An everyman, let’s call him “Jack“, is discontent with his life and pretty much with life in general. Jack begins attending support groups for problems from which he doesn’t suffer, in an effort to make his personal existence seem better by comparison. At first it works until the presence of another fraud, Marla Singer, disrupts his healing process. Then he meets Tyler Durden, a soap salesman with a mutual distaste for consumerist culture. The two embark on a journey of doctrine to mutually improve their lives.
At heart Fight Club rests on the relationship between its central trio. Edward Norton capably embodies the loser emboldened by fighting. He is at once pathetic, but mesmerizing. His all consuming quest to lift himself out of the mire of his life, is captivating. As the film progresses, he becomes more and more debilitating in outward appearance, while manifesting a more confident attitude. Brad Pitt is the guy through which Jack finds strength, His worldview is nihilistic, rejecting everything of value. Yet, Tyler’s ability to inspire his mental turnaround through fist fights is completely believable. Helena Bonham Carter is Marla the girlfriend that comes between them. Marla is a rather unpleasant woman whose personal style can best be described as heroin chic. After starring in the stately costume drama, The Wings of the Dove, just 2 years prior, the casting choice was surprising at the time. She is memorable, although I can’t say I was particularly taken with her character. She is nevertheless an important construct which heavily influences Jack’s behavior.
Jack’s friendship with Tyler is predicated on the desire to eliminate an emasculation he feels in his own life. The opportunity to engage in fisticuffs with willing strangers as a means to feel powerful is the origin of the fight club. As their social organization takes off, there is a giddy wallowing in nihilism that could easily be taken as the glorification of violence. But look closer. Things do not improve for dear Jack. He moves in with Tyler Durden who lives in an absolute hovel of a building that seemingly grows more filthy. Similarly his physical well being actually deteriorates over time.
Highly controversial upon its release, Fight Club is sort of a spiritual cousin to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Like that picture, Fight Club is based in a novel. When the movie was originally released in the Fall of 1999 it sparked a debate amongst critics who gave positive and negative reviews in equal measure. Audiences weren’t really sure what to make of it either. A financial disappointment, only grossing $37 million against a cost of $63 million. Indeed it remains director David Fincher’s least attended production after Zodiac. However time has softened the story’s dark subtext. Critical and popular opinion has grown decidedly positive during the last decade.
Fight Club is one of those in-your-face, take-no-prisoners manifestos that has something say and does it with style and panache. The cinematography is visually arresting. His initial dehumanization at the start of the drama is borne out of the melancholy that happiness has not followed from material possessions. The script has a point of view and doesn’t kowtow to delicate sensibilities. It’s easy to take the idea of hand to hand combat as an endorsement to violence. I won’t spoil specific plot developments, but the success of their fight club cannot be viewed as a mandate to brawl. Despite being the protagonist, Jack is not someone to be admired. Yes, his anguish is abated at first but it leads to anarchy. The fight club becomes more successful and increasingly violent. I’ll admit the milieu is depressing. All the muck and brutality can get a bit oppressive. While the script never really presents a viable solution to Jack‘s dissatisfaction with life, it presents an interesting concept that gives the viewer something to think about. You are not the contents of your wallet.