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Fight Club (1999)   3 comments

fight club

Ed Norton can’t sleep. He goes through the motions at his mid-level executive job traveling from crappy airport to crappy airport and back to his cookie cutter condo where his big fun on a Saturday night is sitting alone ordering from the Ikea catalog. Something has to change or he’ll lose his mind.

“Did he just buy a vowel?” 

 Sleep deprivation drives him to his doctor for sleeping pills. His doctor isn’t buying it though and makes an offhand remark which leads Norton to a series of support groups which meet in hospitals and church basements. Each group deals with a specific disease that Norton does not have. Despite his relatively disease-free body, Norton continues to go to these meetings which he finds oddly comforting. He’s no happier, but at least he can sleep. Just as he thinks he’s found dull, soulless peace, Norton meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). Crude, brash, and inappropriate, Marla crashes Norton’s pity party sending him back to insomnia-inspired sessions of mind-numbing channel surfing. Norton figures he’s doomed to spend eternity alone in a haze, neither awake nor asleep.

This is NOT the smoking section. 

 Then he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden is a smart-ass who says everything Norton longs to. Norton’s whole life changes. His condo blows up so he moves in with Durden. They live in a dilapidated mansion in the abandoned industrial part of town. Norton stops caring about acquiring the perfect collection of dress shirts. He also stops caring about electricity, what anyone thinks of him, and personal hygiene.

“PC Load Letter?” 

 He stops caring about all that because he develops a new priority…Fight Club. Started because Tyler Durden believes the only way young males can become men is by finding out what they’re made of, Fight Club’s bare-knuckle boxing clubs thrive in the basements of bars all over town.

norton fight
Leto’s not gonna like this. 

 Apparently they’re not the only ones who think there has to be something more than consumerism and trudging slowly up the corporate ladder. Others long for an idea of who they are inside, too. Accompanying all this self-discovery is some terrific dialogue. Durden asks if Norton knows what a duvet is. When he says yes, Durden asks,”Why do guys like us know what a duvet is?” After Norton mentions Martha Stewart, Durden says, “Fuck Martha Stewart! Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic! It’s all going down, man.” In the same conversation, Durden poses the question that gets the Fight Club ball rolling. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

As Norton becomes more involved with Fight Club, he changes.

Well who wouldn’t? 

 No longer the quiet guy who lets people walk all over him, Norton even walks differently. He has a swagger. He walks with confidence; like a guy who knows where he’s going. He walks like Durden. He says what he thinks and stops putting up with all the petty crap people deal with every day. He’s alive. Just when he thinks he knows what he wants, everything changes. Other young men Including Jared Leto and Meat Loaf, in a terrific small role, start showing up at their house looking to join the movement. Baffled by this talk of movements and missions, Norton stumbles through his own house, hopelessly out of the loop. At first, it was Norton and Durden and Norton felt happy and part of something. Now other recruits and the missions performed by Operation Mayhem threaten Norton’s place beside Durden. Durden’s even sleeping with Marla. As Fight Club and its original idea spiral out of control, can Norton rein Durden in or at least decipher his master plan?

I’ll never tell.

Director David Fincher (SE7EN, GONE GIRL) keeps the camera moving and the pace brisk. He shows us just enough of each scene to make us want more. There’s a knack to that. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who works with Fincher a lot, manages to make a film shot mostly in basements and poorly lit rooms look perfect. It’s appropriately gritty, but you can still see the players. The soundtrack which includes music by the Dust Brothers and the Pixies is appropriately cynical and dark. Michael Kaplan designed the costumes for FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN, and BLADE RUNNER. He has a talent for combining vintage edginess with reality so people don’t look like they just stepped out of a pricey hipster boutique.

“Yeah, I’m a Viking. So what?” 

 Other than the direction, which is stellar, and the acting which is perfect, the writing stands out. Jim Uhls wrote the screenplay based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel and it’s cool. The dialogue crackles and the little touches make this film stand out. The bit based on some biology texts Norton finds in the basement of the house written from the point of view of an organ runs throughout the film. I AM JACK’S MEDULLA OBLONGATA. I AM JILL’S NIPPLE. When Norton get’s jealous of Durden’s affection for Jared Leto’s character, he says, “I AM JACK’S INFLAMED SENSE OF REJECTION.” Later he says, “I AM JACK’S SMIRKING REVENGE.” after getting back at his boss. It works. The elaborate pranks Durden and his followers pull entertain as well. Busting the headlights of pretentious cars, degaussing videotapes, blowing up window displays all serve to advance Durden’s anti-consumer agenda and make the audience laugh. Even the pranks we don’t see play a role. Press clippings of the group’s exploits read Police Seize Excrement Catapult and Missing Monkeys Found Shaved.

I did not know that. 

 Of course the concepts behind FIGHT CLUB involve something deeper than some goofs setting fires and flinging poop. Themes of consumerism, complacency, the feminization of men, and isolation run throughout the film and Durden and Norton get into some deep conversations after a few beers.

FIGHT CLUB works as a comedy, an off-kilter buddy film, and a modern love story. The production team, cast, and especially the writers created a clever and thought-provoking film that stands repeated viewings without diminishing its impact.



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