Fight Club

on October 15, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
David Fincher, director of the highly stylized dark dramas "Seven" and "The Game," continues his tradition of post-modern metaphoric representation with "Fight Club," his most ambitious undertaking to date. In his latest work, members of the titular group are sworn to follow the underground clique's first and second rules, which demand "Don't talk about Fight Club"-a code of conduct that has been adhered to more readily onscreen than off. The hotly anticipated pic garnered substantial pre-release speculation and sparked impassioned discussions among audiences as well as media watchdogs concerning the unrelenting brutality portrayed in the flick.
   Much of "Fight Club's" notoriously violent scenes depict physical manifestations of embitterment by young and not-so-young males, frustrated by the lack of fulfillment afforded them by their nine-to-five schedules and material possessions. Representative of these men is Jack (Edward Norton), whose internalized hatred of his job as an automobile manufacturer consultant results in months of insomnia. Per the advice of his doctor, Jack attends a support group for cancer victims in the hope that seeing people in greater pain than himself will provide him relief. Finding his visit successful, Jack becomes addicted to such meetings and attends every empathy-based group gathering he can find. His routine goes smoothly until he discovers that another faker named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) is also frequenting the meetings, annoying him to the point of distraction. Marla, who comes for the free coffee and knows that her challenger is a fellow phony, refuses to comply with Jack's demands that she stop attending the meetings.
   No longer able to find peace through the support groups, Jack is driven back to his state of constant waking. His misery, compounded by a mysterious explosion that destroys his condo and all his belongings, leads him to call Tyler (Brad Pitt), a quirky soap salesman he had met on a plane. After a few drinks at a bar and an invitation to stay at his dilapidated, abandoned home, Tyler tells Jack to hit him as a form of release. After their brawl, Jack finds himself strangely exhilarated and fighting soon fills the need that support groups once satisfied. Tyler and Jack's controlled clashes attract the attention of other men eager to experience the rush of beating another person to a pulp, and slowly but surely the crowd of recreational ass kickers grows until the Fight Club is formed.
   While the film's savagery is undeniably pervasive and the amount of splattered blood in the pic could equal that in 50 "Saving Private Ryans," it's the symbolism of a society left unsatisfied with the empty promises of a bourgeois lifestyle that renders itself more powerful than the onscreen violence alone. Norton gives one of the strongest performances of his career, personifying the disillusionment of the late twentieth century Everyman who, despite his constant rage, still manages to be the voice of reason in an escalating state of lunacy. Pitt is similarly impressive, with his portrayal of a charismatic leader of a growing group of malcontents brilliantly paralleling the rise of a dictator and the increasing power of the Fight Club analogous to the emergence of a Fascist state.
   Jim Uhls' intelligent script based on Chuck Palahniuk's novel consistently challenges on several levels. Punctured with moments of biting humor, including an unforgettable mishap behind a liposuction clinic, one of its rare flaws is the repetitious-to-the-point-of-didactic quality behind its "things you own ending up owning you" message. Ironic, too, is the amount of product placement in a film heavily criticizing corporate America (Tyler and Jack share a Budweiser moment after their first fight).
   However, these faults are minor footnotes in a pic rampant with overwhelming depth and profundity. And while indeed disturbing, it's hard to imagine that any film capable of effectively questioning the status quo could do so without causing some degree of discomfort. Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Jared Leto and Zach Grenier. Directed by David Fincher. Written by Jim Uhls. Produced by Art Linson, Cean Chaffin and Ross Grayson Bell. A Fox release. Drama. Rated R for graphic violence, sexuality and language. Running time: 139 min
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