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Fincher: “We’re designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shopping.

There’s
nothing to kill anymore, there’s nothing to fight, nothing to overcome, nothing to
explore. In that societal emasculation this everyman is created.” – David Fincher as
quoted in Gavin Smith’s “Inside Out”
-Film Comment Magazine, New York, September/October 1999, vol.
35, Issue 5, pgs 58-66

As this would suggest, there's a lot of imagination and energy in and around "Fight
Club," but imagination and energy are often not enough. On balance, this is the
dumbest of the entries in Hollywood's anti-consumerist new wave -- there's
something more than a little ludicrous about sitting in a theater while Brad Pitt
preaches at you about the emptiness of materialism -- but it's still probably worth
seven or eight bucks to find out what all the fuss is about. You'll see plenty of Pitt's
impressive pecs and biceps, along with the trademark murky photography, decrepit
urban landscapes and technical bravado of director David Fincher ("Seven," "The
Game"). Maybe the ponderous, talky ideology of "Fight Club" represents Fincher's
effort to answer critics who have called him a shallow style-monger. I say he puts on
a hell of a show, and both he and we should be happy with that.

You certainly can't say that Fincher or screenwriter Jim Uhls (who adapted Chuck
Palahniuk's acclaimed novel) hold back on the film's psychological subtext -- "Fight
Club" opens with our nameless narrator (Edward Norton) tied to a chair with Tyler's,
uh, gun in his mouth. The narrator then begins to tell us how he and the willfully
destructive Tyler wound up in this compromising position. Maybe 1999 is the year of
the extended voice-over flashback -- like "American Beauty," "Fight Club" is narrated
by a man in extremis, whose true fate is not revealed until the end of the movie.
There are other similarities between "American Beauty's" Lester Burnham and the
narrator of "Fight Club" -- both are white-collar ass-kissers who rebel against the
emasculating conformity of their lives as minor cogs in the great engine of
consumption. Throw in journalist Susan Faludi's new book about men, and it looks
like the late-'90s crisis of masculinity has arrived in pop culture with a vengeance.

The idea that the human male is an atavistic brute bred for violence and sexual
domination, whose true animal nature lies just below a veneer of civilization, is
nothing new. Ironically, it has gained credibility in our era partly through the efforts of
academic feminists, some of whom have advanced the notion that men's inherent
aggression makes them ill-suited for powerful roles in the information economy, and
that the coming millennium will be female-driven. As far as I'm concerned, it's
probably true that men need to get out of the fluorescent lighting, go on some
strenuous hikes and get laid more. But then, so do women. – Salon Magazine, 1999.
Andrew O’Hehir

Jim Uhls, the screenwriter, described the film as a "romantic comedy", explaining, "It
has to do with the characters' attitudes toward a healthy relationship, which is a lot of
behavior which seems unhealthy and harsh to each other, but in fact does work for
them—because both characters are out on the edge psychologically.” The narrator
seeks intimacy, but he avoids it with Marla Singer, seeing too much of himself in her.
While Marla is a seductive and negativist prospect for the narrator, he instead
embraces the novelty and excitement that comes with befriending Tyler Durden. The
narrator is comfortable being personally connected to Tyler Durden, but he becomes
jealous when Tyler becomes sexually involved with Marla. When the narrator argues
with Tyler about their friendship, Tyler tells him that being friends is secondary to
pursuing the philosophy they have been exploring. Tyler also suggests doing
something about Marla, implying that she is a risk to be removed. When Tyler says
this, the narrator realizes that his desires should have been focused on Marla and
begins to diverge from Tyler's path. – Jim Uhls, Screenwriter of Fight Club

Roger Ebert’s Review, October 15, 1999, Chicago Sun-Times, 2 out of 4 Stars

"Fight Club" is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since "Death
Wish," a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to
drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up.

Sometimes, for variety, they beat up themselves. It's macho porn -- the sex movie
Hollywood has been moving toward for years, in which eroticism between the sexes
is replaced by all-guy locker-room fights. Women, who have had a lifetime of practice
at dealing with little-boy posturing, will instinctively see through it; men may get off on
the testosterone rush. The fact that it is very well made and has a great first act
certainly clouds the issue.

Edward Norton stars as a depressed urban loner filled up to here with angst. He
describes his world in dialogue of sardonic social satire. His life and job are driving
him crazy. As a means of dealing with his pain, he seeks out 12-step meetings,
where he can hug those less fortunate than himself and find catharsis in their
suffering. It is not without irony that the first meeting he attends is for post-surgical
victims of testicular cancer, since the whole movie is about guys afraid of losing their
cojones.

These early scenes have a nice sly tone; they're narrated by the Norton character in
the kind of voice Nathanael West used in Miss Lonelyhearts. He's known only as the
Narrator, for reasons later made clear. The meetings are working as a sedative, and
his life is marginally manageable when tragedy strikes: He begins to notice Marla
(Helena Bonham Carter) at meetings. She's a "tourist" like himself--someone not
addicted to anything but meetings. She spoils it for him. He knows he's a faker, but
wants to believe everyone else's pain is real.

On an airplane, he has another key encounter, with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a man
whose manner cuts through the fog. He seems able to see right into the Narrator's
soul, and shortly after, when the Narrator's high-rise apartment turns into a fireball,
he turns to Tyler for shelter. He gets more than that. He gets in on the ground floor of
Fight Club, a secret society of men who meet in order to find freedom and self-
realization through beating one another into pulp.

It's at about this point that the movie stops being smart and savage and witty, and
turns to some of the most brutal, unremitting, nonstop violence ever filmed. Although
sensible people know that if you hit someone with an ungloved hand hard enough,
you're going to end up with broken bones, the guys in "Fight Club" have fists of steel,
and hammer one another while the sound effects guys beat the hell out of
Naugahyde sofas with Ping-Pong paddles. Later, the movie takes still another turn. A
lot of recent films seem unsatisfied unless they can add final scenes that redefine the
reality of everything that has gone before; call it the Keyser Soze syndrome.

What is all this about? According to Durden, it is about freeing yourself from the
shackles of modern life, which imprisons and emasculates men. By being willing to
give and receive pain and risk death, Fight Club members find freedom. Movies like
"Crash" must play like cartoons for Durden. He's a shadowy, charismatic figure, able
to inspire a legion of men in big cities to descend into the secret cellars of a Fight
Club and beat one another up.

Only gradually are the final outlines of his master plan revealed. Is Tyler Durden in
fact a leader of men with a useful philosophy? "It's only after we've lost everything
that we're free to do anything," he says, sounding like a man who tripped over the
Nietzsche display on his way to the coffee bar in Borders. In my opinion, he has no
useful truths. He's a bully--Werner Erhard plus S & M, a leather club operator without
the decor. None of the Fight Club members grows stronger or freer because of their
membership; they're reduced to pathetic cultists. Issue them black shirts and sign
them up as skinheads. Whether Durden represents hidden aspects of the male
psyche is a question the movie uses as a loophole--but is not able to escape through,
because "Fight Club" is not about its ending but about its action.

Of course, "Fight Club" itself does not advocate Durden's philosophy. It is a warning
against it, I guess; one critic I like says it makes "a telling point about the bestial
nature of man and what can happen when the numbing effects of day-to-day
drudgery cause people to go a little crazy." I think it's the numbing effects of movies
like this that cause people go to a little crazy. Although sophisticates will be able to
rationalize the movie as an argument against the behavior it shows, my guess is that
audience will like the behavior but not the argument. Certainly they'll buy tickets
because they can see Pitt and Norton pounding on each other; a lot more people will
leave this movie and get in fights than will leave it discussing Tyler Durden's moral
philosophy. The images in movies like this argue for themselves, and it takes a lot of
narration (or Narration) to argue against them.

Lord knows the actors work hard enough. Norton and Pitt go through almost as much
physical suffering in this movie as Demi Moore endured in "G.I. Jane," and Helena
Bonham Carter creates a feisty chain-smoking hellcat who is probably so angry
because none of the guys thinks having sex with her is as much fun as a broken
nose. When you see good actors in a project like this, you wonder if they signed up
as an alternative to canyoneering.

The movie was directed by David Fincher and written by Jim Uhls, who adapted the
novel by Chuck Palahniuk. In many ways, it's like Fincher's movie "The Game"
(1997), with the violence cranked up for teenage boys of all ages. That film was also
about a testing process in which a man drowning in capitalism (Michael Douglas) has
the rug of his life pulled out from under him and has to learn to fight for survival. I
admired "The Game" much more than "Fight Club" because it was really about its
theme, while the message in "Fight Club" is like bleeding scraps of Socially
Redeeming Content thrown to the howling mob.

Fincher is a good director (his work includes "Alien 3," one of the best-looking bad
movies I have ever seen, and "Seven," the grisly and intelligent thriller). With "Fight
Club" he seems to be setting himself some kind of a test--how far over the top can he
go? The movie is visceral and hard-edged, with levels of irony and commentary
above and below the action. If it had all continued in the vein explored in the first act,
it might have become a great film. But the second act is pandering and the third is
trickery, and whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that's not what most audience
members will get. "Fight Club" is a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy--the kind of
ride where some people puke and others can't wait to get on again.

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