First off, if you haven’t seen the movie but intend to, I recommend you don’t read this until you’ve seen it or you’ll ruin it for yourself. So go watch it, right now.
Have you seen it now? Good.
I’m not exactly what you’d call an appreciator of grown-up films. Mostly that’s because hardly anybody uses the word “appreciator,” but it’s also because anybody who knows me is well aware that my appreciation of film only extends as far as musicals, animated films, and adaptations of my favorite books.
So when I say that I was extremely appreciative of Fight Club, I want you to understand exactly what I mean.
For a long time, I put off watching it. I’ve always been squeamish when it comes to movies, which might be partly because of an incident when I was thirteen, when I sat through part of Mars Attacks! and was scarred for life by the part when an alien bites a guy’s finger off. Is that lame of me? Probably, but I’ve come to terms with that. So it took a while for me to watch Fight Club, even though I knew it’s one of those movies everyone needs to see at least once, because, I mean, come on, it’s called Fight Club. I assumed that there would be fighting, and that it would be brutal. And yeah, there was fighting, and yeah, it was brutal, but Fight Club is so much more than just your standard grungy action movie.
Does the plot matter? Not overmuch. There’s mischief, mayhem, and people beating the crap out of each other so they feel something. And is the fighting even important? No, not really. It’s just a release valve and the precursor to Project Mayhem, which has almost no fighting at all. No, this movie’s importance lies in the psychological development of its characters: what exactly does it look like when a man becomes so disillusioned with his life that he invents a psychotic alter-ego?
Edward Norton, who I remember from his stunning performance in Kingdom of Heaven as the masked leper king, plays the unnamed protagonist (at first I thought I just missed his name, but Wikipedia informed me that he really doesn’t have one, so I’m just gonna call him Edward Norton). At the start of the film, he’s an avid collector of IKEA furniture (a man after my own heart) and extremely invested in the contents of his wardrobe. He attends support meetings for diseases he doesn’t have because crying helps him sleep at night. He looks like a heroin addict in the throes of withdrawal, which really sells the whole insomnia thing. He’s also got a weird fixation with the body parts of a guy named Jack, whose organs are apparently the subjects of an entire series of books that Edward finds in the house of Tyler Durden.
And who is Tyler Durden? Dumb question, since you’re supposed to have already seen the movie, and you should know that he’s played by the talented Brad Pitt and that Tyler’s also apparently insane in the sack (which I’d totally believe, even if Brad Pitt does absolutely nothing for me in the trouser-wowzer department). There’s a ton of foreshadowing that he’s coming—not dramatically, as foreshadowing typically is, but flashes of him spliced into the film, which fits perfectly with his habit of splicing single frames of porn into otherwise tasteful films at the movie theatre. He also has the habit of peeing into the soup at the restaurant he works at (he’s got a lot of jobs), and now I never want to eat out ever again. Tyler’s got just an insane amount of knowledge about the most ridiculous things, which I guess fits, given that he’s Edward’s brain’s more exciting personality. Yup, he’s not real. But c’mon, this movie came out in ’99; everyone already knew that, even me.
This perfection in casting is made complete by the addition of Helena Bonham Carter as the guano loco Marla Singer, and she is my second favorite actress of all time (right behind Anne Hathaway, of course). I mean, she was in Sweeney Todd, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, The King’s Speech, Les Miserables… she’s basically flawless in every way. Although I gotta wonder how Marla was allowed to smoke in all these random places. I know it was the ‘90s, but seriously, she’s smoking, like, all of the time. She starts the film as a crazy lady who starts up a crazy-monkey-sexytimes relationship with Tyler, and by the end, she’s practically normal. She tells Edward that he’s the worst thing that ever happened to her, but in a lot of ways I think they were good for each other. I don’t know if their relationship has long-term potential, but I don’t think it needs to, either; I think they were their own support group for their own diseases, such as they were, and both of them benefited from it in the long run.
I think the main point of Fight Club is freedom, but not in the traditional patriotic sense: it’s about freeing yourself from anything that keeps you from being happy or fulfilled. Tyler thought it was about getting rid of any ties to the world: a home, furniture, even your name, as long as it meant uncovering the kind of person you were meant to be. Edward thought it was about getting to do as he liked without worrying about the consequences, at least until he found out about Project Mayhem, at which point freedom was the ultimate goal in his showdown with Tyler. I don’t really know what Marla thought, though. I think her life was entirely lived in freedom: morally, socially, sexually… but she had demons of her own, and through exposure to Edward’s craziness, she was able to get a handle on her own and free herself from her downward spiral.
That was what stuck with me most. I mean, the fighting was awesome, and one of these days I’d like to try krav maga or something so I can beat the crap out of somebody, because it seems like it would be kind of fun as long as the other person was cool with it. And yeah, the whole Project Mayhem thing was pretty sweet, because we all have that impulse to trash the system and do something insane. And okay, it was utterly unsettling seeing how many people were so dissatisfied with their lives that they were willing to give it up for a shot at fulfillment, because I know there are probably a lot of people who, despite their dependence on what they own, wish their lives didn’t have to be controlled by others.
But over all these things, the image that I can’t get out of my head is Tyler Durden saying, “Hit me as hard as you can.” Because the power of suggestion, of the mind over itself, is so incredibly strong that a man can persuade himself to destroy his life and everything he once held dear if it means even a shot at being happy, at being able to live with himself… no matter how many himselfs are living inside his head.
Final Score: A-
- Even if the movie takes place pre-Cloud, wouldn’t the financial records exist in at least one other location? Seems pretty irresponsible to put all that stuff in one building where a single well-placed explosive charge can wipe everyone’s credit history from existence. Just saying.
- I actually found that knowing about Edward’s dual personality didn’t ruin the movie for me; if anything, it enhanced it. I watched each scene knowing full well how everyone else saw it, which was great, since I didn’t have to go back and watch it again to get the full meaning.
- That being said, I’m not entirely sure what happens at the end. So everyone’s credit history has been wiped and reset to zero… now what? Or is that the point?
- I thought it was absolutely hilarious that all these guys with massive bruising all over their faces meet each other in the real world and just give each other significant nods, like they’re members of a Fisticuffs Illuminati or something. There were a lot of moments like that throughout the film that made me laugh, and that’s something that doesn’t happen often in an action flick, which was very satisfying. That is all.