Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
[originally posted 13Oct2000]
Fight Club is one hundred thirty-nine minutes long. It would, perhaps, have been better served by being one hundred thirty-four minutes long. Right up until the last five minutes, Fincher was angling to become another of the directors to have more than one film on my hundred-best list (a quick run-through shows he’d be the ninth, but don’t quote me on that)*. That said, I’m going to focus on those first hundred thirty-four minutes.
I had some problems for the first half-hour or so with the Bret Ellis-esque fascination with brand names (excepting, of course, the wonderfully clever scene in which Fincher populates Norton’s character’s condo with catalog pages), but once I realized that Palahniuk was actually going somewhere with his brand-consciousness mayhem, it stopped being annoying. (Memo to Bret Easton Ellis: learn something.) The dialogue and the narration were both clever, witty, and in places laugh-out-loud funny. Fincher, as is his wont, keeps things atmospherically dark and claustrophobic, and all of it adds up to a powder keg with a bunch of small compartments ringing the big one. Little jolts hit now and then, mostly connected in some way to Marla (Helena Bonham Carter, in an extremely unexpected role) and her relationships with Tyler Durden and the narrator.
For those who may have been living in a cave the last year and a half, a quick synopsis: Norton, a nameless corporate drone (the corporate version of a claims adjuster, in essence), meets the enigmatic Tyler Durden on a flight from one generic city to another. Durden is everything the narrator is not; mysterious, ebullient, straightforward. The two become fast friends after a freak accident blows the narrator’s condo apart. (The astute cinemagoer should already be seeing the parallels to the underrated Lowe/Spader flick Bad Influence.) As part of the deal Durden strikes with the narrator in exchange for letting the narrator crash at his place, Durden asks the narrator to hit him. The two get involved in a fight, and the narrator, a support-group addict, realizes how liberating it can be to simply fight. Eventually, the street brawls the two get into regularly start attracting others who are drawn to this brand of redemption through violence, and Fight Club is begun.
Despite the trailers for the film and my expectations after seeing Fincher’s earlier work, the amount of violence in here is kept to about the minimum it has to be to get the point across; there are only two or three scenes that actually cause winces. More surprising was the film’s comedic aspect; I laughed out loud a few times while alone, something that rarely happens when watching movies. It all comes together perfectly, the archetypal modern tragedy brought stylishly down to the level of metatheatre during the film’s climax… and then it all goes belly-up. One imagines (gleefully, it must be said) Aristophanes or Sophocles rising from the grave to smack Fincher across the head with a skeletal hand and growl “what the hell were you THINKING?”
Still, unlike usual, I refuse to let the last five minutes of this film deter me from singing the praises of the first two hours plus. Script, direction, casting (did I really forget to mention Meat Loaf? The man was fantastic… and I really have to say, I don’t care if it IS his real last name, “Meat Loaf Aday” is even funnier…), setting, cinematography, it was all fantastic. Tarantino meets Hitchcock with a dash of John Ford thrown in. But then ending keeps it from reaching the heights it deserves. ***
* ed. note 2013: Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, John Frankenheimer, William Friedkin, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet, Takashi Miike, Yasujiro Ozu, George A. Romero, Martin Scorsese, Béla Tarr, Orson Welles, and Billy Wilder (thirteen, if you don’t feel like counting) are all represented in the Top 100 by two films apiece. No one currently has more.