2. Fight Club is about the monstrous thrill of violence and the fragility of men - and thatsnot all, argues Amy TaubinDavid Finchers Fight Club opens inside the fear centre of its protagonists brain, although we dontrealise thats where we are until were no longer there. What we see is a semi-dark space thatseems both confined and limitless, its details vaguely biomorphic. We are moving through thespace at a smooth, regular clip. Our journey is enlivened by flashes of light, pumping music andthe films titles, which are superimposed on the brainscape. Just when we might start wonderingabout what kind of place were in, were expelled in a rush and hurtled alongside the body of agun thats half-way jammed inside someones mouth.Whats exciting about Fight Club is that it "screws around with your bio-rhythms" - to borrow aphrase from the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name which has been adapted withconsiderable fidelity by Fincher and screenwriter Jim Uhls. Like the novel, the film disruptsnarrative sequencing and expresses some pretty subversive, right-on-the-zeitgeist ideas aboutmasculinity and our name-brand, bottom-line society - ideas youre unlikely to find so openlybroadcast in any other Hollywood movie."Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction might be the answer" is the slogan of TylerDurden, who is not Fight Clubs protagonist but rather the protagonists significant other,doppelgänger, alter-ego - all that and more. Tyler is the embodiment of pure id with just enoughNietzsche thrown in to make him articulate. (In the film Tylers voice trails off after the word"destruction", which he delivers with a pregnant, upward inflection and Cheshire-cat grin. Thealteration to the line is, I suspect, a concession to the MPAA ratings board, which probably gaveFight Club an R because its members didnt understand its unamerican social critique.)Tyler (Brad Pitt) has invaded the life of our protagonist and narrator (Edward Norton) who isnameless in the novel but referred to as Jack in the film, though only when its absolutelyunavoidable. Jack is a depressed wage-slave with terrible insomnia, a corrosive wit and adisassociated perspective on his sterile Ikea life. Tyler encourages him to turn his frustration andbottled-up rage into action. After Jack and Tyler have their first heart-to-heart, Tyler asks Jack tohit him. Jack obliges and Tyler returns the favour. They discover that they are exhilarated by thisbrute interaction. This is the beginning of Fight Club, a secret society open to anyone whos maleand for which Tyler (the self-styled anarchist) lays down the rules. "The first rule of Fight Club isthat you dont talk about Fight Club."In Fight Club men strip off their shirts and shoes and go one-on-one with bare knuckles.Everything is allowed short of killing your partner. Fight Club is so seductive as an idea andexperience it takes on a life of its own - independent of Tyler and Jack - and soon there are FightClubs springing up in basements and parking lots all over the city and then in other cities acrossthe country.Jack moves into Tylers house after his perfectly appointed condo is destroyed in a mysteriousexplosion. Tyler inhabits a dilapidated, decaying mansion on the edge of a toxic-waste dump.Except on Fight Club nights, says Jack, theyre Ozzie and Harriet. Which isnt quite true becauseTyler has many other ways of disrupting the social contract. A terrorist of the food industry, heworks as a waiter in pricey restaurants where he pees in the soup. Moonlighting as a projectionist,he splices single frames of pornography into squeaky-clean family films.Tyler also sells his own brand of soap to upscale department stores; its secret ingredient is humanfat which he scavenges from the medical-waste bags of liposuction clinics. (This last transgressionhas brought accusations of anti-Semitism on the film, but if youve ever lived in LA, where women
3. have fat suctioned out of their bodies as casually as they go to the hairdresser, your firstassociation would not be with Nazi concentration camps. Misogyny, maybe; anti-Semitism, no.)One night as theyre making soap Tyler kisses Jacks hand and then burns the imprint of his lipsinto Jacks skin with pure lye.If pain is the most expedient route to feeling alive, then the flirtation with self-destruction is whatbonds Tyler and Jack - a bond no woman can set asunder, not even Marla (Helena BonhamCarter), a Goth queen with the opalescent skin of a heroin addict and the belligerent manner ofJudy Garland at the start of a bender. Marla is after Jack but she fucks Tyler while Jack lurksoutside the door as if hes a child spying on the primal scene.Its not Marla who causes Jack to have second thoughts about Tyler; rather, its that Tylerstendency to megalomania spins out of control. Without Jack registering whats happening, Tylertransforms Fight Club into Project Mayhem, a guerrilla network that blows up buildings in order toundermine the economic foundations of our credit-card society. When a soldier in Project Mayhemis killed, Jack realises he must break up with the person hes as close to as he is to himself. ButTyler is not easy to get rid of. Which is how Jack winds up where we came in - with a gun in hismouth in an office building that has been targeted for demolition by Project Mayhem. Since Tylersbombs are as reliable as Jack is as a narrator, this is what you might call, if you think about itcarefully, an open ending.Theres a twist in the climax of Fight Club that I havent revealed. No one Ive spoken to saw itcoming, and the experience of the film is quite different when you know it in advance. Since thetwist subverts what for 100 years has been an essential premise of cinema - that it is an index ofthe physical world - to leave it out of this analysis does the film an injustice. Especially since thispremise will become part of ancient history when film is transformed from a photographic mediumto a digital electronic medium - and Fight Club is nothing if not a glimpse of that future.Like all Finchers previous films (Alien 3, Se7en, The Game) Fight Club sets up a conflict with aviolent, potentially murderous being who is, as the id is to the ego, the doppelgänger of theprotagonist. Weakened by a toxic and perverse society, the protagonist is barely able to hold onto some shred of moral consciousness in the face of this anarchic force. (The Game, Finchersleast convincing film, doesnt quite fit this pattern.) Thus Tylers nihilism and incipient fascism arenot the values Fight Club espouses, though Fincher complicates the issue by making Tyler soalluring and charismatic. Tyler is posed as an object of desire and of identification - and Pitt, whohas never been as exquisite as he is with a broken nose and blood streaming down his cut body,emerges as an actor of economy and control who can rivet attention merely by turning his head.For the protagonist, who feels emasculated by his buttoned-down, consumerist life, Tylerrepresents some ideal of free-wheeling male power. He wants to become Tyler or to be taken overby Tyler. Theres a blatant homoerotic charge to this identification which the film doesnt shy awayfrom. As in Scorseses films, the male body is feminised through masochism. You prove yourmasculinity not by how much pain you can inflict, but by how much you can endure. Shot in awet-dream half light that gilds the mens bodies as they pound each others heads into thecement, the Fight Club sequences are such a perfect balance of aesthetics and adrenaline theyfeel like a solution to the mind/body split.But whats most innovative about Fight Club is the way, at moments, it seems like the projectionof an extremely agile, associative train of thought that can back up and hurtle forward and switchtracks in an instant. The effect is partly the result of a voiceover which is strikingly separated fromthe rest of the sound and strangely muffled, as if there were a mike inside Jacks head. Fincherhas retained the savage humour and manic prose style of Palahniuks novel, and Norton deliversthis interior monologue as if he were making it up on the fly.
4. In the opening scene, seconds after being ejected from Jacks brain, we hear something about abomb in the basement and suddenly were plunged through the window, down 30 storeys,through the sidewalk into the basement, through a bullet hole in the van with the explosives andthen out the other side. The sequence, which is digitally created from a series of still photographs,is both astonishing and oddly mundane in the sense that its a fair representation of the visualcomponent of everyday thought processes. Still, one needs a new vocabulary to describe thevertiginous depiction of space and time in Fight Club. Pans and tilts and tracks just wont do.Fight Club is an action film thats all about interiority. It pushes the concepts of subjectivity andidentification to extremes to suggest a male identity thats not only fragile but frangible. Jack is sofilled with self-loathing and repressed rage hes desperate to get out of his own skin and intosomeone elses. And Fight Club is not the only recent Hollywood movie to place us insidesomeones brain. Being John Malkovich, in which the sad-sack protagonist discovers a secrettunnel that leads into Malkovichs brain, is a comic, gender-bent spin on Fight Club, though itscreepy denouement is more grim than anything Fincher envisions. You also dont have to be apsychoanalyst to deduce from the depiction that the route into Malkovichs brain is through hisasshole.FFincher and Spike Jonze, who directed Malkovich, are colleagues in the production companyPropaganda Films, so its not surprising they share an idea or two. And perhaps these films are nomore than another turn of the screw in Frankenstein or heady variations on Face Off. But it doesseem transgressive to put a brain on the screen as an exhibit - especially when the exhibit isconnected to the loss of self, in particular the loss of the masculine self. Fincher ends Fight Clubwith the Pixies recording of Where Is My Mind. Thats not all thats gone missing._____________________________________________________________________________________________Hollywood Will Take It On The Chin For Foxs Morally Repulsive Fight Club, says EditorAnita M. BuschThe ultra-graphic violence of Fox 2000s "Fight Club" has drawn more gut anger fromthe industry than Ive ever heard. And for good reason.The ultra-graphic violence of Fox 2000s "Fight Club" has drawn more gut anger from the industrythan Ive ever heard. And for good reason.The film, starring Brad PItt and Edward Norton, Is David Finchers big-budget tirade about bare-knuckled fighters who form a national network of sociopathio terrorists. No ones faulting thefilms top-notch production values or per-formances, but many are outraged by its content.In scene after blood-soaked scene, it preaches personal growth through acts of calculatedviolence.Pttfs character orders dub members to go out and pick a fight with someone they dont know.Later, Prtt plows into a car on the highway, resulting in a horrific accident, and then explains to alimp, bleeding Norton that hes had a new life experience. When asked why he beat one of hiscolleagues to alifeless pulp, Norton says, "I wanted to destroy something beautiful." When Prtt pours lye onNortons hand, audiences not only hear flesh burning but see it bubbling in an oozing sore."Fight Club," no doubt, will become Washingtons poster child for whats wrong with Hollywood.
5. And Washington, for once, will be right The film is exactly the kind of product that lawmakersshould target for being socially irresponsible in a nation that has deteriorated to the point ofColumbine.But the movie also is the kind of product that should have been self-policed by Fox and the MPAAratings board. Why the film was given an R rating Instead of an NC-17 is beyond logic.After giving "Fight Club" an R, the ratings board should apologize for forcing changes to StanleyKubricks "Eyes Wide Shut to digitally cover nude bodies. Why is the board OK with Finchersclosing shot of a penis that fills half the screen?When Washington immediately pointed its finger at Hollywood after Columbine, it grasped atstraws. Entertainment does influence society, but so do images from real life, the evening newsand magazines. To blame one source is myopic.In our ridiculously politically correct society, many in Hollywood would be reluctant to greenlight astory about a 10-year-old gin who smokes cigarettes and cons her way across the country. "PaperMoon" would be shot down associally irresponsible.Yet, "Fight Club" lives?Just because a project gets the attention of A-list talent doesnt mean you have to indulge them.Those responsible for bringing "Fight Club" to the screen — agents, financiers, studio executives— should hang their heads for setting fine entire industry back._____________________________________________________________________________________________NOTE: The following is not a review of the Fight Club DVD per se, but rather a compilation ofposts from DVDTalk and elsewhere that discuss Fight Club from a few different viewpoints. Acceptthem, challenge them, or disregard them as pretentious bunk, but here they are. Wrote betweenJune 8, and June 22, 2000.Fight Club
Clearly Fight Club has had a polarizing effect on its audience and I dont want to takeaway from the fact that some people simply dont like it because of personal preference, but I alsofeel that thats part of the design of the film.Fight Club is an extremely complex film, in a way that we havent seen in a long time (or maybeever). In films that are actually about something and that have a lead character with whom weare supposed to identify, there are several key changes in attitude that you can chart from thebeginning to the end. The character learns the lessons put before him and becomes a differentperson. Like the various epiphanies that Travis has in Taxi Driver or Max in Rushmore.Sometimes, like in American Psycho the lesson is that there are no lessons. There is someelement of this in Taxi Driver as well. The movie follows these characters and gives us externalclues to their internal changes (Max and Travis both make dramatic wardrobe changes at keymoments in their developments) but the movie usually remains consistent in its storytelling style.(In films that are not about anything at all, like Bond films, the character learns nothing at all anddoesnt ever change)In Fight Club the narrator goes through countless major changes and the film is divided up into somany little emotional turns and cues that it boggles the mind. Everything in the film (everything!)is a clue to the characters inner struggle. The entire movie happens in this constantly evolving
6. state. It seems to be about dozens of different things at any given moment only to flip its entiremeaning the next. If you hang in until the end the payoff is extraordinary. But if you get stuckalong the way or lose interest it all seems to be pointless. People who say it is a critique /glorification of violence, of capitalism, of men, of women, of whatever are getting little bits thatare dropped along the way, like bread crumbs in a dense forest. The ads made it out to be ananti-consumerist film (a little irony all its own) but that is only a small part of the movie and not,ultimately, the crucial one anyway.The way that the film changes point of view is excellent. Director David Fincher indicates that he isgoing to do this early on when we first see Remaining Men Together. The meeting is portrayed formaximum comic effect and the narrator smirks at the prospect of crying on Bobs bitch tits. Thatsbecause we havent gone through enough yet to appreciate the weight of this situation and areseeing it as if we had walked in cold. Then he takes us back further and we see the desperation inhis life. When he comes back around to Remaining Men Together there is nothing funny about it;From the first mans incredibly sad story to the narrators complete and total abandon on Bobschest, the scene takes on a totally different tone. Unlike something like The Sixth Sense whichinvites you to look at all the ways the trick ending "works" on repeat viewing, Fight Club changestone with the lead character and as he sees things differently the entire film becomes different.What you see in the beginning may not necessarily still be true by the end.People will be writing dissertations on Fight Club for years to come. That is not to say thatacademia is all-important, but rather that the film may grow to be a touchstone of our culture, likeTaxi Driver, Warhol, and Elvis. Something that you have to have an opinion on, that you candisagree with and still find endlessly interesting. To misinterpret it as a film saying that fighting inbasements is good or that we should do public destruction is tragic, but inevitable. The kind ofmindset in the movie is real. Leaders are tormented, confused people and that dynamic drawsattention. Is Project Mayhem unrealistic? Hardly.Is Fight Club misogynistic?
Is the movie misogynistic? Not at all. In fact, like ChuckPalahniuks "Invisible Monsters", the story dissects what it is that makes us men and women.Marla is an extremely sympathetic character caught up in the life of someone who doesntunderstand what she means to him. The entire movie is clouded by his misperceptions and sheseems unstable. Of course, we come to realize that shes not the one thats unstable. The narratorrejects her ("I dont think another woman is what we really need.") because he is exploring whathe thinks his male needs are. Tyler represents his male ideal and he is in love with that. There is areason why the domestic scenes with Tyler and the narrator have such strong homoeroticovertones. The narrator is not able to process the masculine and feminine sides of his soul andmind and has split in two. At the beginning he is, while not happy, maintaining in his consumerist,wage-slave, "feminine" (not female, but feminine) life, accepting that that is right. It is not rightand Tyler shows him a much more aggressive masculine side and at first that seems right. That iswhy fight club initially seems so cool and sexy. The movie shows it to you through his eyes. Thatis not enough and Tyler creates Project Mayhem. Eventually, as the character changes, fight clubdoes not seem so right anymore. The intense beating he gives the blonde angel is a turning pointin fight club. Project Mayhem now seems to be the answer. With the silly music, the homeworkassignments, and the perfect targets like Starbucks its hard to argue with the goals of ProjectMayhem. That, of course, is eventually shown to be wrong too. It is not liberating, although itinitially seems like it is. It is just more fascist BS. The narrator is disillusioned with that and withTyler. Then the truth about Tyler is revealed and the narrator realizes how he has wronged Marla.He tries to undo some of the damage that he now realizes that he has done. Marla has accusedhim of being sensitive one minute and a jerk the next. He didnt realize that he had been any ofthose things, but the two sides now make sense and he feels the need to balance them. When he"kills" Tyler he is not banishing his masculine traits, but rather reabsorbing them and finding the
7. balance that he needs. The movie ends with the linking of the man and the woman as they watchthe apocalypse, basically Adam and Eve starting over and unmaking all the mistakes they havemade, getting it finally right.So ultimately this is the opposite of misogynistic. In fact, it explores what the masculine andfeminine sides of human nature are with an openness that you wont find in any number of cynicalfilms like Anywhere But Here that pander to women by assuming that they want uncomplicatedweepies. Fight Club dares to ask questions and try out different theories. It makes arguments andthen disproves them.Fight Club deserves concentration and actually demands it. You can watch it purely asentertainment, but that would be an emotionally and physically draining experience. It is souncompromising in its tone and themes that you have to see the thought process behind therazzle-dazzle. That there even is one is already remarkable, but that it is so complex isastounding. So many films, like Boogie Nights seem to be going somewhere and then go off trackand end up achieving nothing. When I first saw Fight Club opening night I wasnt sure that I knewwhere it was going and felt myself being jerked into a million different directions. It wasexhausting and I wasnt really sure what I thought afterwards. But after hours and hours ofdiscussion and thought I felt like I had figured it out and now that I am confident that it leadssomewhere worthwhile I can watch it and completely give myself over to it. Even having seen italready it constantly surprises. I dont think there has ever been a film like this before.Interpretations
Fight Club is clearly about something, although it takes hard work and thoughtto figure out exactly what. And even then what you take away may be different from others.Thats the beauty of it. You dont NEED to look for messages and themes in film. Thats fine. Butdont say theyre not there. A lot of films make statements on surprising topics (Finchers ownmuch maligned Alien 3 was supposed to be an allegory for the then-rampant AIDS virus; JohnFords iconic Western The Searchers, which on the surface seems to utilize every genre cliche inthe book, is actually a searing look at racism; Fight Club happens, in my opinion, to be aboutmasculine and feminine identities and how they fuse to create our psychological makeup morethan anything else) but theyre only important if you care. If you dont, just enjoy the eye candy.Fight Club certainly excels on that level as well.To those that think the message is something like "Get out and live": Glad to see youre thinkingabout the movie beyond a knee-jerk "Its stupid / its fascist / its kick-ass!" reaction. Now watchagain and look closer. It is so much more than that.To those that think it is an anti-capitalism movie: Its not. That was the ad campaign and it wasgeared to get you in. Ultimately it is about a lot more than that.To those searching for answers: Yes this movie is complex. But it is consistent. The points it triesto make it makes. It doesnt fall apart at the end. If you read the book youll find a lessmeaningful, more standard ending. The movie has a sort of happy ending that combines all of thethemes from the film: hitting bottom, self destruction, gender issues, control issues...Ultimately, you should just watch it and decide for yourself what it is about!The Ending
Like The Game, Fight Club has a defiantly "happy" ending where thecharacter experiences a redemption. It is appropriate and necessary, not Hollywood.Sometimes overly dark endings are not what the film needs and Fight Club would havebeen useless if the narrator didnt learn from his experiences.The suicide attempt is not to excise "evil". If anything, we have learned that the ideals that
8. Tyler stands for are within the narrator (after all, he set up the bomb in his apartmentBEFORE he "met" Tyler on the plane). Rather, the suicide is about absorbing Tyler backinto his own consciousness and becoming a whole person. As I see it the movie ultimatelyis not about any of the external factors like consumerism or fascism. It tells us that beforewe can make the rash social changes that Tyler suggests we need to find balance inourselves. The film is about the differences in gender identities, what is masculine andfeminine and how we all have both these within ourselves, regardless off our gender (Idiscussed my take on this in these very pages back when Fight Club was in theaters). Thenarrator has a violent reaction to the feminine side of his life. He is unbalanced. He is livingby what is simply described as feminine in our society: Consumerism, subservience, andother such traits. This is identified in a number of ways: The men without testicles beingone of the most unusual ways. When Marla is introduced she threatens his identity anddrives him to create a new identity, this time an overly masculine one. Ultimately when heaccepts Marla as someone that he cares deeply about he finds a balance betweenmasculine and feminine and that balance allows him to start over.While not a happy ending in the usual sense, the ending of Fight Club is very hopeful.Youre not supposed to think "Oh, the space monkeys are still out there." You should lookat it as the lead having worked out some extremely complicated crap in his life and cannow start over with someone he really cares about. It is actually very romantic, likewatching fireworks and knowing that your life is about to get a whole lot better, not for anyeasy, lame reason, but because you now understand whats important. The logistics of itare inconsequential (like him not having a home or a job) Those things are small incomparison to the emotional journey hes made and he knows it.I thought long about the idea that Project Mayhem is "bad" but the ending (with thebuildings blowing up) is "good". When the movie disproves an idea, like Project Mayhem orFight Club it doesnt negate them. That is, when Project Mayhem is proven wrong it doesntmean that capitalist institutions like credit card companies and Ikea are good. Notice themovie makes a point of not saying that killing people is right. That is not because it wantsto avoid gratuitous violence but rather because the point is not to kill the bad guys but toerase the institutions that are compromising us all. By blowing up the buildings at the endthe goal ultimately is not to cause grievous public damage but rather to erase the financialdebt that enslaves us. This symbolically is the same as the narrator wiping the slate cleanand starting over with Marla.The Commentary Tracks
You gotta get your interpretations from your viewings and notfrom the commentary. I mean, how many of you noticed that "Jack" was in the passengerside of the car after it flipped without being told by Fincher? With the car all flipped over itis impossible to tell one side from another. Its a nice touch, but it is practically invisible.Yet everyone mentions it like they discovered it. My reading of the ending is that the filmstarts inside Jacks brain and leaves (during the opening credits) at which point his brainhas basically exploded, hence Tyler/Jack. Then the entire film spends its time working backinto Jacks personal drama and ultimately it becomes a very personal look into one man.The Space Moneys are still out there, true, but what the explosions indicate are a startingover for Jack and Marla, a personal revelation. Its not just that he gets the girl. Its thefinal gigantic synaptic impulse that triggers the rest of Jacks life. The notion of him runningaround trying to stop Space Monkeys after that kind of huge turn is simply boring. I mean,you could ALMOST make an argument that Fincher is creating something similar toAmerican Psycho where all of the crimes and craziness could be in his Jacks head, makingthe whole Space Monkey thing irrelevant.. I dont think that would necessarily be helpful,but you could try that.
9. One good example of why commentary tracks can be misleading is the issue of whetherJack and Marla die in an explosion in the end. In the beginning, when the camera showsthe bomb in the basement, the bomb is clearly in the building with Jack and Tyler. So on apractical level, that building does blow up as the final image flickers out. Whether or notMarla and Jack die in the end is kind of unimportant since the movie is more about the waythat Jack develops emotionally than it is about any given plot point. And whether or notTyler plans to kill them is not hugely important, even though it speaks to his motivations.What is important is that screenwriter Jim Uhls gives a half-assed explanation of how somelame logistical situation prevented them from dying. Thats a kind of cheap excuse that youwouldnt expect from the writer of such an intelligent and complex script. After seeing thefilm I argued that Jack and Marla died and that that represented a cleansing and renewal,sort of a rebirth where they started fresh, linked together, made whole, symbolic of thejoining of the masculine and the feminine, rather than Jacks confused Jack-Tyler splitwhich was wrong. I was wondering if they would address that at all on the commentarytracks but instead got an incorrect and inconsistent excuse. It doesnt matter ultimately,since I stand by my conclusions. Ive now seen it a bunch of times and each time I watch itI discover something new. I like the idea of commentary tracks, but when it was on LD Ithink they were treated more as a historical record. Hearing Scorsese talk about RagingBull in a cultural context makes sense. Now every movie it seems has commentary andpeople are practically only getting their ideas from listening to the commentary. I like agood commentary but I also applaud filmmakers like Woody Allen who refuse to do them.He basically says "When Im done with the movie there is nothing else to say. Obviouslyeverything I wanted to tell you is in the movie so just watch that and youll get it." Thereare good reasons for Fight Club to have commentary but people are not having the fullmoviegoing experience of figuring things out for yourself. Trust me, with this particularmovie you are cheating yourself if you think you got it all the first time around.Final Thoughts
You are doing yourself a disservice if you discount this as a dumbtestosterone movie. True, it does come from Hollywood, but so did Dog Day Afternoon andTaxi Driver, both raw and independently minded films (thats independent in the classicsense of the word, not "indie"). One day people will be talking about how it was a definingmasterpiece of its moment like Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange, and The ManchurianCandidate.The ideas and images created in Fight Club are original and feverishly intense. This is a filmthat requires at least three viewings. Give yourself a chance to develop your own ideas andtheories and decide that everything that Ive said is wrong. The only real message of themovie that everyone can agree on is that all people should be able to think for themselvesand not follow the norm blindly. That outlook can easily be applied back to the film itselfand you should give it the attention it deserves.Peter BradshawFriday 12 November 1999The GuardianThe trajectory of Fight Club is baffling. In its first hour or so, this picture appears to be a gloriouslyspiteful and well-acted satire of our bogus contemporary "crisis of masculinity": self-pitying guys huggingin groups and claiming victim status - modern consumer society having allegedly rendered the poordears hunter-gathering instincts obsolete.But, by the end, it has unravelled catastrophically into a strident, shallow, pretentious bore with a "twist"ending that doesnt work. And it is a film which smugly flirts, oh-so-very-controversially, with some of the
10. intellectual and cultural paraphernalia of fascism - but does not have anything like the nerve, still less thecerebral equipment, to back this pose up.Edward Norton gives a compulsively twitchy, nerdy, hollow-eyed performance as Fight Clubs Narrator: a30-year-old single guy with a white collar job in the automotive industry and a secret addiction; he lovesattending support groups posing as a sufferer. Hilariously, this is the only thing that gives him anemotional high.Fight Club has a classic scene where he turns up at a testicular cancer victims group and theparticipants have to pair off, hugging, sobbing and letting it all out. He teams up with Robert - a crackingperformance from the singer Meat Loaf (no kidding) - who has grown tits after his balls have been cut off.How pathetic is that? How metaphorical is that?Into this ghastly and frankly dysfunctional existence steps the super-cool and way charismatic TylerDurden, a travelling soap salesman in a cerise leather jacket and funky, Elvis-ish shades: a witty andseductive performance from Brad Pitt, who has never been better. Tyler introduces Ed to the Fight Club:secret bare-knuckle brawls where nerdy wimps such as Norton get to reconnect life-changingly with theirinner macho men.So far, so cool. Theres stylish rollercoaster direction from David Fincher, terrific performances from Bradand Ed, and also a sexy, gravelly-voiced, cynical Helena Bonham Carter as Marla, the girl they bothwant to screw. And Jim Uhls screenplay gets roof-raising laughs with the pairs fantasy about whichcelebrity and historical figure theyd most like to fight (respectively, Gandhi and William Shatner).Where it all comes apart is where Tyler tries to use the fight club as the basis for a kind of anarcho-terrorist gang, subverting and blowing up the symbols of bullshit corporate America that have taken theirtesticles away. Tyler brands Ed Nortons arm with a "kiss" mark in acid, laying down a sub-Sadeian/Nietzschean riff about how it is only in pain that you can forget about the fatuity of God andbecome yourself. He reveals that the soap he sells is made of human fat, stolen from liposuction clinics -and later we hear his followers will have to provide their own black shirts.Pretty unsubtle. We know which associations and images Brad and Ed are fooling around with. But dothey? The implications are never followed through, and the movie never has the balls really to takeresponsibility for the nihilism, rage and despair it appears to be gesturing towards.Indeed, there is a scene in which Tyler, in full existential/Zarathustra mode, terrifies a Korean studentdropout working in a convenience store into restarting his biology classes because a veterinarian is whathe really wanted to be. So, there is, like, a good side to the whole human-fat-soap, blackshirt thing! FightClub is a dumbed-down extremism, Extremism Lite, no-brainer extremism for the Rush Limbaughgeneration, an audience that thinks the "diceman" is a really challenging philosophy.Moreover, those much-lauded, much-censored fight scenes, for all their crunchy, nose-popping verité,are as free from genuine consequence as Itchy and Scratchy. The Fight Club never gets out of control;scrappers seem to know when to stop, like Judo contestants in the Commonwealth Games; and thething never escalates or has to be policed by bigger guys with tyre irons - what a dashed sporting,chivalrous Fight Club!Brad mixes it up loads without his lovely features getting a scratch (Ed bears his bruises as a mark ofmacho courage). Frankly, as Brad ponces about the place with his trousers hitched down to his hips, toshow off as much pert musculature as possible, he looks like he couldnt fight his way out of a pair ofCalvin Klein boxer briefs. Has anyone connected with this film ever actually been in any fights?The awful truth is that Fight Club jettisons its sense of humour 60 minutes in, and, so far from satirisingthe tiresome "crisis of masculinity" stuff sloshing around the airwaves either side of the Atlantic, the filmsimply endorses it, with Tyler presented as a deeply interesting Zeitgeist anti-hero. And, in the end, thisjust doesnt pack much of a punch.