David Fincher’s Fight Club, adapted by Jim Uhls from the 1996 Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name, is a divisive 90s cult classic. While the film was not an initial success at the box office, it thrived on DVD sales, and memorable phrases like, “the first rule of Fight Club is don’t talk about Fight Club”, have helped to make this film iconic. The unique feel of the film, through devices such as subversions in narrative structure, makes the film postmodern. As Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden says, “We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war, our Great Depression is our lives”: it’s peacetime and thus the enemy has become conformity, the establishment and media culture.
Fight Club tackles and repeatedly punches any possible sense of self, not only that the characters could achieve, but also in terms of the film’s message. The dreary shell of a character we’re introduced to in the ‘Narrator’ (Edward Norton), has a shattered identity already to start. He has insomnia, no friends or family that we know of, and a lifeless job. He finds that in attending community support groups, (his favourite being one for those with testicular cancer), he’s able to find a release that temporarily alleviates his insomnia. Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla, (who we needed more of), disturbs the Narrator’s routine by encroaching on his support group turf, another faker. She ruins the illusion for him, but luckily Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden is there to guide him down another route. Durden is able to invigorate the ‘Narrator’, betowing him with a new energy that comes to define him come the film’s credits. Durden is charming, outspoken and represents everything that the Narrator is not. He teaches the Narrator how to live according to his worldview, abandoning his consumerist tendencies and becoming an agent of anti-establishment destruction.
The film is loaded with philosophical rhetoric and can be analysed through many lenses, which is why it is still a relevant film, over twenty years after its release. Fight Club is teeming with ideas, like toxic masculinity, gender relations, consumerism, capitalism, death and much more. Many critique the film’s failure to see these ideas through, but I find that the film’s satiristic tone and unapologetically nihilistic perspective prevail. What resonated for me is the non-consumerist ‘free life’ Durden promotes, (“The things you own, end up owning you”), as well as the universal theme of trying to escape the mundanity of our lives.
This nihilistic perspective has seeped into every frame in the film, (other than the few abstract, escapist moments, like the Narrator’s happy place – featuring a talking penguin). Most of the film is set at night, and thus the film feels gloomy and tonally apt. Editing is utilised to show the Narrator’s unstable sense of self and there are other fresh filmmaking techniques used throughout the film which gives it character. The film is well cast with Edward Norton in the role of Narrator, the metaphorically blind loser that needs leadership, and Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden as the captivating, assured stud that champions destruction and inspires followers.
Fight Club is about feeling pain, revelling in it and administering it, in an attempt to regain power in a world that makes you passive. Ironic in the hypocrisy that forms regarding Tyler’s vision, the film does not necessarily provide answers to the problems it raises, but cynically shows how things become that which they are trying to destroy. In breaking the rules, a new set of rules emerge; a new structure formed.