To review this movie is like the cult version of inception. Any praise or critique or even acknowledgement is in clear violation of the first, second and third rules of the entire concept of Fight Club.
It starts out with the threat of a bang, The Narrator (Edward Norton) deep throating a gun that’s being shoved in his mouth by Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Later we see how The Narrator leads the epitome of a consumerist lifestyle, his personality defined by mass produced Swedish furniture. His life is mundane and dictated by catalogues. The protagonist works as product recall specialist and suffers from insomnia. To overcome his nights of sleeplessness he starts going to group sessions for people suffering from terminal diseases.
There is an idea here, that this generation cannot feel anything outside itself. If by chance it does choose to venture out to witness the suffering of others, it is for the selfish gain of respite for oneself. ‘I wasn’t really dying, I wasn’t hosting cancer or parasites, I was the warm little center that the life of this world crowded around.’ This is what the audience witnesses with The Narrator. His solution to being an insomniac is firstly to acquire narcotics through prescription and when that fails; to indulge in the German concept of schadenfruede, which loosely translated means ‘to take delight in others misfortunes.’ After he cries with them he declares ‘babies don’t sleep so well.’
It is there that he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), he recognises in her his own hypocrisy and his cure stops being effective. He is sleepless once again. On one of his flights back from a business trip he meets Tyler Durden, manufacturer of soap and by the sounds of it, explosives. A series of unfortunate events later The Narrator ends up being convinced to hit Tyler Durden, a man he doesn’t know from Adam, straight in the ear. Their scuffle proving to be beyond cathartic, they keep up their shenanigans till a secret society is formed. People join in for the same philosophies that inspired that first punch in the ear; ‘How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? I don’t wanna die without any scars’.
Released in 1999, the same year of the Matrix and the Y2K false alarm, Fight Club brings to us the resentment towards the faceless corporations being given a free lease to manhandle our present and future. Perhaps it was the fear of the end of the digital world as we knew it, threatening to send us all back to a time before 1950 that slandering authority and the likes of IKEA and Microsoft was trusted to appeal to movie-goers. Either way, it worked.
Fight Club is reminiscent of Graham Greene’s 1954 The Destructors where a group of young boys indulges in the meticulous destruction of a house for the sake of creating chaos. The appeal in the movie lies with the aggression that is exuded so calmly and the obliteration of order and control.
The first few scenes are enough evidence to show the audience all the ways in which marketing, corporate greed and made-for-TV expectations have trivialised real life and are having an adverse impact on the characters met with on the screen. There is a blatant disregard for human life, even one’s own as we see Marla striding across relentless heavy traffic with reckless abandon. It is a very basic point of the movie that everyone shown is immensely desensitised to human suffering; ‘if X (compensation for human fatality) is less than the cost of recall (of the faulty product that caused said human fatality), we don’t do it.’
The Narrator is the archetypical hero of tragedy, an orphan (in this context without anyone to rely on in his time of need), someone without a past, a tumultuous present and a potentially lethal future. It’s tastefully done, with enough scorn for capitalism for you to feel some rage at the bleakness of your situation and mine. Yet it loops in on itself. Don’t get me wrong it’s a brilliant movie but I find it brilliant because it makes you feel like a spider trapped inside a glass.
For all its anti-establishment and anti-corporate overtones, man is still just a slave. He is bound first to his blue collar job and then to some schizophrenic, paranoid, demented man who possesses eloquence and graceful psychosis. Fight Club is just another church for the passive-aggressive turned aggressive-aggressive.
The writer is a Multimedia Producer at Dawn.com. Pretentious hippie. Panda-phile. Promoter of hobo chic.