the fresh films reviews

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Fight Club (1999)

David Fincher
Fight Club
139 minutes
Art Linson
Cean Chaffin
Ross Grayson Bell
Screenwriter (based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk):
Jim Uhls

Cast includes:

Tyler Durden Brad Pitt
Narrator Edward Norton
Marla Singer Helena Bonham Carter
Robert Paulson Meat Loaf
Angelface Jared Leto



When I first went to see Fight Club at a local cinema back in 1999, I was disappointed. I was eagerly looking forward to see if David Fincher, at that time one of the hottest new filmmakers around, again could impress me with creative narrative antics like he did in his clever 1995 film Seven. Well, Fight Club did have the narrative antics, but I also felt it was a thematic mess; as if it was trying to say more than it could formulate; as if it was biting off so much that the chewing became a real hassle.

Watching the film again some twelve years later, with the privileges of retrospect and more experience, I undoubtedly found myself enjoying it more. With its trendsetting, meandering narrative structure, freely using flashbacks and occasionally breaking the fourth wall, the novelty of Fincher's film form is if possible more outstanding today, compared to the many bleak copies of it in recent years. And there is a truly inspired energy to Edward Norton and Brad Pitt and the interplay between them. As if they were really believing they were making an important piece of cinema; a modern screen classic.

Now, I still won't acknowledge Fight Club as a classic. Many of my original objections still hold up. Despite some very interesting and valid observations about the potential meaninglessness of modern urban life, about the uncertainties that males of this generation have concerning their sex role and identity, and about the inner urge people in this situation can have to rediscover and return to intrinsic, primal values and ways of life (represented here by the fight club), what Fincher really wants to say and achieve with the final third of his film still is very much unclear to me. Back in 1999, I dubbed the film a grim violence-fest disguised as nihilistic, Generation X escapism, and I'm sad to be able to validate that line after my second viewing. Although I like being right, I like to watch good films even more. I'm not more conceited than that.

Now for a little plot recap: We're introduced to a nameless character played by Edward Norton, and to his increasing problems with insomnia. He has an ordinary job in an ordinary office, and lives in an ordinary apartment with ordinary Scandinavian furniture (from Ikea, of course). In short, he has problems getting through his extremely boring and pointless usual trot. He has no friends either, so he starts attending various self-support groups to get release. So far so good. But then he notices Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), another "tourist" like himself in these groups. She ruins the effect for him, and he's back to square one - that is, until his apartment blows up and he hooks up with the free-spirited Tyler Durden (Pitt).

I believe Fight Club will retain its cult status for years to come, mostly because it stands as a beacon for a period of filmmaking during the late 1990s which boasted a well of new-thinking, perspective-altering films and filmmakers (along with films such as Seven, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, Memento, etc.). Still, I also believe it was and is Brad Pitt's defining cool-guy persona, the re-popularisation and rejuvenation of fist-fighting, and the now legendary clever twist which did and does the business. Young, identity-searching and rebellious people will always appreciate stories advocating anti-establishment and anarchistic behaviour. And so will arguably many intelligent adults "caught" in this establishment - as long as there is a purpose to it. In Fight Club, the purpose ends with the characters' need to break free from the dulling routines of modern life. The film's need to escalate and create a large-scale climax doesn't match the scale of its moral and existential discussions. In the same way real-life terrorists do, Fight Club resorts to explosions to conclude and champion what it couldn't do through discussion - about aimlessness due to prosperity, mental illness as a result of this aimlessness, and that the individuals will return to their bare instincts because of it all. A short analysis of Fight Club: The insane's deranged ideas lead his flock into the abyss before he heals himself and brings moral salvation only onto himself.

Although Fight Club trusts people to be able to break free and advocates our individuality, it doesn't trust us to have the intelligence to think for ourselves and act based on this individuality, and this extreme pessimism is why the film largely fails in my book. But I will admit: it looks darn good and it offers quite a bit of fun along the way.

Rereview: Copyright 30.11.2011 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
Original review:
Copyright 23.11.1999  Fredrik Gunerius Fevang