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Thursday, May 8, 2014

My 40 Favorite Films of the 90's - 27 - Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club (1999; 20th Century Fox Pictures)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jim Uhls
Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter

Fight Club is the 1999 film adaptation of the novel of the same name from writer Chuck Palahniuk.  It is a funny indictment of unbridled consumerism, drawing comparisons to shopping from Ikea with enslavement and disease.  It is certainly an anti-establishment message shoved into a strange series of parallels and metaphors.  So, who better to put together a plot puzzle like this than the man who directed The Game and Seven?

Edward Norton plays a (sort of) unnamed narrator who is tormented by his endless fight with daily life and his sudden urge to buy increasingly-useless crap from the consumer catalog du jour.  Depressed and struggling with crippling insomnia, our narrator begins to attend various support groups for disease and addiction for things he does not even suffer from, only to feel… something.  This therapy works, until a woman named Marla (Carter) begins showing up for the same groups, becoming a plaguing distraction.  During a business trip, he meets an outgoing, fast-talking man named Tyler Durden (Pitt), who seems to have none of the same fears and worries he suffers from.  Essentially, he is the narrator’s polar opposite.  A freak disaster leads the narrator to contact Tyler and they meet up, becoming friends, and eventually, this leads to them fighting in an alley.  Over time, this one fight evolves into hundreds, all over the country, from multiple groups of Fight Clubs, and replaces any need for support groups and shoulders to cry on.  Things grow and grow, becoming even more desperate, and Marla is dragged back in with Tyler, with whom she begins a very, very loud sexual relationship.  With the narrator's own vision of what Fight Club becoming distorted into a movement that has grown far out of his control, the film’s tone becomes extremely dark and more than a little threatening, all leading to a climax that is surprising and kind of terrifying..

Fight Club is a brutal rejection of casual consumerism.  It mocks marketing, and even has the Club members use that marketing as a weapon against the system they feel has enslaved them.  The mood shifts from comic to thriller steadily throughout the film, but from the very beginning there is a sense of unease.  We are told early in the film that “With insomnia nothing’s real.  Everything’s far away.  Everything’s a copy of a copy of a copy…”, and that is exactly what much of the first act feels like.  Scenes are very dreamlike, full of strange imagery of floating catalog price information and CGI penguins.  There are subliminal images that flicker and disappear, almost like hallucinations, and the whole production has this very cold, artificial feel to its benefit.  The surrealist elements of the film never feel too out of place since we are meant to be seeing this world through the eyes of a troubled man.  

David Fincher was the perfect choice to direct this movie.  He is able to weave incredibly complex and layered narratives into a cohesive and captivating story.  He is probably better at this than just about any other director working in Hollywood today, with successes like Zodiac and The Social Network telling stories that span several years with a great deal of coherence, something that is very difficult to do without losing your audience.  Fight Club just may be one of the most ambitious film adaptations of all time.  Not because of thousands of fighting soldiers and castles that need to be modeled and CGI’d, but because it is a story told in first person, from the perspective of an individual who sees the world very differently from the way most people do.  Fincher’s ability to put you in the eyes of this one broken and desperate man is simply astounding.  

Now, I am trying to stay vague with this article because if you have not seen this movie yet, it is a must-watch.  It is violent, gritty, and even a little convicting.  You could have been doing something great, and you did nothing productive.  In a shocking and brutal, but funny scene, Tyler holds a young man at gunpoint for “wasting his life” and not pursuing his dream career, for which he lets the man live with the promise that he will pursue a better life.  It is mean, but it is also honest.  Fight Club certainly has a little bit of preachiness to it, which is usually a turn-off, but I never got the feeling that this was based on some schizophrenic’s insane ramblings like I did with tripe like The Day After Tomorrow or overwrought, heavy-handed ripoff material like Avatar.  I was entranced by the film’s fun visuals and darkly humorous tone.  The screenplay is freaking outstanding and every performance is damn good.  Brad Pitt gives what is probably my favorite performance of his career as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton is bringing his A-Game as an awkward, nerdy doormat who is transformed into a tough-as-nails, takes-no-crap badass over the course of the movie.

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