Friday, December 29, 2006

Fight Club: Grade A


Fight Club (1999)

Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter. Director David Fincher.

I picked up this 1999 movie that had slipped by me. I expected some kind of unattractive bare knuckles fighting story, but the star lineup was persuasive. Norton is a meek and burned out insurance examiner obsessively pursuing mindless consumerism to offset his meaningless job. In an edgy satirical sequence, he starts attending support groups for cancer patients, drug rehab, AA, and so on, just so he can get hugged. Eventually he ends up staying in Pitt’s derelict old house. Pitt is a charismatic, grandiose, unconventional personality, endlessly promoting a lifestyle of anti-consumerism like some spiritual guru on PBS. He has nothing, lives in filth, yet wants nothing. Presumably the soap business keeps him in beer and cigarettes. The two become comrades though not quite friends. For no discernible reason, they begin fist fighting behind a bar and enjoy it. Over time, others watch, join in, and implausibly a secret society of fist fighters emerges, eventually with franchises nationwide and globally. There is no betting, just fighting, for no reason other than sport. There is lots of blood, broken teeth, gashed heads, broken bones and so on. It is excellent filmwork, both directing and photography, but who wants to see those gruesome scenes? Not me. I don’t even like boxing. But the movie does succeed in creating an alternate world, reminiscent of what Gibson did with Neuromancer. The storyline morphs implausibly again at least three more times, with a surprise ending that, as in Memento which came out one year later, makes you re-think what you have already seen. The acting is compulsively watchable by all three of the stars, but the story is so detached from reality that you have to seriously suspend your disbelief. The last scene, of New York skyscrapers collapsing to the ground from explosives, is eerie. I give the movie an A because of the acting, photography, and especially because the writing is totally fresh and original (from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk). But the story lacks overall continuity, so it cannot be taken seriously, and one’s attention is drawn away from the characters to the writer’s ingenuity, which is not a good thing. Still, it is an important movie and I’m glad I saw it.

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