New Movies -
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Fight Club (David Fincher) 1999
Let me start this review with a quote:
tempting to describe David Fincher's stunning, mordantly funny, formally
dazzling new movie Fight Club as the first film of the next century and
leave it at that. It certainly suggests a possible future direction for
mass-appeal cinema that could lead it out of the Nineties cul-de-sac of bloated,
corrupt mediocrity and bankrupt formulas. Indeed, its vertiginous opening
credits shot - a camera move hurtling backwards from the deepest recesses of its
main character's brain, out through his mouth and down the barrel of the gun
that is inserted into it - could almost be a metaphor for the cinema viewer's
predicament.” Gavin Smith – Film Comment
we are on the cusp of a cinematic revolution… I would certainly like to think
so… Still, somehow, I doubt it. I don’t think cinema has ever been an
exceptionally fixed medium. The so-called grammar of film is still quite intact,
even as the vocabulary shifts. I would certainly enjoy a future made of films as
well done as this one, but somehow, I doubt it will be the case. When standard
Hollywood fare such as Charlie’s Angels and Bring it On are also
called “films of the next century” by the same magazine, we know there’s
still no general conception of what such a term means.
there’s a hope that each great film, and Fight Club certainly is a
great film, that comes along will become the new status quo in Hollywood,
prompting a rash of creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, it was precisely
the forward thinking that allowed Fight Club to be made that prompted
Bill Mechanic’s firing at Fox.
question, of course, is where does this leave the viewer? No large budget studio
film since Fight Club has had the same amount of audacity. This is
certainly unfortunate. We have been settling for pabulum from the studios.
Smith’s suggestion that the credits sequence of Fight Club suggests our
film going experience couldn’t possibly apply to the majority of studio
output. Most films don’t even penetrate our craniums, much less our brain’s
deepest recesses. (Still, more than a few times, I’ve felt as if I were
assaulted by with a pistol by cinema.)
Club" is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since
"Death Wish," a celebration of violence in which the heroes write
themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up.” Roger
Ebert – Chicago Sun-Times
Finchner’s Fight Club is also an unfairly maligned film.
don't feel that the fascism of the film is the central point. We get a palpable
sense that anarchy, while possibly fun, is wrong. I think the Norton character's
true maturation is the basic narrative thread. There's a whole hour of running
time before Project Mayhem enters the film...
ending, changed from the novel, really reinforces the argument that the film's
focused on Norton's character. The acceptance of the adult relationship with
Marla and the corresponding responsibilities that come with such a commitment
are the film's catharsis. The explosion of the credit bureau at the end of the
film signifies his paradigm shift. He's throwing away his old (primal) baggage.
He’s throwing away the urges that caused the creation of the Fight Club to
basic narrative looks to me something like this:
the start of the film Norton's trying to live up to the ideal set by society on
its own terms.
One last quote:
become more and more outlandishly cartoony until they paint themselves into a
corner from which there is, dramatically speaking, no escape once Pitt fatefully
points out that with enough soap you can blow up just about anything. Too bad,
because "Fight Club" begins with that invigoratingly nervy and
imaginative buzz. But its chic indictment of empty materialist values fizzles,
especially when it replaces them with nothing more than the classical fascist
values of male bonding through physical struggle (and highly defined abs) and
the worship of dynamism and energy for their own sakes.” – Jay Carr – Boston
seems to miss the film’s ultimate point. The film doesn’t accept either the
materialism of the status quo or the anarchy of Project Mayhem. In the last
minutes of the film, the narrator reconciles with Marla. He accepts her. We have
to assume he has left his issues behind him.
film is smart enough to make the nihilism of Project Mayhem look attractive. It
needs to convince us that such a movement could occur. It needs to convince us
that the narrator could enjoy its allure. Fischer is an extremely proficient
technician. In Fight Club, Fincher manages to push digitally
enhanced filmmaking farther than any filmmaker before or since. He uses it, not
to create spectacle, but to give his camera an unprecedented amount of movement.
CGI shots are used more frequently in the film as the world’s most impressive
dolly. Within this spectacle, it’s easy to lose sight of the main narrative.
Many of the films’ detractors didn’t understand that there’s as much a
rejection of anarchy as Ikea.
I certainly appreciate Fight Club’s millennial tension. There’s a
literalization of the fears that if the narrator doesn’t find himself, the
world will be thrown into chaos. This is fairly humorous concept, and fits well
with the one of the film’s stronger satiric barbs… It skewers the notion
that the self matters.
on, we see the narrator defining himself through his possessions. After he blows
up these possessions, he subsequently comes to define himself through his primal
impulses instead. Fincher allows us to have a bit of giddy fun as we follow the
antics of Fight Club, but never really proposes the lifestyle shown is a
legitimate, or even realistic, one. When we see Fight Club morph into Project
Mayhem, it’s made explicit that there is still no acceptable solution to the
narrator’s main problem. Within the faction, all members are nameless. When he
wants to stop Project Mayhem, he finds that no matter what course of action he
takes, Tyler has already ensured the plan will move ahead. He becomes
dispensable even to the movement that he has co-founded.
depreciation of self is the issue here. We find, at the end of the film, that
Fight Club didn’t spring about because primal needs were being repressed.
Rather, the entire endeavor seems to be a combination of misguided peer pressure
and general dissatisfaction with the lives these men had built for themselves.
The narrator tells himself that he is useless because his father, and God, have
abandoned him. His issues stem from his need to live up to an impossibly high
ideal. It’s only when he challenges the personification of that ideal that he
is able to accept himself. The film, despite being a product of mass media, is
telling the audience to reject the needs of mass media. Fincher’s ability to
subvert expectation by delivering such an ultimately positive message is the
film’s greatest achievement.
* * * * Masterpiece