“Fight Club” is, in my mind, the best movie to never gain an audience. It’s one of those movies that people either “get” or “didn’t get.” That isn’t to say those who “didn’t get” the film is stupid, but merely that “Fight Club” is what you would call “hit and miss” — you either like it, or you don’t. I happen to adore the film, and hence was greatly troubled that it failed so miserably at the box office. Then again, another favorite movie, “Big Trouble in Little China,” also failed miserably when it opened in the ’80s, and has become a cult hit. “Fight Club” is destined for similar greatness, I believe. It will take audiences a few generations removed to appreciate its message fully.
The film is about an insomniac (Edward Norton, whose character is never given a name), who wonders the desolate landscape of nighttime Los Angeles trying to pass the time. One day Norton comes across Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a brash and flippant soap salesman who introduces him to the world of self-destruction. The two begin an underground fighting club that tests their “manhood” and helps release their anger at the world and their place within it. Eventually the club spreads to other cities, and threatens to get out of hand. Norton thinks Durden is trying to set himself up as some kind of messiah of destruction, leading his “disciples” to mass anarchy. But the real question is: Does Norton want to stop Durden, or does Norton secretly want to be Durden?
For much of its first hour, the film focuses solely on Norton and Pitt’s character as they try to dissect the present state of man in society. Their questions concerning a man’s “place” and what constitutes a “man” is very relevant for those of us not quite sure about our place. The film explores all those elements, using the unleashing of primal boxing matches as an exaggerated form of male bonding, male anger management, and pure male testosterone. By the time the movie nears its end, it seems like every other man you meet on the street has taken part in the underground fight clubs. Slowly, Durden’s power begins to grow, and with it, his legend, as he rises to almost demi-God status, much to Norton’s chagrin.
Director David Fincher films the world of “Fight Club” in bright colors, and the actual fights at the fight club are brutal and bloody and like the gunshots in “Saving Private Ryan”, you actually feel every punch, every kick, and every teeth that gets knock out. Despite all that, “Fight Club” is mostly a black comedy, and is hilarious in various spots. It’s not an action film by any stretch, although there is a lot of action.
Where Fincher and writer Jim Uhls, who adapts from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, falters a bit is when the film ceases to become believable. Instead of more explorations of the man as a creature at the crossroads of an identity crisis, the film veers into overblown cartoonish violence that threatens to dismiss all that’s come before it.
“Fight Club” is most effective when it explores the world of man in and around the fight clubs, but becomes a ridiculous version of itself when it attempts to be too ambitious. The entire movie is one big nightmarish cartoon, but the cartoon gets just a little bit too much when the “Project Mayhem” subplot pops up. Durden’s crusade against the corporations of the world is an unnecessary byproduct of his rantings about commercialism having ruined the concept of “man,” but I could have done without his grand scheme to assault the corporations of the world.
Instead I would have liked more exploration of the male psyche in a world that purports to want “sensitive” man and yet glorifies the “bad boy.” It’s all done, said, and treated as satire of modern culture, of course, but it’s still relevant to a lot of people out there. In years to come, “Fight Club” will be given its due. At least this time I can say I was there, rooting for it, when it first came out.
David Fincher (director) / Chuck Palahniuk (novel), Jim Uhls (screenplay)
CAST: Edward Norton … The Narrator
Brad Pitt … Tyler Durden
Helena Bonham Carter … Marla Singer
Meat Loaf … Robert ‘Bob’ Paulson (as Meat Loaf Aday)
Zach Grenier … Richard Chesler