Films

Bare-knuckled knockout

Fight Club Directed by David Fincher

Brian D. Johnson October 25 1999
Films

Bare-knuckled knockout

Fight Club Directed by David Fincher

Brian D. Johnson October 25 1999

Bare-knuckled knockout

Films

Brian D. Johnson

Fight Club Directed by David Fincher

“First rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club. Second rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club.” That’s the mantra for a cult of bare-knuckled boxers who relieve their ennui by beating each other to a pulp. It is also the mantra being used to promote the movie: not talking about Fight Club is part of a clever anti-hype campaign that seems destined to make it one of the most talked-about movies of the year. It is certainly one of the most incendiary.

In some respects, Fight Club recalls David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996), another story of a cult devoted to the existential kick of self-mutilation—people smashing into each other. Fight Club is far more accessible than Crash—brashly iconoclastic instead of coolly hermetic. And its subversive wit even extends to the marketing: Fight Club's press kit includes a mock fashion catalogue of costumes from the film, lavishly presented with lines such as “hand-crafted in an Indonesian sweatshop by Frida, a single mother of seven whose monthly salary is

Fight Club

equivalent to six American dollars.”

Fight Club is a “grande’’molotov cocktail pitched at the comfort zone of consumer culture, the cozy capitalism of Starbucks and Ikea. At the same time, with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton leading the cast, it is as much a part of that culture as everything else—an ultra-hip Hollywood movie that is ferociously entertaining. Based on the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club is directed by David Fincher {Severi) who has created a diabolical satire that mixes flamboyant gamesmanship with visceral brutality. It drags on too long, and the violence gets excessive. But Norton is brilliant in a role that deftly exploits his range. And Pitt scuffs up his pretty boy image with a show of gaudy malevolence.

Norton plays an unnamed narrator who works for a major auto manufacturer. His job is to help calculate whether it costs more to recall defective cars or settle the death and injury claims arising from accidents. He is an insomniac. Stumbling across a support group for men with testicular cancer, he finds some solace, and soon he is spending all his spare time in group therapy for diseases and addictions he does not have—until he meets a rival imposter (Helena Bonham Carter) who is doing the same thing.

The narrators life is turned upside down when a mysterious explosion destroys his Ikea-furnished condo. He spends the night getting drunk with an aggressive weirdo named Tyler (Pitt), who introduces him to the joys of fistfighting. Taking a beating becomes the narrators new addiction. He moves into Tylers rotting carcass of a house, a leaky ruin on the edge of town. And in a derelict basement they start the Fight Club, which is not about winning but about getting creamed—savouring self-destruction in a culture obsessed with self-improvement.

The club expands into a terrorist franchise, a Weather Underground for the ’90s devoted to blowing up icons of consumer culture. To reveal more would not only break the Fight Club rules but spoil the plot, which has a wonderfully unpredictable twist. What can be said is that Fight Club throws down the gaundet in the debate over screen violence in a way that will inflame the moral majority and give others pause. Even more disturbing than the violence is the film’s giddy nihilism. There are nasty racial overtones to a Quentin Tarantino-like scene of Tyler holding a gun to the head of a whimpering Asian convenience-store clerk, making him aware of death so he will do something better with his life. Women, meanwhile, barely exist. Bonham Carter’s character is just a blip in the narrator’s peripheral vision.

But this is, after all, a movie about men, men seeking their inner warrior. And there are uncanny parallels to American Beauty, another satirical drama about the perceived crisis of American manhood. In both films, a guy with his brain on fire rebels against conformity, tells his boss to shove it and discovers the meaning of muscle. In American Beauty, Kevin Spacey threatens to frame his boss for sexual harassment; in Fight Club, Norton frames his boss for assault by beating himself up in the man’s office.

Fight Club is an uglier, bloodier American Beauty. Susan Faludi, the feminist author of Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male, must be on to something: the year’s two hottest movies are about white-collar weaklings who get tough, then go crashing through the looking glass as they try to get even. E3