Despite its current cult status, Fight Club slipped under the radar when it first came out. So what exactly is it about this counterculture, anti-consumerist, generation defining movie that has made everyone finally sit up and take notice?
The first thing about Fight Club is it is not a movie about fighting. The second thing about Fight Club is it is not a movie about fighting. But how – and why – did this box office bomb become a cult DVD classic?
Simply put, bad advertising. Billed as a movie about underground bare-knuckle boxing that glorified violence, with its trailer playing constantly between advert breaks in the UFC, it attracted the wrong audience. The bloodthirsty mob who went to see it were disappointed by the movie’s overall content, while those who would appreciate and understand the message of the movie were scared away by a trailer which focused on the scene where Edward Norton breaks Jared Leto’s nose several times, a scene which lasts 30 seconds in a movie that clocks in at 138 minutes in total.
That said, there can be no denial; Fight Club features moments of violence, and scenes that some viewers will find distressing, but the same can be said for fellow cult classic Pulp Fiction, as well as Norton’s own American History X and Pitt and Fincher’s Se7en. Yet these movies and many others like them are praised for their content, violent though it may be, while Fight Club was roundly panned for its own upon release.
Why then, has Fight Club grown into such a phenomenon, currently the 14th highest rated movie of all-time by critics and the public alike on IMDb, scoring higher than the likes of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Matrix? Perhaps because in the wake of the current global financial crisis and media corruption, Fight Club’s counterculture, anti-consumerist take-control-of-your-own-life themes mean more now than they ever have.
The problem with Fight Club’s message is it is grossly misunderstood. The purpose the actual fight clubs serve is not to allow men to get together and beat each other up, but rather to be beaten up. Indeed, one of the homework assignments needed to pass to the next level of the fight clubs – Project Mayhem – is to start a fight with a stranger and lose. The idea of taking the hit and facing up to your own mortality rather than hide behind your job, your car, the money you have in the bank, your khakis. An important message considering the state of world finances at the moment has caused us all to ‘take the hit’ for the banks needing bailed out.
As for the performances themselves, Edward Norton continues to prove himself the most underrated actor of his generation, while Brad Pitt justifies his own colossal reputation, combing his tough guy persona of Se7en with the anti-pretty boy, slightly psychotic mentality of Twelve Monkeys. Meanwhile, supporting actress Helena Bonham Carter steals the all too few scenes she’s in with her American drawl and understatedly dark performance. Director David Fincher turns leaning on the fourth wall into an art form, constantly messing with his own audience, subverting the traditions of cinematic reality and reminding the viewers that they are watching a movie and that none of what happens on screen is real, but is an artwork, albeit an aggressive one, that represents far more than a mere story of underground boxing clubs.
Fight Club also represents an increasingly rare breed of movie; one that is true to the book upon which it is based, as good as the book upon which it is based, but creative enough to stand on its own. While movies like The Graduate engulf their books, and movies like Less Than Zero miss the point and fall tragically short, Fight Club is true enough to satisfy fans of Chuck Palahniuk’s debut novel, but manages to separate itself enough so the two can co-exist happily.
With a mixture of the dark mysticism of Donnie Darko and the why-we-fight exploration into the human psyche of Raging Bull, Fight Club has become possibly the most important movie for this “generation of men raised by women”. With a newly found relevance to buttoned down males everywhere, Fight Club is an excellent movie… Sir.