Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Bruised and confused

I belatedly review Fight Club

Right off the bat, I’m breaking the first two rules of Fight Club. (“Rule no. 1: Do not talk about Fight Club. Rule no. 2: Do NOT... talk about Fight Club.”) And I’m breaking one of the top five rules of blogging. (“Always blog about fresh topics”). How many reviewers do you think used the “talking about fight club” joke?

My initial determination not to see Fight Club when it was new or even newly released on DVD, I now know, was largely the fault of the movie’s marketing people, who produced one of the worst theatrical promo trailers I’ve ever seen. I recall the trailer consisting almost entirely of sweaty, tightly muscled men engaging in bare-knuckled, bloody fisticuffs. In short, they fooled me into thinking this was an action movie, when, in fact, it is really a “cult film” which had very little fistifcuffs beyond what you saw in the trailer.

I recently decided to watch Fight Club on the independent recommendations of two WTDs (“Women of Taste and Discernment”), who could not possibly have been urging me to watch a macho wankathon.

Fight Club stars Brad Pitt and Ed Norton, and you have to say this about Pitt: it’s kind of charming that a man with such a pretty face is so willing to parade it around looking so bruised and swollen – he’s as beaten up here as he was in Snatch, where he played a small time Irish prizefighter. More on facial bruises tomorrow.

The movie reels you in fast. Norton, with his signature comedic deadpan, narrates his life as an insomniac loser who copes by getting addicted to support groups for people whose lives are wrecked by everything from testicular cancer to worms. For the first fifteen minutes, his reflections on society sound like a really excellent blog. When he meets Pitt, and the two bond through a kind of platonic S & M joy in punching each other, the "Fight Club" that emerges from their own regular fistfights becomes a bizarro support group for dysfunctional but well-muscled men throughout the city and eventually morphs into a paramilitary, terrorist cult led by Pitt.

I don’t find this story-line to be per se objectionable, and I can accept the fact that the movie’s many funny insights and satirical jabs just float there like lumps in a big stew. Thematic and narrative coherence are not requirements of the cult film genre.

What leaves me cold is cinematic bait-and-switch. The movie starts out as a twisted and sophisticated buddy movie, promising an unstinting look at a difficult subject – that a non-sexual male friendship can be subject to eros, in the form of the kind of jealousies and merging of individuality that can undermine any love between two people. But, as if the movie makers got in over their heads and had no idea where to go with that, they change the story by means of a cheesy pyscho-surrealistic artifice into something completely different. I won’t say what this artifice is, because such warning could spoil your lack of enjoyment of this film. Suffice it to say that the plot twist feels like an awkward retrofit.

Helena Bonham Carter, who somehow manages to be hot even while playing her Fight Club role of self-destructive nightmare, is a fine actress wasted. Her role fits the “buddy” story, but not the psycho-surreal thing, and she sort of drifts into irrelevance. The best thing about her appearance in the film is that it allows a movie that is grossly irresponsible about the health affects of weekly head-bashings to be responsible about sex. While more “grown up” Hollywood films routinely dispense with the inconvenience of condoms in portraying sexual intercourse, Fight Club makes sure to let us know that the raucus sex between Pitt and Carter in Pitt’s hideously squalid crash pad is safe sex: cut to half a dozen used condoms in the toilet.

The movie has some charm, mostly in the workings of Norton’s mind, which provide some memorable lines. Norton, discovers in Pitt’s trash house some old magazines running that series of stories that teaches anatomy through personification – “I Am Joe’s Spleen,” etc. – becomes obsessed with the idea. Later, when his boss calls him onto the carpet for increasingly unacceptable Fight-Club induced work performance, Norton says blandly: “I am Joe’s Totally Not Surprised.”

Footnote Club
Fight Club was made in 1999, and its scene of high-rise buildings being reduced to rubble by terrorists would be unthinkable in a Hollywood movie now, particular as – in Fight Club – the stuff of dark humor. Another way our world is different after 9/11. For some reason, I find it far more disturbing to watch the opening credits of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant sit/com/drom Sports Night, which gives us the NYC skyline centered on the two towers.

Do Not Talk about Fight Club !
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