It's been eleven years since David Fincher's Fight Club hit theatres. The initial critical reaction was tepid to say in the least, no one wanted to stand up and commend what Roger Ebert called, "macho-porn." It was deemed too stupid to be an effective satire and today it is one of the most celebrated cult films ever. However, in the past eleven years, it has also been adopted as the fratboy film of choice for getting drunk, reminiscing about high-school, getting drunk some more and so on. It's time to take the film back.
The beauty of Fight Club was that it wasn't just about men turning one another to bloody pulp, but that it was a social satire of the mass consumerism that was the 1990's.
For a duration of the 90's many people were defined only by their purchases. How is anyone to know who you are unless they can easily identify you by your Nike shoes, IKEA furniture, Rolex watch and Porsche Boxster, etc. Society has become so mundane and machine-like that the only rush that can be obtained is through buying that one last item that will make your life whole.
Arguably Edward Norton's most famous and finest performance, The Narrator is instantly recognizable. He's the guy who sleepwalks through company briefings, falls asleep at the desk, and forwards dirty lemrick e-mails for no other reason than to piss off the manager. He is the man Beck wrote of in his hit song "Loser", "I'm a Loser baby so why don't you kill me?" Nothing really matters except for the meetings he attends to feel anything at all. Whether it be testicular cancer survivers, terminal illness, tuberculosis, any of these groups will do for The Narrator's need to just feel something. It is not until The Narrator meets Tyler Durden that the doldrums start to clear. It is not until we accept pain, death and leave the excess materials behind that a truly human existence can be had.
Fight Club was born.
The odd thing about Fight Club backlash was that the film's implied support for anarchism was met with such anger and shock by moviegoers that the film did poorly at the box-office. Today, elected officials call daily for the dismantling of government and populist rule. What a difference time makes.
What's interesting about the casting of Fight Club is that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton were not the producer's first choices. In the alternate universe where producers are the primary decision makers you would have Fight Club starring Sean Penn and Russel Crowe.
Not nearly as interesting is it? Sean Penn, while a great actor, would've felt the need to turn The Narrator into a dark character study where he was really just a lazy office drone who killed time destroying Jared Leto's face. While Russell Crowe is definitely an intimidating presence to be sure, he is not Tyler Durden. The whole purpose of Tyler Durden's character was that he represented the slippery slope of manipulation. His enigmatic leadership was the sole reason why so many disaffected, drifting males were able to come together under this new club.
Brad Pitt could easily play that part because he is that guy. The good looking, intelligent, smoothster that we all like to imagine others think of us as. That is what makes the transformation Tyler undergoes at the end of the film so devastating. That is what underscores the extremism that Fincher is warning us all of. Project Mayhem was not something that was meant to be idolized, it was dangerous and a sign of the misfortune of being seduced by ideology. Unfortunately, the message was lost in the street fighting clubs started after the film took off on college campuses.
The film concludes perfectly with a destruction sequence shot by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth scored to The Pixies "Where is My Mind". The Narrator's crisis finally collapses in on itself, but he is better off for it as his true nature is revealed.
Se7en may very well be the better film of David Fincher's filmography, but Fight Club is the biting dark comedy that showed we still need our asses kicked every once in a while to remind us of who we are.