Too Little, Too Late Movie Reviews: Fight Club (1999)

We’ve made it to movie #2 in our little Too Little, Too Late Movie Review series. That’s something. Usually I give up much sooner than this. Ah, well, before I talk myself down, let’s carry on, shall we?

S     P     O     I     L     E     R          A     L     E     R     T

Fight Club is a nice little film that came to us at the end of the 2oth Century courtesy of director David Fincher. It brings us the fun tale of an unnamed main character/narrator (Ed Norton) who suffers from insomnia and begins to lose his grip on reality until he starts an underground boxing club. The trouble starts when his partner in this endeavor (A very swarthy Brad Pitt) goes off on his own tangent, building an army to bring society to its knees. Our poor narrator feels left out, now, which is how his insomnia got started in the first place. But I’m not here to just retell the movie, let’s talk about it.

I did not get to see this movie during its initial theatrical run. I really wanted to, but I was only 15, and I needed my mother’s permission. Those of you who know my mother know that this was not exactly a huge roadblock, not at least until Rosie O’Donnell stuck her enormous head into the mix. She had her own daytime talk show at the time and she had seen Fight Club. She used her opening monologue the following day to persuade mothers to stop their children from seeing Fight Club, in fact, she wanted to stop everyone from seeing it. She claimed the movie ended with the hero committing suicide, which only tells me she didn’t stay until the end. So I had to wait until the movie was released on VHS. Yes, I am that old.

Oh, what an experience it must have been to see this film on the big screen! Fincher has such a talent bringing to life the textures of a scene, the very feel of the air around the characters, I swore I could smell the sweaty air as Ed Norton’s nameless narrator smashed Jared Leto’s face in with his bare fists. I could, unfortunately, smell the mixed bag of sex, shit, piss, and dirty sweat when Pitt/Norton had sex with Marla (Helena Bonham Carter). I just reread that sentence, and it makes it sound like there is a horrendous sex scene in this movie. There isn’t, but I’m not deleting that sentence, so deal with it. My point is that David Fincher, when teamed with whomever was DP on this film (Jeff Cronenweth) has an incredible talent for bringing 2D images to life that puts 3D cameras to shame.

Perhaps, because I have a penis, this movie speaks to me in a way that Rosie O’Donnell just couldn’t get. Yes, these men are involved in boxing clubs and acts of vandalism/castration, but what are they really doing? They’re really just trying to regain the love of their fathers, who abandoned them. Folks, I’m not even digging deep here, Ed Norton and Brad Pitt lay this right out for the audience while brushing their teeth and taking a bath respectively. It’s about shrugging off all of the things society has foisted upon us, which our fathers would see as effeminate (duvets are a great example given in the film). I get that desire. To go out into the wild and kill your meal, but it’s not reasonable in today’s world, for men to go do that, en mass. Of course, suffer insomnia long enough and you’ll begin to act unreasonably.

Bonham, Leto, and a be-breasted Meat Loaf round out the cast, and they do it wonderfully. When Meat Loaf is felled by a rent-a-cop on a Project Mayhem mission (and in death, he has a name. His name is Robert Paulson), you feel the loss as much as the half-dressed Norton. But the real fun comes with the reveal of the twist ending.

You have to understand, this is before the days of The Sixth Sense and its ilk. Twist, or surprise endings, were not assumed to exist at the end of every film. And the movie does a much better job of cloaking the surprise than the source book does (The first paragraph contains the line “I know this, because Tyler knows this.”), so I never saw it coming. When a Fight Club devotee suggests to a harried Ed Norton (now searching the country for his missing pal Tyler Durden [Pitt]) that Durden gets plastic surgery every few years to look like  a different person, I bought it as plausible for a moment. So when the big reveal came Brad Pitt IS Ed Norton’s Id?! I was blown away.

The third act is a true turn around from the rest of the film, delving deeper into schizoid territory (and that’s saying something), including a fantastic fight between Ed Norton and a non-existent Brad Pitt. The film climaxes with the question: can one man survive without the other? Ed Norton certainly intends to find out as he shoots himself in the back of the throat. IN THE BACK OF THE THROAT, ROSIE O’DONNEL, NOT IN THE FUCKING HEAD!!! It wasn’t suicide, it was schizo-homicide. Norton survives, Pitt dies. Norton gets the girl, we get a shot of a penis as a building collapses to the erratic, jangling guitar of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind.” It’s a win-win.

And now, a gripe: I could have done with more of the character known only as “waiter”, played masterfully by Ed Kowalczyk, best known as the lead singer of Live (they did “Lightning Crashes”).

 

 

M.R. Scully

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