Written by: Jim Uhls
Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday, Jared Leto
Some films do so well with their messaging where even with how obvious it may be to anyone willing to pay attention, it can still get widely misunderstood. It makes for some wild postulating of the true purpose and seeing the misunderstandings of it further exposes the current behavior the work mocks. A tactic used in the brutal and incredibly insightful Fight Club in the way it examines masculinity, indoctrination, and consumerism.
Living life just like all of the commercials recommend, The Narrator (Edward Norton) amasses plenty of consumer products until he meets the alluring Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Together they discover the joys of getting into fights and begin a local fight club where anonymity reigns and letting loose violence becomes the name of the game.
The popular culture imprint of Fight Club cannot be understated where you can ask most people what the first rule of Fight Club is and they can probably recite the answer. Its most significant aspect arrives in how widely it has been misinterpreted since its release where toxic individuals believe the subject matter praises the very material it seeks to chastise. This all resolutely comes down to Tyler Durden as a character and how he represents the toxicity of the story but delivers his points in such an engaging and alluring manner.
Everything Durden states have nuggets of truth within it, especially in the way he speaks on consumerism and the current generation of men. There will be moments where you listen to him and admit he makes a good point about the state of the world but as all villains do, he takes it too far. Through this character is where the misinterpretation occurs seeing as the man exudes charisma in the way he presents everything and happens to be portrayed by Brad Pitt in his physical prime. Just as he represents everything The Narrator wants to be by giving in to darker impulses, he embodies the same with other men out there.
While having one of the most inventive twists many know without ever seeing this film, everything holds water thematically and narratively. Knowing the twist in this feature, if anything, allows repeat viewings to be even more fulfilling because of the way David Fincher meticulously pieces together the narrative. Probably the modern filmmaker closest to Stanley Kubrick with an obsession to details, Fincher winds this story up so tight, leaving the fallout to be so ruthlessly entertaining. This sheer entertaining factor provides base level enjoyment of the story but the themes underlying the motives and actions truly take the cake and what has allowed this film to continue to grow since its release in 1999.
The progression of the fight clubs deserves attention because they begin as something for these men to let out steam. Throughout each day, they need to act professionally and hide their true primal selves but the fight club allows them to fully engage in harming another person but done so with a modicum of respect and weirdly a bold sense of camaraderie. During several of the fights, the men get up and embrace as if they have each shared a type of religious experience. It gives them the opportunity to feel something for the first time, which has sprinkles of positivity. This quickly evaporates when it turns into indoctrination. The direction of going from a weekly fight club into something like Project Mayhem truly becomes frightening because it appears to be a cult with Durden as the leader and The Narrator along for the ride. It demonstrates the level of charisma a leader can have and how it can push people to do fairly despicable things in the name of some higher calling. Extremism in its scariest form, especially with how far-reaching it spreads out from the central location where The Narrator and Durden reside.
Violence gets put on full display in the fight club as these are bare-knuckled brawls until submission. At times it gets difficult to watch but it certainly leaves the impression it seeks with how much damage can be inflicted on the individual. If the person does not show up to work the very next day without some scars then did they really attend fight club? This level of violence only adds to the dirtiness of the overall film. Grungy and dark, the rooms where they fight and the house Durden and The Narrator stay in have not received a proper cleaning in some time. It becomes a bit concerning after a while but further indicates what truly matters to these men when engaging with this club. The societal standards they have allowed to control their lives do not matter in the spaces where they feel they can truly be men.
As a filmmaker, David Fincher has never truly disappointed and the feat he accomplishes with Fight Club ranks high amongst his illustrious filmography. Taking on some challenging source material allowed him to play around with the presentation and I cannot imagine anyone else doing a better job than what the final product of this feature turned into. The tension and stakes continue to build until the breaking point gets reached and the downward descent only further ribs salt on the wounds.
Unquestionably one of Fincher’s best and a film so thematically rich that it allows for incorrect readings to be so wrong and only further proving its point. It works as both a piece of broad entertainment anyone can flip on and enjoy while also showing a deep level of horror in the way the fight club forms and what it ultimately becomes. Multiple rewatches only improve the film’s ideas and it certainly deserves its iconic status.