Fight Club. 1999. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by Jim Uhls.
Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk.
Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Zach Grenier, Rachel Singer, Holt McCallany, Eion Bailey, Jared Leto, Peter Iacangelo, Joon Kim, Michael Shamus Wiles, & Thom Gossom Jr.
Fox 2000 Pictures / Regency Enterprises / Linson Films.
Rated R. 139 minutes.
DISCLAIMER: It’s been 17 years as of this writing the film was released. If you haven’t seen it yet, get it done. This is full of spoilers. If you go ahead, you’ve seen the movie or you don’t care about having it spoiled.
There are movies and novels that can change your life. This is why the arts don’t always get enough credit from people who aren’t into them, in any way. Because they don’t realize the power of literature and film. That’s fine, to each their own. This is a film I’d seen not too long after it came out. Still remember that day.
Fight Club is a great Chuck Palahniuk novel. David Fincher brings his enormous, unique talent as director to the project, which makes any film better for his involvement. His style happens to compliment a dark, strange tale like that of the unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton) once his life changes after meeting a wild lady named Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) in various group therapy meetings, and a mysterious, iconoclastic soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an airplane.
If you dig anything you’ll at the very least find enjoyment in the unpredictable nature of Palahniuk’s creation, well translated by Jim Uhls. The central performances are iconic. You’ll likely never forget some of the various lines from both the Narrator and Tyler, some prophetic and others representative of the philosophical influence on Palahniuk’s original novel.
Certain scenes stick with me to this day, even after not watching the movie for such a long time. You can’t not pay attention to the mad display of psychological thrills, the twists and turns which the Palahniuk source material takes you on, along with Uhls’ own efforts making a difference. Even the author feels the film is better than the novel, though I still love the book most of all. It’s due to the fact things get fleshed out nicely. This is a well paced, exciting bit of cinema that’s completely unique in a league of its own. From story and storytelling to the cinematography to the screenplay and its dialogue, every last inch of Fincher’s movie screams masterpiece.
A dialectic occurs between Narrator and Tyler throughout their relationship. Early on, Tyler is like the Socratic influence, handing down lessons such as “The things you own end up owning you” and other pearls of wisdom. Only their dialectic is not Platonic, not one directed by a Socrates-like Tyler. Rather, he is more of a Hegelian influence. Soon as he brings in the concept of fighting one another it becomes a construct of Hegel’s philosophy. Seeing as how Tyler and the Narrator are one person, this initial fighting between the two is a representation of how the master-slave dialectic works. In a sense the entire concept of Fight Club is that these men are fighting other men, but they’re in turn fighting a further something within themselves: inadequacy, boredom, lack of a social life, lack of a love life, the loss of love, the loss of a job, and any number of other issues.
Problem for the Narrator is that Tyler becomes an entirely self-conscious being. Albeit one that’s a part of his own personality, not an entirely other physical person, but another self-conscious entity. The fact the Narrator acknowledges seeing him as this wholly other person gives him recognition, allowing him power, allowing him the social recognition necessary for Tyler to be a self-conscious being of his own. And in Palahniuk’s vision of a Hegelian conflict, a master-slave dialectic between the Narrator and Tyler, the latter is the genuine personality. He’s the dominant part. So everyone sees him, they credit him with the invention of the beloved Fight Club, then the Narrator in his obliviousness (and state of pre-self conscious thought) becomes jealous. Although, this does prompt the next step to the master-slave paradigm in Hegel terms.
In the end the Narrator decides to undo his slavery to the master, Tyler. This is Hegel’s struggle to the death in the master-slave dialectic. The Narrator shoots himself, which of course is shooting Tyler. However, the Narrator survives narrowly with a nasty wound. Hegel calls this sublation. Because though Tyler’s technically dead after this gunshot, the Narrator isn’t truly rid of him. He was not a person, of body and flesh and bone. His death is only figurative, not literal. Therefore, it stands to assume Tyler isn’t dead. Merely silenced, for the time being. And even if we want to believe Tyler is literally dead, his work is done. The effect of his presence has been felt. The city begins detonating despite Tyler supposedly taking a bullet through the head. Further than that the Narrator is both physically scarred, having shot himself through the face to rid his head of Durden, as well as mentally scarred after all he’s gone through to get to that point.
This will forever be my favourite Brad Pitt role. It’s the small touches that matter most. Tyler’s pulling Marla away from her apartment and for a second they duck into a dark hallway, he dances like they’re just jamming together, and it’s so funny, so natural, he absolutely embodies Durden from top to bottom. Uncanny, really.
Edward Norton plays the Narrator impressively, with a strange calmness. At least for the first long while before things get crazy, or crazier. I’m always a fan of Norton because he has a lot of range. His transition from buttoned up yuppie in a high-rise apartment to greasy lower class fighter living in a flophouse is astonishing. He changes so subtly after meeting Tyler that it’s great to watch, proving he can play all types. Later, the pressures of the character and his predicament bring out the best in Norton, as he’s mentally spiralling into oblivion, running about the city in a coat and his underwear after nearly losing his testicles. Great, great acting.
You can’t leave out Meat Loaf as Bob, with his big bitch tits. This is his best role, right up next to his part in Rocky Horror. My favourite scene of his is when he and the Narrator meet on the street, figuring out they both attend regular Fight Club meetings just on different days. The way Meat Loaf delivers the lines in that sequence is perfect, there’s nothing he could have done better. There’s a reason why later in the plot we can actually get emotional over Bob, or should I say Robert Paulsen— his name was Robert Paulsen.
A couple of my favourite sequences, it’s hard to choose with so many out of a solid flick. The Raymond K. Hessel scene is awesome, particularly in light of what we know by the end. “Imagine how he feels,” Tyler quips after Raymond runs off, but little does he understand the weight of his words. Because imagine Raymond on his knees, a gun against his head (even if there are actually no bullets in it), with some guy talking in two personas to himself holding the thing. That’s actually terrifying.
When the Narrator smashes Angel Face’s (Jared Leto) face to bloody bits, that’s one hell of a well executed moment. The filming is great, then there’s the effect itself. Gruesome and fitting. “I felt like destroying something beautiful,” the Narrator sighs after Tyler questions what he’s done. That entire moment— dialogue, acting from Norton, the blood and effects, the shots— is a sliver of cinematic gold.
Finally, it’s the entire conclusion of the film from the time Tyler and the Narrator meet in the hotel room, when everything is figured out, to the end. There’s a frenetic charge rushing us towards the end, but not in any bad sense. The energy-filled pace steps up a notch until everything comes to a head. The dialogue is great, the acting sells every bit of the emotional weight behind the big twist. There’s still funny bits, even in the darkest moments. We get a nice montage of scenes that go back through ones we’ve already seen, except through the real perspective, as the Narrator sees himself as Tyler, back in all those scenes speaking his words, and then some.
Everything’s perfect right through the finale.
If you’ve ever read the novel, please see the movie. If you’ve seen the movie and not read the book, get out and pick up a copy. It’s not a long read, either. Fight Club is genius work at the hands of director David Fincher. The screenplay is well written, though I don’t think Uhls needed to do too much in order to make Palahniuk’s story come across. Mostly, he organizes things well and tells the story in a way that doesn’t confuse, only intrigues. Each element is in the right place. This is one of my favourites, that hasn’t changed since I was 14 and saw this on VHS. Never will. Good films never fade.