Fight Club (1999) a Fincherian tale aka El club de la pelea
Tagline: How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?
Synopsis: A disaffected insurance collision adjuster loses grip on reality with the help of a charismatic soap salesman who, together, build a grass-roots, global organization for men.
Meat & Potatoes: While David Fincher might best be known for his acclaimed 1995 film, Se7en, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, Fight Club is a close second if not in some ways vastly superior. I’ve always been drawn to Fight Club as it remains to me a quintessential example of the explosive power and absolute necessity of casting, a solid script, inventive story telling and on-screen chemistry. Think Thelma & Louis with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, women who choose the road rather than remain confined in relationships that prevent them from being what they want most out of life – choices. Or take the Lethal Weapon franchise with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, the penultimate buddy movie teaming polar opposite cops together who realize that together they might just have a chance against crime that gets too close to home – the parallels can easily be drawn to the characters of Fight club. Here we find Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden, part myth, part fantasy – a fast talking hipster who says all the right things, has all the right moves, makes you believe. He operates in the gray between protagonist and antagonist and settles just long enough to make you wonder which face he wears most. Yet behind stylish shades lies something peculiar, something sinister that is as much a part of who he is as who he isn’t – and then there is Edward Norton. Norton is The Narrator, an insurance adjuster who buys happiness one duvet at a time, buries his worries and meanders begrudgingly through a hapless life – until the very personage of the person he wishes he could be materializes in the form of a soap salesman with big dreams and advice to the less enlightened: Give it all up or be damned forever. There is life in death, birth from ashes, all that jazz. He could sell you the clunker of a car you just got rid of back to you and you’d be all too happy to oblige. The catch is the two are closer to one another than they think.
It is difficult not to consider the twist in this movie while writing a review. Part of the ah-ha moment at the end, or thereabouts, is both brilliant and unfortunate. For me, I find the trouble and woes of dysfunctional characters teetering on the precipice of change, death, or ever lasting life the most intriguing element of a film. We want to know what is going to happen because somewhere along the way we’ve connected with them, we care. But when there is a twist, most notable perhaps in the last decade or so in an M. Night Shyamalan film – think Sixth Sense. But I lose that ever important connection when the proverbial rug is pulled out from under me because I feel cheated or deceived or both. If I had to make one criticism of Fight Club it would be the ending, but then again, how would you end a movie after such a ride? There is a certain amount of Fincherian play at work in this film, a familiar touch that can be found in all of his films, past, present and for certain future. He gives us subtle clues that only truly reveal themselves much later if at all, tidbits if you will that show up after a second viewing – probably long after you’ve added one of his films to your personal collection.
Fincher turns the cinematography reins over to Jeff Cronenweth who was a camera operator on Se7en, and cutting the film to editor James Haygood who would go on to edit Fincher’s film Panic Room in 2002. The rest of the production team seem more like a whos-who of random players, some returning to future Fincher projects, others seen no more. Fincher might easily fit the definition of the auteur style of filmmaking, a classification that immediately draws to mind the likes of Hitchcock, Renoir, Kubrick, and dare I say Tarantino. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Tarantino’s earlier works (see my reviews within the blog) but after Jackie Brown I think the distinction of auteur began to fade when his work took on a placid, ambivalence for all things cheeky, pop-cultural, and parody for the sake of parody. The auteur theory of filmmaking holds that a director‘s films reflect that director’s personal creative vision, as if he were the primary “auteur” (the French word for “author”). Another way to describe auteur would suggest that the director’s vision stamp out all other voices and in so doing the end result is a film by, about, and from one source. I disagree with this idea and posit rather there can be more gained from collaboration than the opposite but once again, that is a topic for another time. Auteur can sometimes lead a film kicking and screaming to an otherwise dismal end, say in the case of Ed Wood‘s Plan 9 from outer space or the egregious Willard Huyck monstrosity, Howard the Duck – which, consequently was voted the worst movie of all time by Siskel & Ebert in 1986. Huyck would not direct again. Such diversions are not only possible but frequent, only the system has gotten a lot better at diverting these eminent bombs straight to tape, or DVD as is the case these days. Maybe in the future we’ll see more and more straight to the internet for movies of this nature.
Bits & Bites: Se7en, with a budget of $30 millions dollars, earned $327,311,869 dollars in worldwide box office receipts. Fight club, with a budget of $63 million dollars, earned $100,853,753 dollars in worldwide box office receipts.
“What does Tyler smell at the end after having his head blown off? I always thought he was smelling the gun powder from the gun. But Chuck had something else to say: “That is a huge inside joke. It’s David Fincher’s reference to the lyricist Ira Gershwin who, while he was dying of an undiagnosed brain tumor, insisted that he could smell burning chicken feathers, and kept asking “what is that smell?” until he fell down dead.” More fun trivia at Chuck Palahniuk’s web site.
The Closer: If you’re considering watching Fight Club for the first time, or even revisiting after a few years, you’re in good company. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are top-notch, not to mention Helena Bonham Carter who checks in as the twisted, darkly disturbed Marla Singer.