Fight Club

Year 1999

Edward Norton as  Narrator
Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden
Helena Bonham Carter  as Marla Singer
Meat Loaf as Big Bob Paulson 
Jared Leto as Angel Face
Zach Grenier as Boss
Director - David Fincher
Screenwriter - Jim Uhls  
Editor - James Haygood  
Book Author - Chuck Palahniuk  

Years ago, I read a book that was essentially someone's movies list. Among the movies was A Clockwork Orange. The author had stated that this was the "perfect" movie. Now I'm as much of a fan of A Clockwork Orange as the next guy ("So move over and let me talk to the next guy" - Groucho), but "perfect"? That seems a little high on the praise scale.

Instead of A Clockwork Orange, I'd like to offer Fight Club as the closest thing to a work of art that I've seen done as a movie.

First, I guess I should list the downsides (and there are many to this film).

For starters, this movie is not, repeat NOT, for children. It deals with adult themes and adult situations. In fact, it deals with some of the worst adult situations ever committed to film. And I admire that about the movie. It does not shirk. It's not dirty and gritty, but the camera doesn't blink.

The above alone will put people off. Most people who've viewed this film begin with the misconception that it's more mindless entertainment cranked out by Hollywood. This isn't that kind of film. This is a film with a point. Unfortunately, even though a lot of viewers understand that there is a point, they don't "get it".

But if you know what to look for, boy does this gem drive that point home.

For those used to the standard Hollywood fare, they assume that the the starting point is usually the arrogant line of, "all Americans are perfect and since that's the case, it is our duty as perfect Americans to point out the failings of the rest of the world." Or perhaps it's even more hackneyed Hollywoodized socialism and along the lines of, "we need to loot corporations for the greater good."

This sort of hubristic solophism is trite, boring, and fictional.

Fight Club bases it's theme on the unique premise that American males are messed up and need help, but not from women. If anything, it's because of "helpful" women that American males are messed up. It's not necessarily a misogynistic film but it's definitely distrustful of women.

A specific type of American male is the true villian, though, and receives the full brunt of the derision.

So, why do I like the movie? It's wonderfully paced, for starters. The movie follows the experiences of an individual (Edward Norton) who is never referred to by name but only as the "Narrator".

There are three distinct parts to the movie.

Part one consists of the events that allow the Narrator to be introduced to Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). These events include the Narrator's interaction with Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter).

Part two is the meeting with Tyler and the establishment of a Fight Club. The Fight Club takes on a life of its own and expands and buds off Project Mayhem.

Part three is... I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't seen it. There's a link to Fight Club opinion with spoilers if you're interested. Let's just say that the motivations of Tyler Durden are revealed. The revelation is nearly perfect as every aspect of the film prior to that point is necessary for understanding Tyler.

The pacing is excellent and the devices used match the themes and ideas of the movie, so they never seem contrived. For example, the introduction of Tyler Durden is heralded through a few "subliminal" (i.e. less than one second) images of Tyler Durden in a corner of the screen. The Narrator experiences a moment of stress, and poof there's a quick shot of Tyler. Blink and you'll miss it. Even if you're expecting it, you may miss it.

(Time for a side note. Some people say the book's better than the movie. The book's good, but it can't do things like simultaneously portray more than one thing at a time. Take the above example. How can a book both show the printed word and flick a brief image of a character that has not yet been introduced into the mix? It can't. But the movie can and does use the medium to its utmost. Because of how this is done, it makes the movie better than the book.)

Or the voice overs that parody the old "I Am Joe's <insert body part>" articles from Reader's Digest. They become "I Am Jack's <insert situation>" in the movie. For example "I Am Jack's Raging Bile Duct" or "I Am Jack's Smirking Revenge". The book tried it, but it works best as a voice over while the action being referenced is playing out on the screen.

Or when the Narrator is showing how he's owned by his possessions and as the camera pans around the Narrator's apartment, an Ikea overlay identifies each item and its cost.

The music matches the scenes as well. The "Dust Brothers" score hits that point between subdued and intense that matches the avant-garde nature of the director's vision.

The "what if?" scenarios that drive home the Narrator's state of mind are timely and appropriately over the top. A case in point is his fear that a plane he is riding on will tear open in the sky. The unexpected and jolting visualization of this adds to the plot. See the spoilers, if you're ready.

There's not a wasted shot, scene, word, or color in this movie. The attention to detail in the sweat patterns! (fer cryin' out loud) take this movie to a level that I can't remember ever having experienced before. It boggles my mind that such attention to detail can be accomplished in less than years of work on a single project, yet it was done for this film.

The lines from this movie are priceless even though you can't repeat most of them in mixed company. Here're some of the less colorful ones that I appreciate.

Narrator: This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time.
The Narrator meets Tyler Durden on an airplane flight: Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I've ever met. See I have this thing. Everything on a plane is single-serving...
Tyler: Oh I get it, it's very clever.
Narrator: Thank you.
Tyler: How's that working out for you?
Narrator: What?
Tyler: Being clever.
Narrator: Great.
Tyler: Keep it up then. Right up.
Tyler as he gets up from his window seat and passes in front of the Narrator: Now a question of etiquette - as I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?
Narrator while beating Angel Face (Jared Leto): I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother all the French beaches I'd never see. I wanted to breathe smoke.

Why should this movie be seen more than once? Well, you need to see it once to see how it ends. The first time I saw Fight Club I watched it from the point of view of the Narrator. (By the way, the movie ending is very different from the book. The one in the book is a bit too pedestrian for me even though the one in the movie is a bit over the top.)

Then, at some point the movie should be watched again with commentary. There are a number of commentaries, and I've at least started listening to all of them. The only one I listened to all the way through, so it's by default my favorite, involved the screen writer and the book author discussing approaches and intended plot points. These are two guys who appreciate each other's work, so a lot of "what were they thinking during that scene" was freely offered.

At a later time, you need to go back and watch it through the eyes of Tyler Durden. He appears early, although as just a flicker in the corner of the screen. The movie plays completely differently once you know Tyler's motivation.

At a still later time, you need to go back and watch it as a diatribe against the unseen ghosts that never quit molding the Narrator. Again, it plays differently and different subtleties come out. With this frame of mind, the tallow source for the soap is fully appreciated as is the scene of the gun being held to the head of the convenience store clerk.

For all its bloody, nihilistic intent, only two people die in the movie. Even then, only one appears as a corpse on screen. Odd, in a way...

As for watching it with a date, I'm not sure. Some "artsy" women understand parts of it. For the most part, though women don't seem to get past the disturbing visuals. Personally, I'd recommend against watching it with a date until after you've seen it. Then make the call about sharing the experience.

Back to the "More Than Once" list or the main movie list.