Monday, 7 June 2010

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything

No 10 - Fight Club
Director - David Fincher

I am Jack's sense of joyous nostalgia. The end of my last GCSE consisted of two things - an epic water fight in my local park and the first time I watched Fight Club. Later, my 'coming of age' in a series of madcap adventures in Ecuador meant that whilst I watched Fight Club in a dingy and strange cinema bar we drank all of the venue's beer, gin and tonic water. This is a film which is firmly part of my journey to adulthood.

Which is worrying when you think how joyfully nihilistic it is.

Now.... if you haven't seen this film PLEASE DON'T READ THIS REVIEW. I can't talk about it without giving away massive and crucial spoilers which will ruin it for you...


Before we talk of plot and twists and stories, let's begin by talking about the visual aesthetic. There are some wonderful stylistic touches in this film and elements which I think were pretty new when Fincher did them. I certainly had never seen the exciting way in which the camera flies and darts through the CGI environs (a stylistic flourish he later made even more impressive in the otherwise unremarkable Panic Room). Even the opening sequence is amazing as the camera rushes out of Ed Norten's head and along the barrel of a gun.

We're then introduced to Ed Norton's narrator - a lead without a name - and from his first dead eyed look and dead pan voice over one thing is made absolutely clear. This film is cool. And it knows it is cool. This film KNOWS it is cooler than you. From every dry line and every piece of inspired casting (Meatloaf's Bob is particularly brilliant) it taunts you with its cool. But what is so interesting is that the narrator isn't particularly cool... he is plain, suppressed and he isn't happy.
Each piece of furniture is amusingly annotated with prices and descriptions as he walks through it. His house is an IKEA catalogue. He has no personality.

However we begin to see traces of the Narrator's other side... we're introduced to Marla Singer, who I'll speak about later. But we also get flashes of Tyler Durden. There are at least 3 times that I have seen... Firstly, in the office he appears standing by the photo copier. Secondly, he flashes behind the shoulders of his doctor and thirdly (if I remember correctly) when Marla Singer ousts him from his self help therapy. There may be more, and if there are I've not noticed them.

It isn't until on a plane that we meet Tyler Durden. Played with violent, anarchic panache by Brad Pitt. He is part Rusty Ryan - suave bastard, and part Jeoffrey Goines - total loon. He is 100% dangerous and a wonderful cinematic thing to behold. I'll let Empire describe him better than me...
This is where we discover the second thing about the film. Not only does the film know it is cooler than you. It doesn't give a fuck.

There are moments in this film which discuss how a film works (explaining 'cigarette burns' which I now notice all the time) and there are moments which (whether real or digitally created) seem to mess with the cinema. Whether it is splicing a penis in to the film for a pre-credit gag or shaking and distorting the film in an angry rant. I can't think of a film (not including Planet Terror's graininess and missing reel) that is as brave with the concept of film since Hellzapoppin' - though there probably are some...

Tyler is a destructive guru. He looks awesome. He reeks of confidence. He is too good to be true. That is the first clue we really get... from the ease with which he acts out his pretty misguided anarchic views all the way to his impossibly ripped physique. From his mind to his body he is almost too perfect. And in a film which is keen to press that nobody is perfect, that should be a warning that he might, just might, not be real.
He is also wonderfully nihilistic. He is true punk. He compliments perfectly the suicidal over-thinking nature of Marla... Her morbid character is so different to Tyler, who embraces life to a dangerous degree, but yet is also very similar. Both seem to attach little value to material things. Both are happy living in squalor. Both just want to feel. Whether it is the feeling of death for Marla (her own or someone else's) or the exhilaration of violence for Tyler (whether personal or vandalism) - it is all about having a genuine connection. It is probably also why they have so much sex throughout.

Norten's character is as entranced by him as we are, and soon the two join forces and the titular Fight Club is born. Surely everyone watching when Brad Pitt swaggers into the middle of his bloodlusting punters, and booms out the now immortal rules of fight club, is transfixed. I can't show you his performance... but even the script is perfect. Just wonderful.
What is interesting about the actual fight club is that it manages to show two contradictory things... at the same time. Firstly, the fights are horrible, savage and brutal. Secondly, those fights are wonderful; almost aspirational. The way that it's filmed and the reactions from the characters show how free they are. How happy. It makes me want to get into a fight - and I'm a fat cowardly pacifist.

What this film begins to show is how an idea can go too far. How the freedom of being in a fight and letting off steam (if somewhat violently) turns into a breeding ground for nihilistic terrorists. It shows how easily people are led by charismatics with a different view. It show how dangerous people can be and how dangerous organised societies can be. The cinematic portrayal of Project Mayhem is as much of an attack on corporations and capitalism as it is an attack on fundamentalist religion. For Project Mayhem could easily be considered a fundamentalist religion. This is a film that is far more intelligent than its title implies... This is a film which makes you think. If you go in expecting a film about a club where people get into fights you'll be sorely disappointed, as the actual club only features for the briefest moments.
This is a film about introspection, about our own personal demons and our own little misanthropic tendencies. It is a film about embracing who we are before we suppress it too far and snap. This is a film about violence. Just not always the punchy punchy kablammo kind.

So we come to the reveal... the twist... Ed Norton's narrator IS Tyler Durden. Of course he is. Tyler Durden is what any suppressed white collar depressed individual would want to be. A gorgeous bastard who could beat you up and doesn't care what anybody thinks. Of course he is an aspiration.

And yet he is still there and he is still very dangerous.

I think the reveal is great, and whilst it was beginning to twig as the events unfurled, I had never figured out the twist before the reveal (unlike, say... The 6th Sense) - and yes there are moments which become farcical (see the scenes in which Ed Norton fights himself) but the danger is still there - how do you kill off your other personality?

The film ends with the last of Tyler's plans coming to fruition. As the Pixies sound up, the skyscrapers fall and there is a joyous uplifting vibe to the whole thing. I haven't felt this happy watching terrorism since V for Vendetta.

It is a celebration of the little bastard in all of us that just wants to break things. And it is a warning that maybe we shouldn't always listen to it.

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