In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night, one
of the main characters – a rather two-dimensional member of the displaced
American intelligentsia in Europe after WWI – is challenged to an old-fashioned
duel by another character. Despite his terror, he goes through with it, and the
narrator says that this was "the first thing he ever did." When the
narrator meets the character again, he enjoys him more – feels that the
character is now someone better, whole.
This scene shows that the themes brought up by David Fincher’s Fight
Club, themes also explored in the recent American
Beauty, are nothing new. When Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden starts spouting off
his propaganda about the emasculation of the current male generation due to the
encroachment of offices, computers and IKEA, it’s the same incendiary speeches
that Hitler was tossing out decades ago, and Marx before that.
But as I said, American Beauty explored a similar theme –
though in a less male-centered format – and did it well. Fight Club could
also have done it well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Stylistically, Fight Club is a "cool movie."
It’s got the neat angle shots, the weird metafictional scenes, the clever
subliminal flashes, and guys beating the living shit out of each other. But
there’s a difference between the cartoony violence of action films and the
brutal brutal violence depicted in Fight Club.
In some ways, this may be a good thing. I’ll never look at an action film the
same way again, knowing to what extreme that violence could be carried. That’s
one bit of social commentary that carries off well.
But plot-wise, Fight Club
is a confusing jumble of bizarre characters, unrealistic events, and dried-out
ideas. The plot is relatively simple; Ed Norton’s burned-out yuppie Jack (the
narrator of the story, whose name isn’t actually revealed until near the end of
the film) finds a way to bring significance to his tedious life: he begins
attending support groups for problems he doesn’t have. But when Marla, a fellow
pity-junkie, horns in on the narrator’s racket, he’s forced to find a new
addiction – and discovers it in Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a nutty, archetypal
hedonist who lives in a condemned house on the outskirts of the city’s
industrial park. Moving in with Durden after his apartment accidentally
explodes, the narrator and Durden take out their hatred for their condition by
forming the Fight Club – a group of guys who meet in the basement of a bar every
Saturday Night to beat each other up.
The fights are something of
an issue. There’s a lot of punching, a lot of
crushing, and much, much too much of heads getting smacked into
concrete. There’s really only three ways such a scene can be dealt with
when you’re watching it. You can pull yourself out of the movie and just
continually remind yourself that it’s only a movie, those people aren’t really
having their heads bashed into the ground; you can look away, as you would if
you were actually there; or perhaps you’re into that type of thing. If you are,
stay the hell away from me. As I said, I’ll never watch an action movie the same
Fight Club‘s plot
also leaves something to be desired. The main problem is that it takes a sharp
left turn about three fourths of the way through the film; suddenly, all the
"angst in the internet age" themes are wiped clean and the plot
abruptly focuses entirely on character. And this isn’t one of those cool
"Sixth Sense" left turns. It’s more like one of those "Arlington
Road" left turns; it just doesn’t work, or at least not well, when you look
back at everything that has gone before. It’s almost like a different movie for
that last fourth.
Despite its flaws – which
I’ve more or less focused on here – Fight Club does have a few merits.
The first act of the film is excellent (basically until Durden shows up), and Ed
Norton, who did a great job in American History X, gives an excellent
performance here as well (though by the end of the film, Norton is playing
nearly the same character as X). I also think the film’s message – the
emotional estrangement of males in our society, or at least the threat of it –
is a valid one. But too often, the style takes over the content. And then
there’s the blood, the punching, the beating, the crashing thud of a skull on
concrete – as a friend of mine (who almost walked out on the movie) said,
"I don’t need those sounds, those images, in my head." I don’t think