Tuesday 14 September 2021

Movie Review: Fight Club (1999)

A drama about rediscovering masculinity in all the wrong places, Fight Club releases demons from the darkest recesses of the male psyche.

Suffering from insomnia, the narrator "Jack" (Edward Norton) is stuck in a soulless job he hates, assessing the need for auto recalls on behalf of a car manufacturer. He discovers that by joining support groups and pretending to suffer from ailments, he can release his emotions and sleep better. But this new habit is disrupted when he bumps into Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), another impostor pulling the same stunt.

Jack meets cool and ebullient soap salesperson Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and soon thereafter Jack's apartment blows up. He crashes at Tyler's place, a derelict house in an isolated part of town. Jack and Tyler start a fistfight and enjoy the experience of releasing their manliness. Soon Tyler is gaining a mythical reputation for organizing secretive underground fistfights among a growing group of men. Similar clubs sprout up across the country, and Marla re-emerges as Tyler's energetic sex partner. But as Tyler pushes towards more extremes of carnage, Jack starts to question their bond.

An adaptation of the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club is an anti-consumerism, anti-domestication diatribe. David Fincher directs the Jim Uhls script as a journey to the bottom, Jack following Tyler's lead and stripping life down to the nothingness of pain, apathy, and the rejection of social constructs. The movie is hard-hitting, dark, grungy and sometimes acidly funny, but also overlong and repetitive.

The theme of freedom through rediscovery of base male instincts is tackled with a wink. Tyler and Jack embark upon a journey where happiness in a purposeless world is found in an anarchic fondness for destroying things (starting with themselves and other men) and demonstrating sexual prowess with incredible, long-stamina sex. Masculinity's peak is also a nadir, a potential-filled starting point celebrated as a destination where nothing is accomplished. The men who accept the fight club rules and achieve the promised freedom from society's shackles are reduced to subservient slaves, incapable of thinking for themselves.

The film's pacing is uneven. Once the characters are established and the fight club instigated, Fincher frequently punches the same ticket, lingering at numerous basement brawls between interchangeable and half-naked sweaty men knocking the stuffing out of each other. The message of men finding an escape from their dull lives by releasing their medieval selves is delivered with repeated blow to the head and eventually starts to lose impact.

Which is a cue for more dangerous pranks, property destruction, and sabotage to bring down a society promoting male de-clawing. Tyler's unleashing of his knucklehead army to instigate large-scale mayhem is also Jack's prompt to finally question where his new and unconstrained friend is headed. The plot twist is not difficult to spot, the insomnia and weasel traits introduced as gateways to a new paradigm. Although filled with vivid images of crude deconstruction, Fight Club does stage its most potent struggle in a lonely place.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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