Fight Club

Tyler Durden, the protagonist of David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” tells his new friend Jack that he can’t know anything about himself unless he has been in a fight. Not just an angry exchange of words, but a drag out, knock down connection of bare fist and flesh.

fightclubI’ve been lucky enough in my life to have only been in one fight. It wasn’t really a fight. It took place in the second grade after school. Some girl I had offended (I can’t remember the details) wanted to kick my ass, but I wasn’t really interested.

That didn’t matter to the group of classmates who had gathered. They wanted to see a fight. I was taught by my parents never to hit a girl, so I tried to avoid the confrontation. She was bound and determined, so no matter what I did, she was there in my face.

I let her take a hit, which landed square on my jaw. Here I was, taking abuse from a girl and helpless to do anything about it. My first instinct was to deck her, sending her pounding to the pavement. That didn’t happen. I took the abuse, and felt totally emasculated.

That is how Edward Norton’s character feels in “Fight Club.” Jack feels lost and abandoned, stripped of his masculinity by years of false promises from the media and mom. He’s trapped in a dead-end job that treats people’s suffering like a math equation, and as a result, finds himself detached from reality.

Jack is the narrator of “Fight Club,” a tough, gritty, almost ethereal exploration of one man’s reckoning in a world that frowns on such revelations. Jack is wound so tight that he can’t sleep. He finds comfort in other people’s suffering, and ends up attending numerous support groups to feed his habit.

Like Lester in “American Beauty,” Jack doesn’t feel alive. He’s just going through the motions. Then he meets Tyler Durden on a plane and his life is forever changed. Tyler becomes the light at the end of the tunnel for Jack, who sees his new friend as his last chance to regain his self respect and dignity.

Tyler is willing to do and say the things that Jack only dare to think, and like a moth attracted to a bright light, Jack finds himself fluttering towards Tyler.

They’re a match made in hell, and once the match has been lit, the only thing left to do is set the town on fire, literally. Jack finds Tyler fascinating because he’s free. He comes with no string attached. What you see is what you get, and for Jack, that means trouble.

There is a lot of anger on display in “Fight Club,” which has been written for the screen by newcomer Jim Uhls, and is based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. As directed by Fincher, possibly one of Hollywood’s most visually arresting directors, “Fight Club” emerges as a violent diatribe against the stripping down of the male ego.

You not only understand Jack’s feelings of desperation, you accept his final solution, even if you don’t agree with it. Jack’s journey back from the abyss begins when he and Tyler begin an underground club for bare fisted fighters. At first they meet weekly in the basement of a local bar, but as their legion grows, it becomes a nightly event.

The participants, who have been sworn to secrecy, discover that being beat to a pulp and near death actually makes them feel more alive. They rediscover their primal urges, and as a result, become men for the first time in their lives.

Eager to vent their collective anger into something productive, Tyler and Jack take the “Fight Club” national, and begin recruiting an army of trained fighters who are loyal to the cause.

What started off as a trip to the testosterone well turns into a flood of anger as the “Fight Club” participants take their cause public, creating chaos. Some of their actions are nothing more than organized vandalism, but when things get crazy, Jack begins to worry.

He suspects that Tyler is out of control, but has a hard time convincing anyone. Now Jack finds himself sitting on a bomb that will blow up in his face unless he comes to his senses.

Fincher does an excellent job of conveying Jack’s dilemma. He perfectly captures the deluge of consumerism that almost drowns Jack, and even though he bathes every scene in a dreamlike glow, the film remains a jolt to the senses. “Fight Club” looks marvelous, largely thanks to Jeff Cronenweth’s stylized cinematography.

I’ve never been a big Brad Pitt fan, but whenever he and director Fincher get together, Pitt actually busts his acting chops. He was dynamic in Fincher’s “Seven,” and is even better in “Fight Club.” Pitt delivers a performance that suggests much more than just the written word. There is conviction and attitude in his performance.

Norton once again delivers a performance that gets beneath the skin. Since his debut in “Primal Fear,” Norton has displayed the ability to create characters that seem familiar but are full of surprises. His Jack is a real enigma. Even though Norton nails the character, we never feel like we do. His character is like that square peg some smart aleck manages to fit into the round hole.

Wearing a fright wig that suggests a lack of self respect, Helena Bonham Carter is outstanding as the woman who comes between the two guys. Jack first meets Marla Singer (Carter) while making the rounds of his support groups. He hates that he isn’t the only “tourist” in the group. Even though he’s intrigued by Marla, Jack detests her. When she ends up sleeping with Tyler, Marla puts even more distance between them.

Like Jack, Fincher’s film is also an enigma. Here is a film that is brilliant on all accounts: outstanding writing and direction, emotionally moving performances and eye-popping visuals. Yet I find it hard to recommend.

“Fight Club” is filled with brutal, painful images of men beating each other into a bloody pulp. Women are treated with disdain, and as part of their initiation, the members of “Fight Club” are ordered to engage unsuspecting innocents in a fight.

As the film progresses, we are subjected to one neanderthal behavior after another. Within the context of the film these moments may seem edgy and daring, but also seem likely to inspire weak minded individuals to copy them. How long will it be before innocents are attacked on the street? One member of the club works in food service, and what he does to the soup will make you think twice about eating out again.

The film seems geared towards young males, the very animal who is likely to revel in the mayhem as opposed to understanding its irony. “Fight Club” tackles a lot of issues, some of which it deals with responsibly. It’s not a date movie, despite the presence of Pitt and Norton. I think women will take issue with the material, which basically blames them for turning men into little boys.



Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday, Jared Leto in a film directed by David Fincher. Rated R. 139 Minutes.


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