Mischief, Mayhem, Soap
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by Jim Uhls
Based on the novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday
The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. Here, Arts Editors Rebecca Loh and Vladimir Zelevinsky break all the rules.
Vladimir Zelevinsky: The curious thing about Fight Club is that the total is somehow less than the sum of its dazzling parts. It has a smart and ambitious screenplay, several intense performances confidently straddling the boundary between archetypical and subtle, wild and confidently artistic direction, and a complex multi-layered subplot. I can hardly find fault with any of the film’s components and I feel like I saw a really good film, being both the product of pop culture and a successful satire of the same culture. Yet, I don’t feel like I saw a masterpiece, and I’m somewhat surprised by my own reaction.
Rebecca Loh: I think that Fight Club is a film that people will want to view again and again, simply to catch the subtle plot points and the visual effects they might have missed the first time around. I was surprised by the amount of humor, which made the two-hour, twenty-minute film fly by.
The majority of the film is well conceptualized and very clever. However, a few minor aspects of the film were a disappointment, such as the not-so-subtle speeches by Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) that told the audience exactly what point the movie was trying to make.
Zelevinsky: But there’s more to Fight Club than that. Yes, Durden starts as a savior to Norton’s cubicle dweller. When they together start the eponymous fight club -- for downtrodden males to regain their masculinity by pummelling each other into a bloody pulp -- it comes as a salvation from the soul-deadening consumerist culture. But there’s more, with Durden’s clear progress from savior to fÜhrer (who makes soap from human fat). The in-your-face monologue where Durden is throwing sound bites like punches happens just around the middle of this journey -- so I really don’t think the film is endorsing this particular point of view as the ultimate truth.
Loh: I’m just saying that there are some points, as with Durden’s rhetoric, where it feels like the film is trying too hard to make a statement. There are many messages in the film that are conveyed with more subtlety, and these are the points the viewer will ponder long after the film is over.
There are a couple other aspects of the film I didn’t like, such as having the narrator (Edward Norton) directly address the audience. This worked sometimes, and at other times, failed. The greatest disappointment, though, was the Hollywood ending, which went against the movie’s dark, anarchistic theme.
Zelevinsky: I think the movie is smarter than that. The ending for me works well, mostly because any other finale would destroy the mood of the black subversive comedy that the rest of the film worked so hard to build.
Loh: The ending was a little too convenient to me. I left feeling disappointed that writer Chuck Palahniuk couldn’t have come up with something more realistic.
Zelevinsky: There’s a certain value in going for a larger-than-life attitude; especially in the ending, which manages to combine the sublime with the ridiculous. Sure, I could imagine a downstated, more realistic ending working; but that would clash with the rest of the movie.
As a matter of fact, my biggest problem with the movie is precisely the amount of realism in it, mostly regarding the fight scenes themselves. It’s not the violence per se -- they have to be violent to make the point; but, after the point is made, I found them to be boring.
Loh: The violence didn’t bother me. I know some people will be offended by it, but I didn’t feel it was excessive. The fighting didn’t come to dominate the movie; in fact, Tyler Durden’s increased following is reflected in the increasing intensity of the scenes in the bar basement where members of Fight Club convene. Durden’s power over the members develops so smoothly and seamlessly it comes as a shock to the viewer as well as the narrator when the small club expands to become a real menace in Durden’s masterpiece Project Mayhem.
Zelevinsky: Good point. The film itself isn’t as much about the titular club -- it’s more about anarchic response to the pressure of conformism (curiously enough, a similar trajectory is traced in last year’s Pleasantville).
And here we come to an interesting problem. Fight Club certainly is not a pro-violence film, so the outcry that the movie might instigate antisocial behavior is unfounded. But the anti-violence theme is delivered in a rather subtle manner (which is good, of course) so it might be unnoticed. The same thing happened to A Clockwork Orange -- Stanley Kubrick’s virulent anti-violence satire caused copycat crimes.
Hereby the paradox: one can’t make an anti-violent film without violence, but then the film risks being intepreted in a completely upside-down way. This, perhaps, says a lot about our society, and it is a curious issue that Fight Club, as self-aware a film as they come, doesn’t even attempt to address.
Loh: The sad thing is that some will come to measure the film’s success by how much of a violent reaction it causes. However, I believe its true success lies in the fact that Fight Club manages to be a clever, thought-provoking film while simultaneously being an entertaining movie.