I am a later comer to Fight Club. I did not see it until buying the DVD on a whim in 2003. Somehow, I also managed to avoid the spoilerr of Tyler Durden’s true identity-- how I managed that is a mystery in itself--but it came as a total shock. Said shock made the movie a novel experience. I had to watch again to look for clues for the truth laid throughout. They were indeed. But after scouring the film to find the pay phone accepted no incoming calls and a bus passenger bumped into Durden, but did not apologize like he did after bumping into others, I find the repeat viewing value of Fight Club lacking.
Let us get something straight right off the bat: I do not relate to Fight Club in the slightest. I do not feel trapped by the middle class notion of manhood. I am not angry that I am not a rock star or famous baseball player. I do not believe God has it out for me. Chuck Palahaniuk, upon whose novel the movie is based on, rages against the inherent cruelties of life--other people pigeonhole you, getting the necessities of life means getting a job you likely hate, and bad things happen regardless, among others--and comes across looking like a whiny child, as do many of his characters in Fight Club.
There is a certain awareness of that fact. There are several instances after a fight in which the combatants look at one another as if to ask, ’What were we fighting about again?” But there really is not enough of that to save the film from its inherent philosophy that destruction is liberating.
We are talking about destruction on all levels. The Narrator, who is not given a name, breaks himself down indulging his insomnia, faking deep personal problems so he can finally cry at 12 step program meetings, form Fight Club rto beat up other men and eventually become a terrorist movement to satisfy his need to ’destroy something beautiful.” Marla, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is a severely damaged, suicidal woman who still maintains a stark air of self-abuse even when her death wish subsides. Then there is Durden, played by Brad Pitt. He is the Narrator’s unrestrained id. Everything the Narrator would like to be, but his pesky ego keeps restrained. Durden is the ultimate destructive force.
What that can best be defined as is nihilism. The notion that these enlightened souls have found nothing as meaning in this dehumanizing consumer society. They congratulate themselves for achieving this intellectual epiphany that appears to have escaped the rest of the sheep, and declare an all out war on society as a result. It is done in a celebratory tone, as well. The Narrator is a mild mannered white collar worker who used to spend time thumbing through catalogues until the excitement of Durden’s free spirit attitude captivated him. As Durden’s schemes become more violent, the Narrator still goes along even though he clearly has moral issues. In other words, the ego is not surpressing the id. Let immorality reign, people, because life has been unfair!
While I assume I am going against conventional wisdom Fight Club is great as an earnest study of the suffering of modern masculinity, I think it fails on that level because masculinity is not suffering that brutally. Or, at the very least, not suffering because of the consumer culture. Political correctness and feminism are more likely culprits. Nevertheless, adopting an anti-materialistic philosophy, then morphing it in a violent crusade for no discernible no purpose is an incredibly dumb message.
Conversely, if you take Fight Club as a farce on the rebellion of men against consumerism--considering all parties wanted the movie to be a hit, it is not a stretch--then it is passably entertaining. Yes, I am killing it with faint praise. The self-aware looks certain characters give each other at the absurdity of their own actions are too far and few between to consider Fight Club a satire rebellion against society.
Fight Club is, however, a masterfully made film. I praised director David Fincher for the far superior Se7en. He utilizes the dull, shades of blues and grays in Fight Club as effectively as in Se7en. The script by Jim Uhls is tight, progressing at a steady pace in spite of the pretentious material. Norton turns in a brilliant performance as a somnambulistic cubicle drone caught up in something far beyond his control. I am not a big fan of Pitt or Carter. Both their reputations as sex symbols are not well earned as far as I am concerned, but they do not ruin it for me, either.
Fight Club should definitely be seen at least once. Once will go along way unless you buy into the film’s pseudo intellectual message. Lord help you if you do. The characters go from the polar opposites of anti-materialistic free spirits to storm troopers ready to tear down all that is sacred within the space of an hour without the slightest hint of self-awareness on behalf of any of the players involved. I need to call that satire in order to give it a decent rating, so I am. Though I am being generous in doing so.
Rating: *** (out of 5)