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May 9, 2000
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Sensually overwhelming, this is one of the best-written and best-directed films of 1999
Cons:It's also one of the most senselessly violent
Fight Club is a smack in the face.
Recommend this product?
It’s a slap up-side your brain.
It’s a roaring locomotive of a motion picture, chugging down the tracks while you’re tied to the rails.
It’s a cinematic cup of coffee, fueled with ten teaspoons of sugar and twenty teaspoons of cocaine (Stir well).
It’s a liquid jazz of words that flows in one ear, spends a few moments in your brain agitating and exciting, then exits out the other ear.
It is, to quote the old Batman TV show, BIF! BAM! POW!
I saw Fight Club yesterday and I’m just now coming down off its buzz and roar. Yet, like the aftermath of most drug trips, I’m not sure what just happened.
Let’s see…there’s an insomniac—a nameless character played by the brilliant Edward Norton—who barely ambles through each day as a paper-shuffling recall coordinator for a “major car company.” His job is to go around and examine horrible car wrecks and determine if the vehicle needs to be recalled. He observes the aftermath of vehicular violence with as much dispassion as another inter-office memo passing across his desk.
At night, he surfs infomercials and browses mail order catalogs, numbly buying into modern culture’s mass consumerism. He can’t sleep and the Ikea furniture he’s just purchased is threatening to overtake his personality. When he looks in the mirror, he sees little more than a Swedish coffee table.
One sleepless night, he stumbles into a support group for testicular cancer survivors. He’s never had cancer but he finds release by pretending to sob on the shoulders of other recovering men. That night, he’s able to sleep for the first time in nearly a year.
Eventually, he starts attending other support groups; he becomes addicted to addiction recovery. He meets a girl named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) who seems to share his twisted fascination with many of the same groups and who is therefore putting a damper on his con game. After initial confrontation, they’re able to work out a schedule that allows them to attend separate groups on different nights.
Then he meets a strange personality sitting next to him on an airplane. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is a maker of homemade soap (the ingredients of which are best left unmentioned). He’s an enigmatic figure who goes around saying things like “You are not your job. You are not the money in your bank account. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet.”
When Norton’s character pulls up to his apartment building that night, he finds his well-furnished pad has suffered from a mysterious explosion which threw his Swedish furniture and the contents of his refrigerator onto the street below. He calls up Tyler and hints around that he might need a place to stay. The two go to a bar, have a few drinks and form a bond. On leaving the bar, Durden challenges Norton to punch him as hard as he can.
“You just want me to hit you?” Norton asks.
“C'mon, do me this one favor,” Durden taunts.
Without quite knowing what he’s doing, Norton throws a wild punch that lands on Durden’s ear. SMACK! The Fight Club of the movie’s title is born.
To this point, I’ve only described the first 30 of the film’s 139 minutes. I’ll stop there, but rest assured there’s more. Much, much more—including liposuction by-products, men with breasts, subliminal film editing and a high-rise fire that takes the shape of a smiley face.
Those first 30 minutes also contain some of the best dialogue to hit my ears in years. First-time screenwriter Jim Uhls does a masterful job adapting Chuck Palanhiuk’s novel to the screen. I have yet to read Palanhiuk’s book, but in a sense I feel like I’ve already heard it, courtesy of Uhls. The language is dense and vibrant in a way that turns Fight Club into true screen literature. One character at a support group is described as having “eyes shrink-wrapped in tears.” Later, Norton has this to say about the repulsively compulsive Marla: “She was like the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it…but you can’t.”
I haven’t been this churned up since I saw Trainspotting several years ago. Just like that wild Scottish ride at the movies, Fight Club is a trip that requires all passengers to be securely buckled into their seats before takeoff. Under the assured (nay, brazen) direction of David Fincher, the movie breaks the speed limit going from one startling visual to the next.
The movie is jam-packed with high-energy acting, high-energy directing, high-energy writing...heck, high-energy everything. Borrowing a phrase from Back to the Future's Doc Brown, this is 1.21 jigowatts of cinema.
Fight Club overwhelms the senses to such a degree that it's possible to overlook some of the bothersome issues at its core. For one thing, the story often doesn’t make sense (all the way up the head-scratching conclusion). Nonetheless, it always makes for eye-popping cinema.
Some viewers might complain that it’s just senselessly violent cinema filled with popping eyes and blood-gushing noses...and they’d be right. Fists fly, bones crack, blood flows. The violence is over the top with its brutality, swerving over the dotted line that separates excessive-gore-to-make-a-point and excessive-gore-to-get-a-visceral-thrill. Fight Club may think it’s throwing punches to make a social commentary, but it will probably just end up inciting less-discerning viewers to work themselves into their own lather.
The movie is less convincing when it dwells on the masochistic machismo of its characters. But, boy oh boy, is it ever thrilling to the brain stem, especially in the first act when Norton's character provides a stream-of-consciousness commentary on modern apathy and crass consumerism. There are layers upon layers of metaphor here and I have a feeling that there’s a lot more going on than I was able to grasp on my first viewing.
Fincher has done this to audiences before with his earlier films Se7en and the unjustly neglected The Game. Like The Game, Fight Club demands a second viewing in order to capture its full meaning.
Once I come down off this trip, I plan to do just that.
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