By Marc S. Sanders
David Fincher’s Fight Club is a deliberately ugly and dreary film. It has to be to evoke the insomnia its narrator (Edward Norton) suffers from, as well as his lonely depression that offers no answers for his purpose to exist or to be loved by another person.
To alleviate his need for something fulfilling, the narrator resorts to attending support groups for men suffering from illnesses and debilitating diseases like testicular cancer. There he meets a former body builder named Bob (the singer Meat Loaf) who has developed floppy breasts after going through hormone therapy. Bob follows the processes of the self help group and embraces on to Norton’s character as a means of support; stuffing his face into Bob’s breasts. The narrator eventually becomes accustomed to this maternal practice and the ritual of attending these meetings as a regular process. However, he feels he is getting upstaged by Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), a punk looking girl with dark eyeliner and wild jet-black hair.
Even though Marla and the narrator negotiate who attends what meetings and on what night, Norton meets another punk like reckless character known as Tyler Durdin (memorably played by Brad Pitt) who manufactures and sells soap but also edits film reels, sneakily inserting penis images into family films. Tyler also works as a waiter at a high-end restaurant where he proudly adds a little of “himself” to all the courses that are served.
The narrator only works at a boring desk job where his boss uses any opportunity to look down upon him and chastise him on his performance or appearance, but never recognizing anything further within his nature. The boss could care less about him. Naturally, the narrator becomes in awe of Tyler’s behavior. Tyler is a rebel and offers much more beyond Bob’s comfort. Tyler serves a purpose for the narrator to pursue.
When Tyler challenges the narrator to hit him as hard as he can it eventually leads to a new kind of gathering for both of them, a support group known as Fight Club. Men from all over soon gather underground to partake of letting out their aggressions with bare knuckle fists and wrestling. Anyone attending gets a therapeutic vibe from bleeding and bruising themselves upon one another. The narrator certainly feels better.
Going a step further leads Tyler and the narrator to fight back against a system of order and capitalism. Their philosophy picks up traction and soon a form of revolution is taking place across the entire country. Somehow, the narrator is taken off guard by this new belief system.
There’s a lot to consider and question in Fight Club, though I’m not sure I care for the film as a whole to debate its message. Sometimes it feels like it’s not moving anywhere. Norton’s character learns things about his own consciousness and need to falsely subject himself as a cancer survivor or as an underground brawler because he has nothing else really going for him. I get that, but why should I care or like it?
Tyler Durdin resides in a broken down house on the other end of the city that is leaking from every pipe and it’s electricity could ignite another fire that maybe this decrepit dwelling survived once before. Tyler is happy with his home and happy to share it with the narrator as well as Marla whom he has endless sex with. Tyler doesn’t want the fancy trappings. It’s revolting to even possess such materialism and suck off the tit of a capitalist regime. With the narrator at his side, he encourages a fight against the power of commercialism and wealth. Find a way to destroy the structures of what the country has built itself into, perhaps.
That’s the message of Fight Club. I just can’t lay claim that I cared for the execution of the revolt. I’m supposed to laugh at Tyler’s antics at times like when he steals the gross liquid fat from liposuction patients to manufacture the soap he sells. Yes, we get a moment where the bags of fat leak and splatter all over the place. It was just never amusing for me. I found no symbolism in this passage. It’s just absolutely disgusting. When Tyler happily pisses in someone’s soup, I don’t think it’s funny either. I don’t like Tyler. I don’t envy him or want to be him. I don’t find anything to cheer for with him. I’ve got more admiration for John Bender in The Breakfast Club than I do for Tyler Durdin. I might respect what he stands for to a degree as we are a culture brainwashed by advertising and commercialism. I just don’t care for the actions taken by this so-called martyr on behalf of the self-described unfortunates like Norton’s narrator.
I also find it ironic and quite hypocritical that Fincher’s film is a call to stand up to materialism and commercialism and yet the cast is headlined by Brad Pitt, arguably one of the biggest box office stars of the last 30 years, complete with his name above the title and his image front and center ahead of Edward Norton’s on the film posters that promote the film. Pitt is also the guy you see first, last and all over the middle of any of the film’s trailers and advertisements.
Now tell me, is that not a contradiction in terms?