*Warning: This article is about the film Fight Club. There are spoilers ahead. If it’s taken you this long to see this film then we have a bigger problem than a few spoilers anyway.*
Today is the 15th anniversary of the film we’re not supposed to talk about-and my favorite film of all time-David Fincher’s Fight Club. I am always surprised by how many people I meet who name Fight Club as their favorite film. On the one hand it makes me feel like a part of a very cool club (pun intended) and on the other it makes me feel that as a self proclaimed movie snob/buff that I should have something a little more obscure take the top place in my heart. But I can’t help it. Love knows no reason.
15 years ago in 1999 I was watching Toy Story 2 and Tarzan because I was 8 years old (sorry, these posts always tend to make everyone else feel old). I had no idea that years later a film that would come out that year would change my life so profoundly. I wish I remember the first time I saw Fight Club. I believe it was sometime around my freshman year of college, but I can’t be certain. It’s weird because I remember when and where I saw many of my other favorite films, but not this one. All I can remember is being completely transfixed by the violence, the characters, the strangeness of it all. How it felt like this could actually happen. It was the first film to truly surprise and shock me in a way few films have since. (I can only think of a scene in V for Vendetta that comes close.) In a world before social media where headlines scream, “We Talk to David Fincher and Ed Norton about THAT Scene” I was blissfully unaware of what was to come. Somehow I survived years of my life without knowing a single thing about this film.
I think that is why it is my favorite. As soon as it was over I remember wanting to watch it again. I remember being angry at myself for not seeing the clues before, but thrilled that Fincher could trick me in such a deep way. It is something you don’t easily forget. It is one of the few movies I am glad I saw before reading the book because I know if I did and had known what was coming (like how I did with Gone Girl), it would completely change my perceptions
Besides the story itself, which I really shouldn’t give Fincher all the credit for since it does belong to Chuck Palahniuk, it is the acting that also sold me on that film. Before watching Fight Club I had pretty much zero opinion of Edward Norton. I don’t know if I had even seen him in anything before that moment. Of course I knew and loved Brad Pitt but secretly I was wondering if he was deserving of my love and admiration or if he was just another pretty face. As for Helena Bonham-Carter, I mostly just knew her as Mrs.-Tim-Burton-Who-keeps-ending-up-with-Johnny-Depp-in-movies and Bellatrix Lestrange. This film changed all of those opinions.
Ed Norton is the perfect person to play the Narrator because he is a Dangerous Everyman. He looks innocent and unassuming, but at the same time there’s an edge to him, something underneath just waiting to be exposed. The transformation from pathetic guy on the plane to “I just wanted to hurt something beautiful” to What have I done? is only believable because of Norton’s performance. This is a man who needs something to change in his life-and drastically-in order for him to be happy/change/feel anything. The Narrator may not be the most likeable character, but the way Norton plays him we sympathize with him and understand his motivations. We feel bad for him and we root for him because we are him. We like Tyler because he likes Tyler and because we see how meeting Tyler changes him. Everyone has been in the Narrator’s shoes, disillusioned with life, unhappy at work, not able to sleep at night, and this is the man who has seen the edge, gone over it, and come back from the other side. If skinny little Ed Norton can pick fights and win, who’s to say we can’t?
Brad Pitt is a VERY pretty face, but he is not JUST a pretty face. Here he is the embodiment of the male ideal; someone all men want to be, a guy who can get into and win a fight, a guy who doesn’t follow the system or play by anyone’s rules, a guy who gets to sleep with the girl and not worry about calling her after. He plays every side of Tyler from anarchist to surrogate father to the devil inside the narrator’s head with a chameleon like ease. You don’t believe Tyler can’t be real because you like him so much. And that’s what’s scary as well. Pitt makes Tyler the hero. This guy does some pretty despicable things but you like him. You want to be him. Don’t tell me that if Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden walked up to you on the street and asked you to join Project Mayhem that you would turn him down. You wouldn’t. No one could.
And then there’s Marla. She’s hardly a heroine, but she sure is one hell of an interesting character. Helena Bonham-Carter plays her with an effortless cool, middle finger in the air attitude. She is not just a girlfriend or a love interest, she’s a character in her own right, the smart one who has it all figured out long before the rest of us. She’s the one that reveals the truth to us. And while she manages to be strong and fiery there is also a vulnerable side to her that we can admire. She is able to ask for help or attention when she wants it without worrying about it making her needy or clingy. Helena plays Marla Singer as a woman who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it, but who is damaged all the same.She isn’t perfect, she’s just like us. She just wants to be loved and she just happens to find the guy as messed up as she is to do it. Because deep down, Fight Club really is a love story.
It’s also a story about fighting.
There is blood, lots and lots of blood and the thudding sounds of fist and the muffled yelling of men. The violence of Fight Club isn’t pretty, but it is still pleasing to watch in some deep animalistic way. It almost makes you want to get in a fight to see if you could take it. To find out what you’re made of.
And then there are quotes. “You met me at a very strange time in my life” is my favorite. “I want you to hit me as hard as you can”, “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise”, “His name was Robert Paulson”, “You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake”, and all the rules of fight club which everyone knows by heart. I could keep listing them for days.
The ending of Fight Club, with the Pixies song, ‘Where’s My Mind?‘playing as Marla and the Narrator hold hands to enter their brave new world as buildings fall around them is pretty much perfect.
This movie makes you think, it makes you want to quote it endlessly, and it makes you wonder what you would do over and over again. However, let’s celebrate the 15 anniversary of this incredible film by doing the one thing Tyler would’ve wanted and stop talking about it.