Published Feb 01, 2000If Fight Club only lived up to the expectations of its cast (Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter), its director David Fincher (Seven, The Game) and its premise (disenfranchised young men form underground fight clubs seeking escape from dull lives), it would be an excellent movie well worth its hype. That it effortlessly moves beyond its explicit premise and peels back so many layers of meaning makes it a masterpiece, a tour de force, and one of the most powerful films of our time. Edward Norton opens the film coddled in his catalogue-bought life and his office job; only his incessant insomnia provides a hint that all is not well. When he discovers release through self-help groups, including one particularly striking group of men without balls - sufferers of testicular cancer - he becomes addicted to the intimacy, the tragedy, the intensity of emotion. He meets another "tourist" through these groups, a messed-up young woman named Marla (Bonham Carter), who haunts him because she can expose him as the fraud he is - both in groups and in life. But it's when he meets charismatic soap maker Tyler Durden (Pitt) that his life really changes. In a fit of drunken passion, they scrap in a parking lot, and the sense of invigoration never leaves. They soon find others like them, and basement "fight clubs" begin.
What's truly remarkable about Fincher's film - adapted from a first novel by auto mechanic Chuck Palahniuk - is the complexity of its vision of manhood and its implications for society, for women and for other men. It could easily amount to some kind of drum- and chest-beating Iron John ritual, or a piece of misogynist crap about "real" men; instead, it bends and flexes in different directions. Like Patton or Taps, it touches on the honour of disciplined fighting men; like Dr. Strangelove, it guts such feelings to their absurd core. There is a certain sense of nihilism that suffuses the film, but that's just the beginning of its philosophical implications. There may be fears of copycat "clubs," but the film simply doesn't warrant them. The only copy-catting we can hope for should come from filmmakers.