With its provocative and extreme depiction of bare knuckle boxing, Fight Club has been branded the new Clockwork Orange, the new American Psycho, the new Crash. discusses masculinity in crisis at the end of the Millennium.
Words: Jan Jovonovich/IFA and Miles Fielder
Gift of the
FIRST RULE OF FIGHT CLUB: you do n about fight club. Second rule of fight clu do not talk about fight club. Nevertheless, pe are talking about Fight Club the movie. Likening it to A Clockwork Orange, American Psycho and Crash. the critics are whipping up a media frenzy for their latest big screen controversy.
Predictably, the film’s critics are focusing on one of the more superficial aspects of Fight Club, the violent bare knuckle boxing matches. and with charismatic Brad Pitt giving and receiving the punches. the film is being accused of glorifying violence. But director David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel is about much more than black eyes and shattered teeth: it’s a critique of yuppie consumerism and, more broadly. an examination of masculinity in crisis at the end of the millennium.
‘The film‘s not saying that material objects are evil in themselves.‘ suggests Pitt. 'It’s our chase of them. If you look at the commercials throughout the 80s and 90s. the whole intent to sell you a lifestyle. The point is that we anaesthetise ourselves with these things more and more and we become spectators. It’s like working from the outside in to achieve some kind of spiritual happiness.’
In the film. Ed Norton’s burned out yuppie narrator sets up an informal fight club with his charismatic and mischievous friend.
Tyler Durden (Pitt).
In the basement of
a bar. men come to fight in ferocious bouts with very few rules and. before long, an ‘underground‘ network of similar clubs flourishes, which, in turn, evolves into a terrorist organisation targeting corporate America. And the appeal of getting your jaw broken or your nose crushed? It provides an antidote to the late 20th century malaise among young men.
‘It’s about not being a spectator and getting into the ring.‘ confirms Pitt. ‘Taking the punch more than dealing the punch. a wake up call in that sense. Dealing with the things you’ve been hiding from. If you took the punch. how would you come out at the other end? That’s the question asked.‘
A test of manhood, then? ‘What’s a man?‘ questions Pitt. ‘What work defines a man today? What are we measuring up to? There‘s a line in the film: “We are a generation of men raised by women.“ My interpretation of that is we are so fucked up. We are looking at a brick wall and we have to sort ourselves out before we can just jump in, get a partner and a family. and live
12 THE HST 4—18 Nov 1999
happily ever after and all that bullshit. We‘ve hit a wall going in this direction. so what if we turn around the other way and see where it takes us. It may not be right, but I know continuing this way definitely isn’t.’
Fight Club is an assault on the senses. The sickening sound of meat being pounded reverberates through the film's fight sequences. but Fincher also pummels the audience with camera tricks. special effects and music. During the opening credits. the camera tracks backwards out of Ed Norton‘s gut, up his oesophagus, out of his mouth and along the barrel of a gun Pitt has stuck between his teeth, before dropping off the edge of the tallest building in the world. descending 140 floors. showing us the explosives Pitt has strapped to its foundations and ascending again. It‘s breathtaking stuff. Anarchic, but carefully designed to knock us for six.
In a lower key scene, Norton‘s condominium apartment turns into a CD ROM-style Ikea advert when his yuppie accessories are itinerised about him. The cumulative effect of these sensory assaults is thrilling. confusing. disturbing and funny.
This may be where the film's critics have been tripping up. It’s violent. it‘s immoral, it‘s a fascist film, they've been yelling. It‘s also a comedy. black. surreal and increasingly absurd as it traces a full circle to the climactic scene the film opens with. ‘When I read the book, I found myself laughing on every page,’ recalls Norton (strangely inseparable from Pitt during interviews). ‘Let’s not forget that the film is hyperbolised.‘ adds Pitt. ‘It’s a metaphor and not to be taken directly at face value. Ultimately. our intention was comedy, you know.’
Unfortunately, it swiftly became evident that critics did not ‘know‘ Fight Club was a comedy. At a press conference during the recent Venice Film Festival. where Fight Club premiered. the questioning ran along the lines: ‘15 society ready for a film like Fight Club? The film seems to suggest that self-destruction leads to self-improvement. In view of the
recent outbreak of violence in American high schools . . .’
In response to this kind of depressingly closed-minded attitude, Pitt argues: ‘Part of the Tyler doctrine, where he’s saying “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, buying shit. working jobs we hate, buying shit we don’t need”, these things are really wrong to me. I actually find that more destructive than some of the complaints we have been hearing about violence. I find this truly, insidiously damaging, this kind of focus on external beauty - things, clothes, cars.’
And still, people miss the point about Fight Club. You couldn‘t call it a subtle film — ambitious, complex, chaotic, yes - but the film bludgeons the audience with the message Pitt has just spelled out. Perhaps it‘s too difficult to make the leap from the film’s hyper-realistic fight scenes to the absurdity of making nitroglycerine explosives from liposuction fat waste via bars of soap.
Or perhaps it’s too tempting not to go for the sensational headline: ‘The new Clockwork Orange! Ban it! Burn it!‘ Apart from the dubious honour of being branded with controversy, Fight Club shares two other qualities with Kubrick and Cronenberg’s films and Bret Easton Ellis’s novel: black humour and cutting edge cultural comment. Hollywood doesn’t produce these qualities in abundance.
I propose a third rule of ﬁght club: You don’t misinterpret Fight Club.
Fight Club opens Fri 12 Nov. See review, page 26.