Review by KJ Doughton
Club director David Fincher is from a new generation of terribly
self-absorbed scene-shooters. Hell-bent to establish a style, Fincher and his
colleagues churn up a lot of atmosphere and dread in their films.
Critics praise the work for its “artistic flourishes” and “lack of
compromise”. That’s why his
debut film, Alien 3, feels like a
violent tug-of-war between art and trash. Realizing that the Alien
franchise had probably already run its course before this third round,
Fincher took viewers on a completely nihilistic turn as if to say, “I want to
transcend this!” Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, possibly the most physically and
emotionally battered female hero this side of Linda Hamilton’s
Terminator-wrangling Sarah Connor, slogged through the film knowing that her
comrades from James Cameron’s masterful Aliens
had all perished in their sleep during a doomed spaceship flight.
Meanwhile, she also grappled with the reality that a baby alien –
retracting teeth and all – was just days away from sprouting out of her belly.
Not a helluva lot of fun, for either her or the viewer.
but such bleak suffering is so – artistic.
Using this logic, Fincher later unleashed Seven.
Essentially a slasher film, with its geek-show parade of decomposing bodies and
musty murder sites, Seven also threw
in some literary references – not to mention endless shots of damp, dark
interiors accented by the occasional piercing flashlight beam – to qualify
itself as a work of creative merit. The film’s subtle-as-a-heart-attack
conclusion, meanwhile, featured a smirking serial killer whittling off his
finger pads to avoid being accurately printed by the police, before presenting Seven’s
hero with the severed head of his pregnant young wife. A real maestro of the
light touch, this Fincher. But boy, does he know how to film trickling water and
past The Game, another moody, Michael Douglas mystery, and one finds
Fincher’s Fight Club, easily the
most overstuffed, self-important wad of hooey to gush from the “pretentious
pipe” since Oliver Stone unleashed his occasionally brilliant, but mostly
goofy, Natural Born Killers.
Throwing as much shit as possible into the fan and praying that some of
it will stick, Fight Club features
morphing special effects, interior “brain shots” of neuronal synapses, the
raid of a liposuction clinic for discarded fat, testicular cancer support
groups, and Meat Loaf with breasts. But
it’s so teeming with ideas that Fight
Club ultimately bubbles over, like a spewing geyser, without a coherent path
Club is chronicled by The Narrator, played with chameleonic range by Edward
Norton. A voice-over by The
Narrator guides viewers through several days in the life of this initially
mild-mannered corporate drone. The lonely, urban routine of this unnamed
thirtysomething in an unnamed city consists of assessing auto accidents for a
bloodless car company by day, and thumbing through interior decorating catalogs
for new furniture by night. Eventually,
this sterile plight brings on insomnia. “At night,” the sleep-deprived
Narrator explains, “I’m never really asleep.
At work, I’m never really awake.”
for some human connection, The Narrator haunts support groups hosted for the
terminally ill. When he pairs up
with an authentic sufferer and shares in a cathartic fountain of tears,
Norton’s warmth-seeking “tourist” soaks up the emotion like a bloodsucking
mosquito. Much has been written about Fight
Club’s torrent of bloody violence, but the film’s truly offensive
moments occur during the support club scenes.
Meat Loaf, for instance, shows up as a testicular cancer victim with a
testosterone shortage and – consequently – a particularly well-endowed
chest. Many references are made to
his “oversized tits”, while a brain tumor victim laments her inability to
“get laid” from the podium. Later,
when a fellow faker named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter, looking like the goth-garbed
Bride of Marilyn Manson) materializes at the groups, she sums up their appeal
with the flippant observation, “They’re cheaper than a movie, and they serve
coffee.” Fight Club’s hip, irreverent take on human suffering is apparently
meant to be a real hoot.
The Narrator bumps into psychotic anarchist Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt.
Appearing as a Cuban pimp cloned with a Venice Beach surferboy,
Durden’s flamboyant presence prompts Norton to ask his vocation.
“I sell soap,” Durden replies with a sleazy smile.
his apartment burns to the ground, The Narrator calls Durden in desperation and
asks to share his abode. Soon, the
two build up a Satanic partnership, a “yin yang” combination with Pitt’s
rippling pectorals and macho mentality guiding The Narrator down a progressively
more dangerous route. Initially,
the duo start a Fight Club, where disillusioned young men can meet, socialize,
and bash each other’s cheeks in. Durden
preaches contempt for the materialistic, suggesting that contemporary man is so
insulated from his hunter-gatherer roots and feminized by an increasingly
technical society, he can only achieve release through such primal brawling.
Durden practices what he preaches, urinating in the soup as a social club
waiter, and splicing porno footage into Disney features as a theater
projectionist. A swell guy. As for his soap salesman front, Durden’s sudsy
wares have a secret ingredient: human fat seized from a liposuction clinic.
Durden figures there’s a vengeful irony in recycling the abandoned
blubber and selling it back to the high-society women who had it removed in the
Fight Club members are indoctrinated into Project Mayhem, a quest to blow up
America’s credit card company headquarters – to Durden, it’s the ultimate
stab at unnecessary consumerism. In preparation, his band of anarchists
sabotages corporate art dislays, erases retail videotapes, and destroys espresso
shops. Some of this is staged in an
appropriately grim fashion, but much of it, such as the defacing of a high-rise
building with a fiery-eyed “happy face” motif, is meant to induce chuckles
from the audience. Fincher recently
stated that Fight Club was meant to be
a comedy. But instead of inducing
belly laughs, such misguided scenes are more likely to cause stomach upset in
rightfully offended viewers.
of biting off several mouthfuls more than it can chew, Fight
Club could have stuck with The Narrator and followed his Travis Bickle-style
descent into psychosis without all the frills that merely limit the personal
aspects of this film. There’s a
creepy scene where Norton’s character beats himself bloody before his
disbelieving boss, then threatens the onlooker with an assault lawsuit. It’s reminiscent of a similar corporate blackmail from the
far-more-insightful American Beauty.
However, American Beauty is much more
focused and effective in portraying a man’s social alienation, because we can
empathize with its tortured hero. However, when The Narrator beats the face of
an angelic blonde member in his quest to “destroy something beautiful”, we
can only look in revulsion. Who is
this warped twit, anyway? Norton,
who demonstrated a superhuman ability to morph and grow as a character in American
History X and Primal Fear, is at
the mercy of a presentation more concerned with bombast than subtlety.
He simply doesn’t have room to breathe.
Pitt gets credit for spicing up his resume with a truly twisted turn: Durden is
his least sympathetic character since the image-smashing redneck killer Early
Grayce, from 1993’s Kalifornia. But
unlike Grayce, whose appearance as a backwoods, white trash hick masked a gift
for cunning, cold-blooded evil, Durden is set up to look cool and funny. It’s
a sad move. Travis Bickle, the
ultimate disenfranchised urban antihero from Martin Scorsese’s 1976
masterpiece Taxi Driver, certainly
wasn’t presented as a stud. Watching
Bickle’s disintegration is like peeping through a neighbor’s window: you
felt ashamed watching his pathetic downward spiral, but you certainly don’t
does it all end? Well, there’s a
clever, Sixth Sense-style twist to
introduce the third act, and Bonham-Carter frumping around pointlessly as a love
interest. In the end, however, Fight
Club is an unhinged mess of a movie, with potentially dangerous ideas
handled in a winking, cynical manner. Why
couldn’t Durden and his fascist masses spend a few days camping in the Grand
Tetons instead, rediscovering their animal instincts fending off bears, hunting
elk, and cooking brook trout with a butane stove?