Thirty years from now, assuming I’m still around, I want to read some movie guides and cinema textbooks, maybe even take a film studies class at my local community college. Why? Because I’m a hopeless movie nerd.
And because I want to see if Fight Club finally gets the recognition it deserves.
Fight Club was a box office disappointment in its 1999 release and it’s not hard to see why. The source novel, Chuck Palahniuk’s debut, was not a mega-bestseller. Two of the three leads were cast against type. The film was difficult to market and the negative criticisms (basically “guys beat each other up a lot”) got the most press. Mr. Average Moviegoer may well have been still too squicked and baffled by, respectively, Se7en and The Game to want to see another David Fincher film. Likewise, the film’s violence (not overtly gory but brutal and realistic), nonlinear structure, and willingness to play games with its audience may have turned off viewers.
Fortunately, Fight Club has found its niche on DVD. It’s currently available in a single-disc edition, but it’s the double-disc version (now out of print) that’s full of the extras fans will love, and that’s the edition I’ll review.
The film’s nameless Narrator (Edward Norton in an Oscar-worthy performance) isn’t having such a good time lately. He has a job he despises as a claims reviewer for an auto company whose products regularly have accidents that incinerate the car’s passengers. Said job forces him to travel constantly, which doesn’t help his crippling insomnia and his total detachment from other people. Refused tranquilizers by his doctor, the Narrator starts going to support groups for people suffering from testicular cancer, brain parasites, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Only there, masquerading as a disease victim, is he able to cry, get some emotional release, and get some sleep.
Unfortunately he soon meets another support group “tourist”, Marla (Helena Bonham Carter, leaving those Merchant-Ivory movies way behind). When there’s another “faker” in the room, the Narrator can’t cry, and his insomnia returns. It’s shortly after this, on a return flight from a business trip, that the Narrator meets soap huckster Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, skanky and charismatic). That same night, when the Narrator comes home to find that his condo has been blown up and all his worldly possessions are so much rubble, he calls Tyler asking for a place to stay. After a few beers in a local dive, Tyler says he’ll give the Narrator a place to stay. On one condition.
“I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
The Narrator’s and Tyler’s parking lot brawls become a regular thing. And soon one of the onlookers asks if he can be next. Thus is born Fight Club.
To say more would risk ruining not just a significant plot twist, but all the little zigzags that the Fight Club story takes.
Praise must go first to David Fincher, who opens up the full bag of stylistic tricks – flashbacks, computer animation, sound distortion, odd camera angles, voiceover, breaking of the fourth wall, and so on. But they never feel like tricks. Fight Club is an intensely personal film, in that its perspective is solely that of the Narrator’s. Every event is seen through his eyes, and filtered through his perspective. We can’t always trust the Narrator’s version of things; but then, neither can he.
Kudos are also due to screenwriter Jim Uhls (and to Se7en scribe Andrew Kevin Walker, who did some uncredited work on the screenplay) for not only translating such a difficult novel to the screen, but in doing it so well that Palahniuk himself claims to like the film better than his book – particularly the ending. (I’m undecided as to which ending is best – I used to prefer the film’s, but recent world events have made that ending less satisfying).
I also want to mention the film’s score by The Dust Brothers, which is a perfect accompaniment to the film, and makes for fine listening on CD as well.
Last but certainly not least, praise goes to every member of the cast, all of whom are perfect in their roles. Edward Norton should have been Oscar-nominated for his performance as the Narrator, engaging our interest if not always our sympathy as his life starts getting out of control. Brad Pitt as Tyler skanks up his good looks and radiates a sleazy charisma that makes you nod your head during his primitive philosophizing, and of course we mustn’t overlook his lovely, lovely abs! Helena Bonham Carter will be a shock to those who know her only from films like A Room With a View, and ends up being the movie’s only wholly sympathetic character.
Fight Club received a lot of negative press when it was released for its violence. And while there isn’t much gore, the film doesn’t shy away from the effects that brutal fighting would leave. Rob Bottin’s makeup will make you wince, especially when you realize that these battered, bloodied people all have to get up and go to work the next day. Ouch.
Fight Club has also been criticized for the primitive philosophizing of Tyler Durden. It’s immature. It’s supposed to be. The key to this philosophy (indeed, the key to the entire movie) lies in the Narrator’s assertion that he is “a thirty-year-old boy”. It’s the no-substance sloganeering of someone who’s grown, but never grown up.
The DVD is currently available in a single-disc edition, featuring four different commentaries: one with Pitt, Norton, Fincher, and Carter; one with just Fincher; one with Palahniuk and screenwriter Jim Uhls; and one with the technical crew members
If you’re a fan of the film, I encourage you to seek out the double-disc edition, which contains an additional disc loaded with behind-the-scenes features, promotional materials, alternate takes, and more.
Go watch Fight Club right now. What are you waiting for? Remember, this is your life, and it’s ending one second at a time.