Film Commentary [10-18-99]
Brutal humor - - Fight Club
Genre: Comedy/thriller


Fight Club tells the story of a representative thirty year-old generation X yuppie-drone Jack (Edward Norton), who suffers from insomnia, depression and terminal consumerism which he describes as an "Ikea nesting instinct." (The film contains an hilarious attack on advertising for the Ikea home-furnishings chain). The best Jack can hope for is that his plane will crash on one of his frequent business trips. When refused sleeping pills by his doctor, he soon finds that he can relieve his problems by enrolling in support meetings for terminal diseases seven nights a week. However, he is soon dogged by strange woman named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) who starts showing up at all his meetings, "I know she doesn’t have testicular cancer. She’s just a poser," Jack narrates. Her presence reflects his own lie and he is soon back to his suffering, unable to find relief at his meetings.

But everything changes when Jack meets the mysterious Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a hipster who steals cars, makes and sells soap for a living (from lipposuction fat from medical clinics), and knows home recipes for napalm and other explosives all the while wearing old 70's style clothing. On returning after a business trip, Jack discovers that his precious condo has just exploded (destroying all his Ikea furniture). He calls Tyler and the two hit it off after Tyler challenges Jack to hit him. Jack moves in with Tyler in a decrepit house in the middle of an industrial district. We learn that Tyler has many jobs, including one as a hotel waiter (where he pisses in the soup) and as a movie projectionist (where he splices pornographic scenes into children’s movies). As they both come from divorced parents, Tyler and Jack rationalize that they are a generation of men raised by women, and emasculated by the politically correct American consumer culture. Soon Tyler and Jack are fighting outside the bar every night. This draws a crowd and soon men are volunteering to fight each other.

Tyler and Jack form Fight Club in the bar basement. In the Fight Club, alienated modern males, both blue and white collar, get in touch with their inner manhood by brutal bare-knuckle boxing brawls that leave them scarred but much happier than they were before. The club has several very important rules: (1) do not talk about Fight Club, (2) do not talk about Fight Club, (3) one man fights only one other, (4) one fight at a time, and (5) if its your first time here, you fight.

Jack begins showing up at work with a bruised and battered face, as do the other members as they casually nod to each other as they pass each other in the real world. "Is that your blood on your shirt?" asks Jack’s manager. "Some of it," Jack responds. He soon is told to shape up if he wants to keep his job. Jack responds in one of the most hilarious episodes in the film by punching himself in the face, throwing himself through the glass coffee table and shelves yelling "please don’t! No. Stop!," and bleeding over his manager’s hands as security enters the room, "Thank God," Jack retorts. He gets to keep his weekly paycheck as long as he doesn’t come into the office. As Jack puts it, "Fight Club now has a corporate sponsor."

Despite the first two rules of Fight Club, word spreads and soon chapters are forming all over the city and the country. But just fighting is not enough. Tyler soon begins handing out ‘homework assignments.’ The first being to pick a fight with a complete stranger and then lose. In a spiral of madness these homework assignments escalate. Tyler foments a crime and vandalism wave called ‘Project Mayhem,’ engaging in misinformation, criminal mischief (like trashing a trendy coffee bar and destroying corporate art) and a kind of "human sacrifice" that is the opposite of death. The club becomes an anarchist-nihilist cult army with Tyler as its general. There is a surprising but unfortunately a Hollywood semi-happy ending.

Directed in a nonlinear timeline by David Fincher (Seven) and based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the film is dark and brutally violent. Humorously narrated by Jack, Fight Club boosts stark and viscerally kinetic cinematography coupled with schizophrenic, irreverent and subversive originality, producing one of the best films of the year. This is an assault on modern American consumerism that is being called the Clockwork Orange of the 1990s, and it is just as surreal. And even better, it is very disturbing to the pretentious, politically correct establishment film critics. It has them shuddering with the idea of thousands of young men copycatting the film. In fact Roger Ebert called this a "fascist" film. This alone is reason enough to like it. It is also enough depth to consider this one of the more important films of the decade. People will be arguing about it for years to come.

While I have not had a really great opinion of Brad Pitt, I always have seen him as just another pretty-boy actor taking pretty-boy roles; Pitt is not, nor is anyone or anything in this film, pretty. On the other hand, I am becoming a real fan of Edward Norton, who handed in a brilliant performance as a split-personality killer in the otherwise dreadful Primal Fear and received the best actor nomination for American History X. Pitt and Norton both hand in powerful performances developing an on-screen chemistry rarely seen in modern Hollywood films. A surprise is the performance of Meatloaf (yes, the Bat of Hell musician) as a testicular cancer sufferer and Jack’s friend Bob, cursed with a cancer treatment side affect you have to see to believe (I’m not going to give it away).

Grade = A

Quotes:

"Get married? I’m a thirty year-old boy."

On looking at a Calvin Klein underwear ad: Jack-"Is that a man." Tyler-"Self improvement is masturbation. Self destruction is the answer."

"You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not the car you drive. You are not your khakis."

After ruthlessly battering Jared Leto’s ( A Thin Red Line) face, "I wanted to destroy something pretty."

After selling the soap at $20 a bar to exclusive women’s department stores, "We were selling them back their own fat asses."

On the flight were Tyler and Jack meet, Tyler pulls the safety procedure card out of the seat and comments on the calm faces of the people in the drawings on the card as the airplane "bellies in at 600 miles per hour." One of the mischief pranks is to replace all the cards with this new one:


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