Fight Club (1999)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #29

Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 139 minutes
BBFC: 18 (cut, 1999) | 18 (uncut, 2005)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 15th October 1999 (USA)
UK Release: 12th November 1999
First Seen: TV, c.2001

Stars
Edward Norton (American History X, 25th Hour)
Brad Pitt (Interview with the Vampire, World War Z)
Helena Bonham Carter (Room with a View, The King’s Speech)
Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny)

Director
David Fincher (Se7en, The Social Network)

Screenwriter
Jim Urls (Sweet Talk, Jumper)

Based on
Fight Club, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

The Story
The film’s nameless narrator is growing increasingly disillusioned with his mundane consumerist lifestyle, when he bumps into Tyler Durden. A free-spirited soap salesman, the pair have a fight for the heck of it. Finally experiencing some kind of genuine feeling, they set up an underground club for fighting, but it gradually becomes clear that Tyler may have bigger ideas…

Our Heroes
I am Jack’s nameless narrator. I am also Jack’s friend, Tyler Durden. Yes, just his friend…

Our Villains
The establishment! Capitalism! What’ve you got?

Best Supporting Character
Helena Bonham Carter hasn’t been fucked like that since grade school.

Memorable Quote
“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club! ” — Tyler Durden

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” — Tyler Durden

Memorable Scene
Called into his manager’s office to discuss his bad behaviour, the Narrator decides the best method of getting his own way is by enacting physical violence… on himself.

Technical Wizardry / Truly Special Effect
For what’s essentially a drama, Fight Club is overloaded with special effects and visual trickery. I don’t know if any are particularly groundbreaking in and of themselves, but several are particularly striking. A personal favourite, thanks to the perfect execution of the idea, is the shot where the Narrator’s condo is transformed into a living IKEA catalogue.

Making of
Marla’s original post-coital line was, “I want to have your abortion.” The studio objected to such an offensive line, so Fincher agreed to change it on the condition that the new line had to be used. The studio agreed, apparently unaware that such an agreement was never going to end well. Fincher wrote the replacement line, “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.” The studio asked for the original line back; Fincher refused. (It must say something about American values that abortion is considered more shocking than underage sex.)

Next time…
Nothing from the film, but Chuck Palahniuk has continued his novel in 10-issue comic book series Fight Club 2. A second comic series, Fight Club 3, is planned.

Awards
1 Oscar nomination (Sound Effects Editing)
1 MTV Movie Awards nominations (Best Fight for Edward Norton fighting himself)
1 BRIT Award nomination (Best Soundtrack — it lost to Notting Hill)

What the Critics Said
“Three factors elevate Fincher’s apocalyptic stew to something approaching art. First is Norton’s performance, as sneaky and shocking as that in his film debut Primal Fear. Second is Palahniuk’s story, which dances on a razor’s edge between life and death, expression and repression, ecstasy and agony. Third is Fincher’s dedication to making a film that looks and sound likes no other, one that powerfully illustrates what dementia looks like from inside and out.” — Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

Score: 79%

What the Public Say
“it’s hard to believe Fight Club is now 15 years old. As I was watching the film last night I found it hard to review because it is so ingrained in pop culture now it would be almost sacrilegious to say something bad about it. […] The first time I saw Fight Club I did not see the twist of [REDACTED] coming. I remember being surprised, but also very confused. I didn’t really understand how it worked then. On the second viewing it is easy to see a million clues pointing to this from the very beginning. Director David Fincher is very clever in how he orchestrates the film by giving you all these hints. He’s very good at walking that tight rope of not giving away too much. The twist is definitely one of the highlights of the film and why it is so memorable. It doesn’t feel cheap to me as some of these things normally do.” — Sherise, The Girl that Loved to Review

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I reviewed Fight Club as part of a retrospective on Fincher’s films back in 2011, saying “Fincher’s films often look great, but Fight Club is surely the most visually inventive. A list of exciting spectacles could be endless […] To top it off, the ‘regular’ cinematography is grounded in Fincher’s trademark darkness, as if every shot was conceived as just black and he added only what light was necessary.”

Verdict

A controversial film to this day, Fight Club is a violent, explicit exploration of the turn-of-the-millennium Western male psyche, which hasn’t necessarily lost its relevance in the ensuing decade-and-a-half. Criticised by some for endorsing the anarchic lifestyle it depicts, praised by others for satirising that mode of thinking, and criticised by other others for not satirising it well enough, the film can certainly provoke a spread of views. There’s little doubt that David Fincher’s direction is memorably slick and inspired, however, and it has one of the most talked-about twists in movie history.

#33 will… boldly go where no comedy has gone before.

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2 thoughts on “Fight Club (1999)

  1. Saw this at the cinema and loved it, but oddly I havent seen it since as often as I would have thought (I have the blu ray unwatched on the shelf). Actually having just been wowed by Mr Robot I think that blu ray will be getting watched this weekend.

    Such a pity Fincher isn’t as ambitious or crazy as he was back when he made this. He used to be such an exciting director. How tbis film slipped out of the Hollywood mainstream is a mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s hard to imagine a studio greenlighting something this bold now. I think Hollywood films were much more interesting back around the turn of the millennium — I’ve just been writing the same thing in a review for later this week, in fact.

      I very much enjoyed Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl, but they are relatively straightforward crime thrillers with a touch of Fincher magic rather than being defined by it. Hopefully whatever he does next can recapture some of that earlier excitement (which I’d argue he still displayed in Zodiac and The Social Network, so not all that long ago).

      Like

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