Main cast: Edward Norton (The Narrator), Brad Pitt (Tyler Durden), Helena Bonham Carter (Marla Singer), Meat Loaf (Robert Paulson), and Jared Leto (Angel Face)
Director: David Fincher
I’ve read the book by Chuck Palahniuk (also titled Fight Club) ages ago and am startled by the sheer brutality of the whole story. This movie made some changes to the story, particularly the ending, but ultimately, where the book makes some interesting points that the movie mirrors, the movie deflates like a punctured balloon under its own morass of pretentiousness and Hollywood moralization.
The Narrator (so-called because we are never told his name) is a bored, emasculated yuppie, his innate macho manliness and testosterone count stifled (or shall I say feminized) by too much IKEA furniture and neck ties and sensitive new age yammerings. He starts attending 12-step recovery groups to meet people less fortunate in order to feel good about himself. During a flight, he meets Tyler who eventually introduces him to the Fight Club, a club where men beat up each other into a bloody pulp in order to get high. Gee, I guess it’s cheaper than those illegal substances sold on the street.
The first half of the movie is pretty good – Edward Norton infuses his character with razor-sharp observations about yuppiedom. I sympathize – he should see Singaporean guys. Every year when they get Singaporean women to vote, local guys rank a grand old “Pathetic!” on the social fun scale. Hence I understand what it’s like to be trapped in a stultifying and totally stupefying environment where every form of conformity is demanded on the individual if the poor sod wants to survive in society.
It is after Narrator and Tyler get together to beat each other up that the movie goes downhill. Not because of the violence (this movie is rated R for a good reason), but because of the sheer contradiction between the bigoted hatred the characters display towards all norms of society when I recognize them as the product of total conformity. Take Tyler’s rant against the standard yardstick for male beauty – can you honestly look at Brad Pitt’s professionally gym-honed body and not roll up your eyes when he rails against those lunch-hour-gym-session guys and pretty boy models? And in advocating freedom from conformity, the guys in Fight Club leave one form of herd mentality only to embrace another – Tyler’s. And at the end of the day, this movie doesn’t work because seeing all those sometimes-quite-logical messages of hatred coming from pretty boys like Brad Pitt – nah, I can’t trust him.
Sure, Brad Pitt looks better to me disheveled and bloody than when he’s neat and preppy (I love his spiky hair), but he is one of those unfortunate actor that never seems able to leave any impact greater than a light tap in my attention in every movie he’s in. He’s an actor as light as the shade of his hair in his movies, and his acting, no matter how much he put himself into (and it’s clear he poured everything into his role), just doesn’t leave any tremendous impact. On the other hand, Edward Norton does a better job at his role, but eventually his continuous railing at society’s norm (even as he fits into Tyler’s definition of norm) gets really tired.
And what on earth is Marla doing in a Club where the men are more interested in beating each other than in her?
And I find it amusing that for a movie with men battering each other, it carefully eradicates any sort of homoerotic tension between Tyler and the Narrator, especially in the light of the ending. Let me just say that Tyler is the other half of the Narrator that makes the latter whole. It would be deliciously intriguing to have at least a little sexual frisson between them both, no? Especially in view of the little ending revelation. Narcissism can be a powerful motive after all.
Sure, the story has some interesting rant against society, but when the movie is made in the hands of Hollywood and has two pretty boys that are the epitomes of yuppie clean-cut preppiness playing the lead role, FC ends up as nothing more than a tool for some Mr Conformity who wants his other peers to go “Wow!” at his daringness to create something that, well, shakes a little at the rules of conventionality. Just a little, mind you. Hollywood always play it safe, and it shows.