To be able to write this post I must, obviously, break the first rule of “Fight Club”, the famous ‘you don’t talk about fight club’. But I feel like I must, especially as the movie turned 20 this year. Hard to believe so much time has passed, hard to believe Brad Pitt is 20 years older…
Still, a good thing the movie got made in 1999, as I’m afraid in 2019 nobody would dare touch some of the motifs in ‘Fight Club’. Even 20 years ago, producers were very reluctant to greenlight a movie they considered ‘sinister and seditious’ from the get-go. Sinister, that’s understandable with a director like David Fincher, who gave horror a whole new meaning with ‘Seven’, one of the most brutal and brilliant movies ever.
However, I don’t think producers were that worried about gore and violence. The main issue was with the ‘seditious’ part. Violence aside, ‘Fight Club’ is a an anti-materialistic and anti-consumerism movie, something media moguls are quite unlikely to support. Their whole industry relies on consumerism, after all. Yet, with an acclaimed director and a star-studded cast - Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham-Carter and Jared Leto, they decided to give it a try. Their doubts were confirmed at the box-office, where the movie flopped, while reviews were mixed, at best.
‘Fight Club’ took off to become a cult movie with its DVD release, just as we’ve seen with the other movies discussed in this series.
In many ways, the film was compared with ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, James Dean’s most famous movie, which came out in 1955. That was a movie that spoke to the post-war young generation, rebelling against an intolerable status quo. ‘Fight Club’ did the same thing for Generation X, a term used to describe those born between mid-1960s and the 1980. Basically, the first generation raised under the influence of television and the advertising industry. The people trained from a very young age to be consumers, to value the possession of useless stuff, like the Ikea furniture in the apartment of The Narrator, Edward Norton’s character. The apartment that is destroyed by an explosion early in the movie, somehow releasing The Narrator from his dependence on useless stuff.
The other main character, played by Brad Pitt, is a symbol of the same consumerist society, as Tyler Durden is a soap salesman, as unlikely as such job might seem.
It is only very late in the movie that the viewers realize Tyler Durden is just a projection of the unnamed Narrator, the persona he wishes to be, a free man who sets out to destroy a stifling society with his Project Mayhem. Tyler tells the Narrator:
‘All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.’
The ‘fight clubs’ Durden and the Narrator established are meant to be a (violent) release from all the constraints of the the society they live in. A return to primeval urges. They’re men, they fight each other. Actually, this is one of the reasons I don’t think such a movie would be released today. Or if it did, it would be entirely different. These days Hollywood is all about feminism and the characters in the movie are a clear example of what some decry as ‘toxic masculinity’. At best, a movie made today would drop any idea of justified rebellion and vilify the men in the movie as animals that need to be neutered. In doing my research, I’ve come across posts comparing the characters in the movie to members of the so-called alt-right. Obviously, today’s snowflake generation would not condone of such violence.
Take for instance, the following quote, from Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel, on which the movie is based:
‘You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.’
Seriously, try telling one of today’s millennials they’re not special and unique and you’ll have them running to their safe-space for a nice cry.
Yet, the main ideas in ‘Fight Club’ still ring true today, even if Palahniuk could not have anticipates the world of social media and its devastating effects, making us even more vain and materialistic than in the 1990s.
‘We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war, our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.’
The quote above can be found today on many sites and forums dedicated to ‘Fight Club”, and there’s plenty of them out there.
Palahniuk once said“A good story should change the way you see the world”and many believe ‘Fight Club’ is that sort of revolutionary story.
Ten years after its original release, ‘The New York Times’ proclaimed ‘Fight Club’ “the defining cult movie of our time”.
One of the parts of Tyler Durden’s Project Mayhem was blowing up all the buildings holding financial details, especially about credit cards, so all debts would be erased. Yes, the means to this end are very violent, but it’s easy too see how so many people would find the idea of being debt-free quite appealing.