I didn’t see “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” on Monday because I wimped out. It snowed all day, and the wind picked up once it got dark around 5, and the freeway was closed between here and Colorado. TV news convinced me I didn’t want to be driving to and from Albuquerque for the screening.
Major bummer. “Girl” looks great. Instead, I occupied my time spooning with the dog on my couch and watching a different movie by the same superstar director, David Fincher.
“Fight Club,” 1999, is Fincher’s fourth flick, after “Alien 3” (Two-and-a-half stars. The director famously clashed with the studio and was not completely satisfied with the final cut, which isn’t bad), “Seven” (Four stars. Easily one of the best modern serial killer movies), and “The Game” (Three stars. Michael Douglas and Sean Penn in a giant, real-life role-playing game).
“Fight Club,” though, has to be the coolest movie in Fincher’s awesome filmography. It’s a dark, funny rager – a much-needed primal scream for the first generation of men born and bred by society to blossom into joyless consumers.
Tyler Durden meets “Fight Club’s” main character (unnamed until the ending. I’ll call him Norton here, because this is my favorite Edward Norton performance) on an airplane, just after a scene where Norton daydreams the side of said airplane gets ripped clean off mid-flight. Norton’s so sick of himself, he says in voiceover, “I prayed for a crash, or a mid-air collision. Anything.”
Durden is a raucous id, played by Brad Pitt with the look and style of a rock star in his prime. The two men first fight at the request of Durden, who out-of-the-blue asks Norton to hit him, hard. Before that, though, Durden confesses what truly concerns him.
Wait a minute. Let’s go back.
Norton knows what he is. There are these great little scenes where his voiceover boringly describes yuppy purchases he makes regularly, “like a coffee table in the shape of a yin yang.” Or a treadmill. These items magically appear, prices hanging over them, in Norton’s trendy apartment as he describes them.
He orders “the Erika Pekkari dust ruffles” by phone from a magazine, while taking a dump.
He hates himself. So much so he can’t sleep. A doctor tells him he needs to lighten up, and that if he wants to see real suffering he should check out the support group for guys with testicular cancer. It’s called “perspective,” little baby.
Norton goes. Bingo. Wearing a fake name, he attends the group to watch men bare their souls about facing mortality. Norton has coasted in his dull life, toward a desk and a tie and a life surrounded by products: “When deep-space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything: The IBM Stellar Sphere, The Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks.” With the testicular cancer guys, and with the dying souls in other support groups he crashes, Norton can cry away his guilt.
Check out the American flag lit up in an otherwise dark background when he breaks down the first time, his face pressed between the “big, sweating tits” of Bob the former body builder (played by Meatloaf!). Norton weeps for us all.
A crass, suicidal smoker named Marla Singer (Ugats, Oscar, for ignoring Helena Bonham Carter in the role) starts showing up at groups one day. Norton knows she’s a faker too, and he can’t sleep when his nightly weird release is being spoiled by a “tourist.”
Then something even better than an addiction to support groups comes along. Norton’s apartment explodes. (Behold the cool little special effects scene explaining the explosion, ignited in flashback by Marla’s voice in the present.)
Norton winds up living in Durden’s dump on Paper Street, but not before they meet for beers and Durden explains what truly concerns him:
“We’re consumers. We are byproducts of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty – these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines. Television with 500 channels. Some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine. Viagra. Olestra.”
And Martha Stewart, polishing the brass on the Titanic, because it’s all going down.
What Durden wonders is something most of us do not: “What’s essential to our survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word?”
The great essayist and journalist Chuck Klosterman once wrote this of wolves: “I suspect it’s unbelievably stressful to be a wolf. The world would be an endlessly confusing place, because a wolf has limited cognitive potential and understands nothing beyond its instinct and its own experience. Yet the wolf is more engaged with the experience of being alive.”
We are essentially animals on this planet, but what we have become is the opposite of a wolf.
Norton and Durden start fighting each other. They do this because they need something to remind them what it means to be a living creature. They don’t want to be soft. Norton tells Durden one night “I can’t get married. I’m a 30-year-old boy.”
Durden is laying in the bathtub, smoking and drinking beer with a washcloth over his eyes. He responds: “We’re a generation raised by women, and I’m wondering if another woman is really what we need.”
Fight Club grows enormously. Its members transform from wads of cookie dough to carved wood within weeks.
Durden becomes an bold, magnetic leader: “I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God dammit, an entire generation pumping gas and waiting tables; slaves in white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so that we can buy sh*t we don’t need.”
“Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”
Tyler Durden shares with Heath Ledger’s “Dark Knight” Joker a few characteristics, including a fondness for dynamite. They are each men who can’t abide a social order, because it isn’t worth respecting. It’s boxed us in, changed us into something we aren’t. True rebellion frees us to be raging pranksters. Durden works part time as a projectionist so he can splice cock shots into children’s films. He gets waiting jobs at the swankiest hotels so he can pee in their soup. “Apart from seasoning the lobster bisque, he farted on the meringue, sneezed on braised endive, and as for the cream of mushroom soup, well… ”
“Go ahead, tell them.”
“Well, you get the idea.”
This is, sadly, no way for a person to be. Things fall apart. The bold, magnetic leader builds a small team of followers, who turn out to be idiots.
“Fight Club” is about a man who breaks away from what society is telling him to be. Tyler Durden decides to fill his days with intensity because life as a yuppy has sapped the electricity from his soul. This movie revels in a freedom to be creative that comes with giving in to our darkest urges to rage against The Man.
But it does not advocate for such action. The hero loses his way terribly. He puts the movie’s most vicious beating on poor Jared Leto, pounding his face into oozing chuck to put a bullet between the eye of every panda who won’t screw to save its species.
Full-blown terrorism is the ultimate result, and I think that’s because in this world we have to know our place.
In their first meeting on that airplane, Tyler tells Norton he’s clever. Then he asks “How’s that going for you, being clever?” Being clever gets us nothing.
But then again, we can’t be wolves.
This is a great little interview with Pitt and Norton. It’s cool to see how enthusiastic they were about this movie.