The first time I saw Fight Club, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel of the same name, I hated it, in spite of the Fincher/Norton/Pitt/Bonham Carter/Leto connection – even Meat Loaf turns up sporting a fine pair of false boobs!Turns out the studio execs didn’t like it either, which is why it bombed at the box office but later became a rediscovered “cult classic” via DVD release.
I watched it a second time on Netflix, which is the same principle – at home and not on the big screen – and had at least a partial road to Damascus. That is, my opinion rose, though the film will not be entering my all-time top 20 anytime soon.
One possible reason for this lukewarm conversion is that this downbeat satire oozes negativity, where I (and possibly most audiences) prefer my films sceptical but with some tiny redeeming fragment of hope to offset the relentless cynicism. Perhaps I’m wrong, since there seems little doubt that the film is primarily one of savage paradoxes and ironies, and in spite of humourless studio execs not getting irony, the producers evidently sold the concept to the moneymen.
I do get irony, so what’s my excuse?
For starters, the sight of men deliberately engaging in fighting as part of a tribal animalistic lust for battle, let alone feeling liberated and energised by the fight club portrayed in Fight Club t0 the point where they feel enabled to engage in any form of social disobedience, vandalism and disruption. I don’t do fights and I don’t see the attraction in them, still less in the glorification of violence, giving and receiving, such as starting fights with complete strangers (or even, comically, himself in one instance) for no reason whatever.
Not just fighting either – a variety of antisocial actions culminating in criminal acts of vandalism with home-made nitroglycerin by an anarchist army, stuff that would result in jail sentences, were they ever prosecuted. Is motiveless deleting credit card records of major companies something we could go along with because we like the protagonists? It’s an anathema to me and probably all of us. Nihilism lives!
More than that – the association between pain and suffering and positive emotions is wrong at every level, so just remember this is a satire, OK? Satire, as Michael Flanders rightly put it, squats hoof in mouth at every turn, and according to Tom Lehrer died when Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In this case, a scattergun approach to satire has been fired from the blunderbuss pen of writer, Jim Uhls. His script has a savage thrust at consumerism, the insurance industry, self-help groups, the ethics of capitalism and anarchism alike, mental health and much more besides. It doesn’t have anything good to say about anyone, from what I can tell – which is at least one step better than the spun saccharine of other films.
My issue is less with the choice of satire than the fact that it eliminates sympathy for the characters and stretches our credulity beyond snapping point. However, all this does not prevent me from seeing at least some degree of logic and motivations through the eyes of several larger-than-life screen personas. The characters themselves, to be fair, are beautifully drawn, if not as charming as they like to think.
At the heart of TFC is the fascination by a compromised insurance claims adjuster (Edward Norton, known only as “the narrator” for reasons relating to the plot, a man with “no possibilities” and therefore having his worst excesses slightly curtailed by director Fincher for maximum effect) with radical free spirit Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, possibly an variation of his role in Snatch but otherwise described in some analyses as a Nietzschean Übermensch.) He is also periodically attracted to fellow self-help devotee Marla Singer (Helena Bonham-Carter), occasional object of his desire who ends up banging Durden long and loud.
Durden persuades the unreliable narrator, a man terminally dissatisfied with his life and hooked on self-help groups, to come and live in the greatly dilapidated house he calls home after this apartment blows up – and that’s when the trouble and chaos starts.
Anti heroes to a man (and woman), they live in a strange vacuum in which self-destruction in one form or another are the norm. They each have a story arc and develop, after a fashion, though the twist is arguably cheating the audience – even if the psychological implications are fascinating. The fight club and its syndication is the starting point en route to Project Mayhem, but there I have to stop since to discuss the characters any more would be a massive spoiler.
So instead, let’s discuss the narrative and its rationale. Fincher says it is a “coming of age” film, while Uhls describes it as a “romantic comedy.” In my view it’s neither, and it’s screwing with audience perceptions and expectations to believe either epithet. I’ve chosen to label it a comedy, though even that is stretching the point somewhat. Perhaps Fincher is deliberately riling us to create a debate in society about the nature of good and evil?
The best aspect of the ensemble is that narration by Messrs Norton and Pitt creates a film noir-ish continuity through the disunited anarchy of the events portrayed. There is undeniably entertainment value in some dialogue and scenarios. Maybe taking all this mayhem at face value is the only logical course of action – then moving on to the next movie?
Some will accept the denouement at face value while others will feel cheated. Only you can decide what you think.