For this edition of Undead Cinema, I’m going to talk about the film Fight Club (1999). But, before I get started breaking the rule of Fight Club, if you are unfamiliar with Undead Cinema, please allow me to refer you to the introductory post: Undead Cinema. Now that you’ve read my post, you’ve been warned. I’m going to spoil the film for you.
The opening line of Fight Club confuses me. The opening line of the film, “People ask me all the time if I know Tyler Durden,” makes no sense in context with the big twist in the film. Why would somebody ask if I know me unless they were being metaphysical or sarcastic? Even the author, Chuck Palahniuk (Pahla-nik) says the line is supposed to be “People ask me all the time what I know about Tyler Durden.” The rest of the film actually has the protagonist asking people the question far more often than him being propositioned with that question.
Here is a rundown of the film for those of you who have not seen it in a while. The whole thing is a flashback bookended by the present in which the protagonist is dealing with Tyler Durden holding a gun to his head.
We are introduced to our protagonist, Edward Norton/”Jack,” (his name in the novel, but not the script or film) discussing how he has bought Swedish furniture and gotten a job that sends him all over the country and should have the standard of life we are expected to have when we grow up according to the media. But he is unhappy because his friends only exist in single servings: he meets people for brief periods of time and doesn’t maintain contact. He is bothered that his job is about keeping a monetary status quo of profit rather than protecting people. In every way that the advertising media sell us a lifestyle, Jack has achieved that lifestyle but finds it personally unsatisfying.
In between all of this is an uncomfortable bit of splicing (discussed later) of Tyler Durden worked into his memories. Tyler Durden begins making appearances even in points before his complete design. He is spliced in “Jack’s” life like the film clips Durden adds to ‘family films.’
Chuck Palahniuk came up with the concept for the novel for the film after getting into a fight and coming back to work with a totally black&blue face (DVD Commentary). The first scene written for the film was the two second long Urinal scene (37:35) with Edward Norton’s boss. When people discovered Chuck’s, and by continuance “Jack’s,” power animal was a penguin, the author received tons of penguins and memorabilia. Chuck is sick of penguins now. After the film, he got tons of that stuff.
I have known about burn marks for years. For me, burn marks are always an indication that the scene is going to jump with some disconnect. This is the only film I have seen that discusses them and in every other film, the burn mark indicates a complete disconnect of scenes, usually jumping from scenario A far to Scenario B. Only in Fight Club does the burn mark actually lead to a scene that is still ongoing. The actors talk about burn marks and point them out to the audience, breaking the fourth wall, but continuing the train of thought that brought them up in the first place.
As a side note in the 2014 currency of film, in the post-jump from movies on film to theatres showing digital video, Burn marks are not used anymore as there is no longer any requirement to change reels since most films now come in Disc or Thumbdrive size storage states.
After Fight Club, Chuck began writing more novels just to see if these novels would get published. Choke is one of those films he wrote to see how far Hollywood would go to get a film “from the writer of Fight Club”.
For those of you that don’t know, Fight Club is one of those films with an actual reaction recorded on film. Few films have genuine additions to a film made up on the spot that are cinema gold. The now famous, “I’m walking here” from Midnight Cowboy (1969) is a response by Dustin Hoffman to getting almost run over by an actual NY taxi. And Fight Club has one of its own.
Here is a classic scene from the film, trimmed by the person who posted the video:
That was an actual shot of Edward hitting Brad with a sucker punch, as requested by the director David Fincher. Fincher told Edward to surprise Brad with a real punch to get a genuine reaction. Norton threw the hook to do minimal damage to Pitt so that filming could continue without Pitt missing shooting days due to bruising or black eyes. Pitt’s response is a mix of confusion that method actor Norton would put Hollywood scheduling over a genuine scene combined with a real pacifism by Pitt who is not as violent as the characters he plays in movies like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) and Se7en (1995). In later scenes, we witness Norton’s “Jack” whaling away at himself, pummeling himself bloody, in a weak implication of that first night of Fight Club, but we never get to see that first hit from “Jack’s” point-of-view.
A lot of the film is meant to be a challenge to the advertisement of “what we are meant to grow up as.” A great many people, including Wikipedia, have referred to Fight Club as an anti-“Graduate (1967)”. In the Graduate, the protagonist has the world at his feet, has the option of multiple job offers, and is generally a golden boy who turns it all down to run away, he picks the worst of many options. In Fight Club, the protagonist is at the point of aim, with nothing above him and nothing to aspire to because he has drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid of the media and has defined himself by his possessions. He picks the best of no possible options. He is foreclosed in his identity at the beginning of the film in letting society define his role.
The Protagonist experiences an identity crisis during which he invents an alter ego and lets it run his nocturnal life. Based on beneficial achievements, such as a sex life and being the leader of his group of friends and an increased release of social mores, he begins to prefer the alter ego. Although there is pain involved and a loss of teeth, the protagonist finds satisfaction in releasing stress. His willingness to let the alter ego run more of his life begins to take over his physical and mental time. The downside is that in order to continue feeling the rush of endorphins, he needs to turn up the danger from simply injuring himself and risking his careers(Insurance, projectionist, waiter), to risking jail time and assault charges for others, to felony vandalism and terrorism, to personal castration and destruction of his economic safety.
In the end, he decides the time to end the charade is after the big project is done. In order to work out his issues, he injures himself to make his physical pain
Edward Norton really likes Jekyll/Hyde and “Man behind the mask” stories having done Primal Fear (1996), Fight Club (1999), Death to Smoochy(2002), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Hulk(2008), and Leaves of Grass (2009) among others.
But, the final question of this blog: Is Fight Club still relevant?
Well, I can’t say. That would break the first rule