At the end of the 20th Century, men have lost there sense of place in the world. With no real sociological problems to concern them, the American working class males wander through life in a daze, controlled by their jobs and their society-spawned desire for the perfect magazine lifestyle. One such man (Edward Norton) finds solace from his insomnia in support groups for people with terminal illnesses, with this contrast to his own lack of problems finally allowing him to sleep at night. However, his world is rocked by the existence of Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fellow group-attending faker, and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a rather bizarre fellow with a penchant for soap, explosives, splicing pornography into family films and, of course, beating the crap out of other consenting men.
I first saw Fight Club about 7 years ago, when I was 20, and I enjoyed it but didn’t latch onto it as much as the rest of the world seemed to. I didn’t have any problems with it, but I did only half-watch it whilst working on other things, and I wasn’t that big of a movie fan back then. Hence why it took me so long to watch again, but I’m glad I did. Obviously Fight Club has a reputation for being one of the best films from the past 20 years, from one of the best directors working today (David Fincher), and so much has been written about it that I don’t think I’ll be adding much, but I’ll try.
Unlike The Sixth Sense, that other great 1999 twist movie, Fight Club definitely works better on repeat viewings. There’s a twist at the end that I’d assumed everyone knew, even if they hadn’t seen the film (as I did when I saw it 7 years ago) but apparently this is not the case. My partner had no idea what Fight Club was even about (“So they just beat each other up?” is a question she asked some way into the film) let alone what happened at the end and [spoiler alert] which character may be a figment of another character’s imagination. Watching it now, and fully understanding the giant spoiler at the end, there are clues littered throughout to pick up on, so many that if you’re paying attention closely enough you should be able to pick up on at least the possibility that Edward Norton’s narrator (who never really gets a name) may be becoming Tyler Durden in the periods when he thinks he is asleep.
Before we even meet Durden, Norton poses the question of “Could you wake up as a different person?” to which the answer, in this film at least, is a resounding yes. Later, after meeting Tyler on an airplane and then, upon arriving home to find every possession he owned has exploded and in desperation calls one of only two phone numbers he has, that being Durden’s, we get the narrator telling us everything we need to know about Tyler. This includes his various occupations, including waiting at a fine restaurant, where he pees in the soup. We’re shown Tyler trying to pee in the soup, but he is distracted by Norton, who is in the scene but narrating it to us. No-one else in the film is affected by Norton’s narration, only Tyler, so he is the only one who can hear it, because he is the one giving it. Elsewhere Norton tells us “Sometimes Tyler spoke for me”, “Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth”, occasionally both Norton and Pitt will repeat the same line almost simultaneously, Norton begins to suspect Tyler of causing the explosion in his apartment just as the police investigator suspects Norton himself and, when the narrator beats himself up in his boss’ office, “For some reason I thought of my first fight, with Tyler,” because in both instances he was beating himself up. Also, the relationship between Marla, Tyler and the narrator makes a great deal more sense from Marla’s perspective if you know what’s going on. She thinks she is in a relationship with Edward Norton’s character, but Edward Norton thinks Marla is having regular sex with Tyler Durden, and reacts accordingly, which of course gets very confusing for Marla. And the night Marla first sleeps with “Tyler”, before “waking up” Norton has visions of Marla having sex and a toilet full of condoms, evidently things Tyler saw during the night. Finally, there’s a shot near the end (I think it’s before the reveal but I could be wrong) where in the background to one scene there’s a cinema playing Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt. Now, unless this is some Last Action Hero nonsense where Stallone was in The Terminator, this implies that Brad Pitt exists within the world ofFight Club, therefore it’s entirely plausible that Edward Norton’s character watched a Brad Pitt movie, saw Pitt as the perfect male form (understandably, especially if it was Thelma and Louise) and projected that image onto the imaginary form of Tyler Durden.
So why is it so easy to miss these and countless other clues dotted around on the first viewing? Well it’s because the rest of the film is so damn good. The performances from the three leads are terrific. Pitt especially lights up the screen with a character who must be the epitome of all masculinity whilst still being charismatic and likeable, which Pitt pulls off well, despite dressing like a morbid clown. The script is far funnier than I remembered, although it’s mostly black humour along the lines of Norton having a gun in his mouth, but thinking more about how clean the gun is than the likelihood that it’ll blow out the back of his skull. The scene right at the end, after Norton comes to the conclusion of who Tyler is (or isn’t) and they confront one another, is full of some really choice lines, and Pitt nails his deadpan during the climactic wire cutting. And when we see newspaper clippings of some of Project Mayhem’s exploits, I’d kind of like to see a little more of some of them, such as the headlines “Monkeys shaved” or “Police seize excrement catapult.” The special effects, supervised by Rob Bottin who was behind some of the crazier stuff on John Carpenter’s The Thing, are used sparingly but always to outstanding effect, particularly in the mid-air collision dream sequence.
My one only gripe is the very ending, when Norton has shot himself in the head, Tyler has disappeared, but Norton is still alive. I assume he’s removed the part of his brain that was projecting Tyler into the world, but I can’t imagine Norton will be living for too much longer after this point? It’s easy to bypass this issue though when you’ve got that iconic closing shot of the buildings being destroyed whilst The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind plays out.
Choose Film 10/10