I finally saw Fight Club (1999) starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. This clever, brutal movie grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. In this adaptation of Chuck Palahnuk’s book, Edward Norton plays a deadbeat, desperate insomniac who sleepwalks through his days and collects catalogue furniture to fill up his home. His refrigerator is as empty as his life – full of condiments but no food.
Then he meets Tyler Durden, a smooth-talking, nihilistic soap salesman who challenges all his ideas about life. Together, they start an underground fight club that becomes a social movement.
Members of the Fight Club feel more alive than they have ever done before because they are tapping into primal emotions and reflexes. They also feel powerful in a way that the rest of their life denies them. Soon, the violence spills out of the basement and starts finding expression in the world outside.
The movie is a criticism of American values and a questioning of the things that we derive meaning from in a world where “we need somebody’s name on our underwear”. The discontent of a generation is captured well:
Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
The film does not serve up any pat answers on what the meaning of life should be. The only thing that’s clear is that violence is both cathartic and comforting to a disturbing number of people who feel empty, devoid of purpose and devalued by society – and it is hard to hold this violence within bounds. While the Fight Club resorts to an unlawful, violent and drastic solution to consumerism and social inequity, the movie itself says (albeit subtly) that this is not the answer.
Pitt and Norton deliver strong performances and one’s smooth savagery complements the other’s whinging helplessness perfectly. Pretty boy looks notwithstanding, I think Brad Pitt is good in some movies and this is one of them. While Edward Norton does a splendid job, it is Pitt’s rendition of Tyler Durden that gives the movie it’s teeth-chattering edge. Helena Bonham Carter is convincing as a neurotic, dissatisfied woman who befriends both men. However, she has little to do in this testesterone-charged roller coaster ride.
The movie has its flaws. The physical and psychological violence is difficult to stomach at times and the squeamish would not be advised to watch it. The denouement is spelt out a little too clearly (just in case people don’t get it) and can be figured out in advance if one has read and watched enough in this genre. But it tells an intense and hard-hitting story with stylistic punch and wonderful performances. Many of the scenes will play in your head after the movie is over. You may even wonder if you haven’t met Tyler Durden some time yourself.
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