I’ve wanted to write about Fight Club for a long time. I had been looking for excuses to review it, while waiting for someone to push me into it. Little did I know the person to do this would be Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan’s end-of-trilogy epic borrowed numerous traits from Tyler Durden’s locker, not least its distaste for a society controlled by a government that lies to its people in order to keep a measure of ‘control’.
Whereas Nolan used bad guy Bane as his spokesperson for this idea, Fight Club jumps approaches the theme from a different angle, giving us a main character (unnamed, played by Edward Norton) suffering from insomnia. Seeing the extent to which he suffers from the condition, one can’t help but feel a degree of sympathy, and his witty, dry sense of humour proves refreshing; it being a source of consolation in the face of his otherwise humdrum existence. He has the things that most of us are encouraged to aim for in life: well-paying job, respectable living space, and a boss that he’s on talking terms with. The only thing he needs to aim for now, according to societal values, is a wife and kids, or failing that, perhaps a nice new bit of furniture.
On the inside, though, he feels dead. Those new pieces of furniture just don’t seem to be hitting the spot. It’s the resulting need to feel alive (discovered through regular visits to support groups for the terminally ill) that drives him to meet Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a man whose carefree attitude and stylish dress sense endears him to Norton’s character. Together, they set up a ‘fight club’ for the middle class. By giving in to the primal desires that society inhibits, these men find a release and, crucially, a purpose: something they can’t seem to locate in their nine-to-five office lives.
To go on any further would be to spoil a superbly crafted narrative, which started life as a novel written by Chuck Palahniuk. Director David Fincher sets the tone of his movie with a cool opening CG title sequence, as the camera journeys through the deepest circuits of the brain in an impressive, slick pull back that hints at the psychological elements of the film’s plot.
The actual fighting is gritty and realistic, but is more a focal point for the characters than a bloody attraction for teenage boys (despite the wishes of those who complained at its violence when the film was released). Indeed, this movie is aiming for a more mature audience; those who can empathise with the kind of mid-life crisis that Norton’s character finds himself going through at the start of the film. Fighting, for the members of this Fight Club, is about finding something they can feel for themselves; something more real, at least, than the facade of commerciality they’ve felt enveloping them since childhood.
Caught in the middle of this is Marla Singer, a character whom the audience will gradually grow to like thanks to a consistently ambiguous performance by Helena Bonham Carter (who, as an English actress, pulls off an alarmingly good American accent). As the movie’s only prominent female, Singer/ Carter more than holds her own amongst the swell of testosterone fighting for centre stage in the dark basements of the film’s bars and night clubs, establishing herself as a core part of the ensemble, although it’s only towards the end that one realises just how pivotal a role she has.
Plagued by speculative accusations of fascism in 1999, Fight Club soon transcends the basic notions of physical dominance to show Tyler Durden’s true nihilistic vision, as he aims not only to rebel against the system but to overpower it completely. The resulting rush towards the finale represents a change of pace that will shock those who had come to accept the perceived rules of the film at face value – you’ll find that nothing can be taken for granted.
An immaculate script and memorable characters are boosted by creative editing techniques that serve both to entertain and to hide the story’s inevitable concluding twist. Without a doubt, you’ll get immense pleasure from second and third viewings, your appreciation of Fincher’s direction, right down to his use of sound (‘Where is my mind?’ by the Pixies providing rather appropriate background music for the end credits), growing with each repeat performance.
It’s also the only romantic comedy (an admittedly loose genre description) that most men willingly admit to enjoying. Some of them may even label themselves a ‘fan’. The branding of me in this category was a frightening concept when I approached the movie from a purely critical standpoint, because a definition of it would mean my investment in merchandise encouraged through advertising; the very thing from which the need for a film such as Fight Club originated in the first place.
That, and the fact that I’m not even supposed to be talking about it, means I’m going to shut up now.
10 / 10