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The 100




Fight Club
(1999)
Reviewed by Scott Marshall
Rating: 7 Beans

ell. After sitting through FIGHT CLUB and
letting it sink in for a little while, I think Iím ready
to talk about it. But before I do so, I should warn
the reader not to continue if you havenít seen the
movie. This review will contain a lot of plot
details which you wouldnít want to know in
advance. You also shouldnít read this review if
you havenít seen THE SIXTH SENSE. Really.












Still here? OK. Iíll assume that youíve seen the
film from here on in.

I hardly know where to begin. David Fincher is a
director who is clearly interested in challenging
and disturbing the audience, as evidenced in
his previous work (ALIEN3, THE GAME, and
especially SE7EN). He is also clearly interested
in blurring the border between the audience as
external viewer and as a participant; this is
especially pronounced in FIGHT CLUB, which is
told to the audience by Edward Norton with
occasional breaches of the fourth wall (talking
directly to the audience). Itís a movie which
demands close attention.

Norton is a man who is depressed. He feels
empty despite the fact that he has a decent
income, nice possessions and other trappings
of modern consumer life. He becomes
addicted to support groups because they allow
him an outlet for emotion, even if it is falsely
generated emotion. When he meets Helena
Bonham Carter, another "tourist," he can no
longer enjoy the support groups. He tells
himself it is because she distracts him by her
presence- a reminder of his own pretending,
perhaps- but he is obviously attracted to her and
perhaps he hates the fact that he feels a deep
seated need for a real relationship.

How fortuitous, then, that he should meet Brad
Pitt on a plane coming home from a business
trip. Pitt is a soap maker and barroom prophet,
expounding on the artificiality of society and its
general emasculation. When Nortonís
condominium apartment unexpectedly explodes
and destroys all of his material wealth, he calls
Pitt to ask for a place to stay. No problem, says
Pitt; but first do me a favour and hit me as hard
as you can.

So begins a macho rediscovery (if not initial
discovery) of our animal roots. In a controlled
environment, Fight Club members can
experience the joy of beating the crap out of
each other. I can attest that there is something
to it: I used to kickbox a little and there are
certainly mental and physical benefits to that
kind of exercise, especially for someone who is
depressed. The exercise, improved
self-esteem and renewed sense of
commitment to something can be a powerful
addiction.

Pitt and Nortonís spartan lifestyle and legendary
private brawling attract some like-minded,
aimless guys who are looking for someone to
follow. The club grows and new chapters open
in the surrounding areas. Enthusiastic about
the power this gives him, Pitt seems to become
more and more unhinged as time goes on,
eventually training an army of fight club
members to commit acts of vandalism in the
name of disrupting normal society. He also lays
the blocks to Bonham Carter on a regular basis,
a sexual aggressor who is far from Nortonís
impotent self.

Dismayed by the dangerous turn which the
clubís activities are taking, Norton tries to
reason with Pitt and is rewarded with a
chemical burn, among other things. When a
fellow club member is shot and killed by police
in a botched mission, Norton and Pitt part ways
philosophically. Pitt has a larger plan in the
works which will destroy many buildings in
many cities, erasing bank records of personal
credit and bringing America into a new era of
independence from the rat race.

Oh, and yeah: Norton and Pitt have been the
same person all along. Like the role that made
his name, Norton seems to have multiple
personality disorder. Possibly the worst case
ever.

Iím amazed that I didnít guess it earlier, since I
did guess Bruce Willisí twist in THE SIXTH
SENSE, and since there were a number of
clues which I could have put together
beforehand; but it was a genuine surprise, and
not an entirely welcome one. The story which
started as plausible had evolved into social
commentary and was suddenly taking a sharp
turn into cloud cuckoo land. I guess Fincher
deserves points for keeping it a secret, because
it does definitely have an impact. Unfortunately
itís all kind of downhill from there as Norton tries
to get Pitt out of his mind and takes drastic
measures to do so.

So, as a pure cinematic experience, FIGHT
CLUB has its moments; but I donít see movies
simply for their style. If the director plans to
challenge me with the story too, so much the
better. Challenge is good. Whatís not good
about this movie is that for all of its anarchist
posturing, it cannot look at itself in the mirror as
sincere commentary or satire. It wants to be
both but does not succeed in either.

On the commentary front, Pittís message is
attractive to aimless young white men (and
others) like myself. He says that we were
"raised by women" and have no great war or
depression to define us. He says that our
pursuit of consumer happiness is killing our
spirit and we need to get back to basics. Fair
enough. But one could also argue that if you
asked our fathers and grandfathers, they would
say that they like their easy chairs and TVs just
fine, thank you very much. They busted their
balls working like dogs to put your smart ass
through college, they dodged bullets overseas
and fought to ensure that easy life you have
now. If their dreams for their children translated
into a sense of entitlement thatís impossible to
achieve, thatís a shame; but weíre the adults
now. If you donít like your life, change it or shut
up.

Anyway. By the time Pitt was building his army
and planning regimented missions to disrupt
the order of things, I started to see the film as a
satire. Norton had switched one safe, mindless
life for another. Clever indeed. So why couldnít I
just suspend my disbelief and settle in while
Bradís freedom fighters toppled the tyranny of
credit cards?

Because suddenly it was a film about class.
We wash your cars, serve your food and protect
you while you sleep, Pitt tells the chief of police.
Donít fuck with us. Pittís crypto-fascist blue
collar militia very conveniently includes every
plumber and security guard in the buildings that
he plans to blow up- huge high rises will
apparently be completely empty when the
explosions detonate. Give me a break.
Terrorism is OK, then, as long as nobody gets
physically hurt? The economic impact of
destroying the bank credit system could very
well create a new Great Depression and then
these morons would have their day in the sun?

There is nothing more frustrating in movies than
one which advances a million questions but is
too timid to venture an answer- doubly
frustrating in this case because the script can
blame everything on insanity and solve that
dilemma with more pointless violence.

Hereís my answer: you donít need Brad Pittís
permission to change your life. If you donít like
the way things are going, get off your ass, turn
off the TV, turn off the computer, and update your
resumť so you can start looking for a better job.
We here in North America enjoy the best
standard of living in the world, if not the
universe. Our consumption of natural
resources and our dominance of the world
economy- inflating stocks in worthless internet
companies, for example- is screwing the rest of
the world. Most of us canít manage to have a
meaningful relationship with another person (or
raise the children which result), and yet we
expect to seize the reins of power because we
can do a better job? Get real.

Empowerment is not the knowledge that you
can kick the crap out of another guy, or forcing
your agenda on others by political or economic
means. It is the ability to think for yourself and
pursue your life as an active participant rather
than a passive onlooker. At least Norton
seemed to realize that in the end; too bad this
schizoid movie never gets its act together.


Other reviews for this movie:

Ned Daigle




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