Jared Leto with the sound off -- it’s decidedly less disturbing.) And the seemingly arbitrary acts conducted by Jack and Tyler’s ‘Project Mayhem’ gang make it harder and harder for viewers to relate to the filmmakers’ message, although arguably that is the point. But no one can genuinely claim this film is gratuitously violent in the way that ‘Rocky’ or ‘Die Hard’ is. The fighting is always about receiving, about feeling, rather than winning; one of the challenges that Tyler metes out is to challenge someone to a fight and lose. It’s all about acceptance, not chest-beating. About knowing how you’ll react when the chips are down, when you’re out of your comfort zone. That’s what this film explores.
I love and appreciate the underlying theme that drives this and one of my other favourite films of 1999, ‘American Beauty’ -- the unhappiness that saturates North American society is in equal measure to our growing emphasis on material wealth, and that a return to basic primal necessities (emotion, interaction, humanism vs. divinity) is at least partly the key to our salvation. When Tyler holds the convenience store clerk at gunpoint and threatens to find and kill him if he doesn’t start pursuing his dream of being a veterinarian within six weeks, we know that, as Tyler claims, the clerk is going to wake up to the best breakfast of his life the next day. Ying balances yang. Shadow provides relief from light. We know that we’ll die someday, but we don’t really believe it until it’s obvious.
I don’t mean to knock people like Rosie O’Donnell who don’t “get” this movie. I don’t “get” David Lynch films and I know some folks do. But when you understand a film, when it speaks to you and widens your perspective in our pervasive quest to grasp the elusive, slippery truth, you’re entitled to run with it. Run with ‘Fight Club’ if you get it. Tyler Durden wants you to.