Saturday, 6 April 2013

F is for Fight Club

Being asked to name your favourite film of all time is never easy. I love films and my passion for the art of cinema was one of the driving forces behind the choices I made in my academic and professional life. However, asking me to choose just one example of the medium is practically impossible. Whenever this discussion does arise, though, there are several hardy perennials that come into my top 10. One of them is David Fincher’s, 1999 film, Fight Club

Based on Chuck Palahniuk’s fantastic novel, the film focuses on the relationship between an un-named, insomniac, insurance office worker and his relationship with Tyler Durden, a soap salesman who, in the film, he meets on a long distance flight. The story follows the pair as they develop a ‘fight club’, in which men meet to fight, bareknuckle, for the thrill of the bout and the catharsis of the subsequent pain. We see our lead character start to attend support sessions for those with terminal diseases, despite his relative good health, as he finds this experience is the only cure for his insomnia. Here he meets Marla Singer, a fellow 'grief tourist' who, later, establishes a rather confused relationship with Tyler. The fight clubs, eventually, develop into an ethos, and a form of cult, with the main protagonist abandoning his former ‘white-collar’ life to help build, with Durden, an anarchist faction, ‘Project Mayhem’. As the story unfolds we see the real extent of the following this has gained and the true nature of its eventual aims. I won’t spoil the twist at the heart of the story, but we end on a scene of destruction as several major buildings explode, in an attempt by Project Mayhem to wipe out the credit card debt records of some major corporations.

One of my favourite scenes is when we meet Tyler Durden 
for the first time. "How is that working out for you... being clever?"

Helena Bonham-Carter as Marla Singer
"If I did have a tumour, I would name it Marla"
The novel’s overt criticism of the capitalist state and the all-pervading power of advertising is played off against some potent homoerotic overtones, which screenwriter Jim Ehls, retains for the screen version. His interpretation of the heart of the novel into the dreamlike, mutli-layered narrative of the screenplay is genius and pays homage to its literary roots without slavish re-treading the same path.

Fincher’s direction is superb, evoking a strange semi-conscious state through layered imagery, jump-cuts and visual effects, clearly inspired by his time working in music video. The complex and non-linear narrative weaves swiftly between the hyper-real and the hallucinatory, with surreal scenes such as the ‘power animal’ penguin giving us a glimpse into the mind of a character who barely knows his own thoughts.

'Slide' - one of the film's most
famously surreal segments.
When I saw the trailers for the film originally, given its surface appeal as a testosterone-drenched, ‘fight’ movie, I couldn’t have been less interested. It was definitely promoted as an action-thriller (I now realise by a jittery distributor who had no confidence in the film) and the violent title and over-exposure of a bloodied, stripped-to-the-waist Pitt in the promo material, meant my initial reaction was similar to that of anything boxing-related. No. Thank. You. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As this excellent essay highlights, the feminist message of the film is often vastly under-rated and the more obvious anti-capitalist message makes a very potent point. It manages to highlight that people are being lulled into this semi-conscious state by the drip-feed of corporate promotion whilst also demonstrating that if this is taken away, we have to be prepared to offer people an alternative. The brutal and destructive nature of 'Project Mayhem' and the damage it wreaks on the lives of those involved also manages to underline how revolutionary power, in the wrong hands, can be as damaging as that which it was attempting to overthrow.

Seeing our protagonist dismiss the social etiquette of
the world he inhabits is somewhat cathartic for
anyone who has ever worked in an office. 
Fight Club is a film that would not be made today. Quite apart from the fact that we see the city skyline crumble at the climax of the film, in a way that will now always be reminiscent of the events of 9/11, the film’s very premise is based on an America that is enjoying a boom. Members of Project Mayhem are leaving jobs to join the cause – jobs that probably aren’t even there any more. Tyler states that this generation need to fight because ‘We have no Great War. No Great Depression.’ Sadly, this generation seems to have not only been given the ‘current economic climate’, which, in anyone’s books is a depression, great or not, but also several actual wars to fight - quite apart from the battle against capitalism.

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden - the charismatic,
dangerous agitator we are introduced to who is, in his
own words, "free in all the ways you are not".
Fight Club meant a lot to me at a time when I was deciding who I was and what I believed. I didn’t need to go out and fight anyone to learn that, but that message about the ‘fight’ we all need to have to stay ahead of the driving forces of capitalism and the pressures of advertisers lives with me. I'm often reminded of the 'Ikea' scene, (where our lead expresses the satisfaction of acquiring those must-have glass bowls) whenever I feel the pull of nest-building acquisition.

There are a lot of reasons I love this film. I love the message and the underlying questions it raises about  the way we live our lives. I love the hectic edits and optical tricks thrown at us via the visually-rich direction. There are great performances, not just from Norton, Pitt and Bonham-Carter, but convincing, complex characterisations from people as surprising as Meatloaf, giving a stellar turn as Bob, one of the Mayhem recruits. The soundtrack is great, featuring the dirty, overdriven sounds of Tom Waits, The Dust Brothers and The Pixies. It is funny, moving, thrilling and thought-provoking, and not many films can boast that. It is an experience. One that, like it or not, you will fail to forget.

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world."


  1. I've seen it but I didn't know much about Fight Club apparently. I should watch it again.

  2. I haven't seen this movie since it came out and now I want to revisit it. I was probably too dumb to realize the deeper meaning. I probably went to see a half naked Brad Pitt:)

    1. :0) To be fair, I would imagine your concentration was somewhat off analysis in that case!

  3. Can you believe that I've never seen this? You're not the only one who has recommended it. And the author is from Portland!

  4. This is a really cool blog. Your analysis about the film is really interesting. Do you frequently blog about movies?

    1. Thank you! I've not got many planned for my A-Z Challenge (throughout April) but I loved writing this one, so I'm sure it will spur me on to do more. Loving your blog - great title :0)

  5. Stopping by from the #atozchallenge !

    And then someone asks you if you saw the penis. And you look at them like they are the crazy person. But, sure enough, you eventually get curious. So you pop the movie on and watch in super slow motion.
    Right after the buildings fall and the movie ends...
    And then you worry.
    And then you question the purpose.
    And then you find yourself telling someone else.
    They don't believe you...

    1. Hahaha - absolutely the same for me. Beautifully expressed :0)

  6. Nice review. :)

    - A fellow blogger from A to Z!

  7. Thank you for this review I like it, He is Red Brad Pitt ( Tyler Durden ) Jacket Coat
    looking Handsome and Attractive in Probably one of the best movies I've ever watched