Fight Club is an absolute insane movie to try to explain and it’s impact on popular culture at this point is complete. Based off the 1996 book by writer Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club follows a singular narrator played by Edward Norton through corporate life and the drone of existence in modern America. Unable to sleep, our narrator finds peace by frequenting church hosted self help groups for terminally ill and disabled individuals.
All is well until someone else shows up to all of his groups, their presence an affirmation of his own deception. He begins to resent this person, a woman named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) and finally gets up enough courage to go up to her and tell her she needs to get out. They both end up agreeing on a schedule so they don’t have to run into each other and so the narrator can get some sleep. The narrator constantly travels for work, a white collar corporate employee for a major automobile manufacturer. We’re immersed into a world of travel airport to airport, hotel to hotel, monotonous existence played out one after the other.
“You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. You wake up at Air Harbor International. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?”
It’s all done with the steady and consistent voice over from Norton, playing the average every man to perfection. The film largely settles around the dissatisfaction and angst of generational x ennui surrounding the constant commercialization and commodification of capitalism. The idea of living in a world where buying furniture could solve your spiritual deficit.
The narrator speaks at great lengths of his wish for a crash landing on takeoff that speak to his larger dissatisfaction of his IKEA nesting habit and his overall life in general. Upon returning from a trip out of town the narrator learns that his apartment has caught on fire and everything of his is gone. Everything he has to his name is now gone, all of his furniture, clothes, dishes, fridge full of condiments, and various home appliances. He ends up calling Tyler (Brad Pitt), the soap salesman who’s business card he was given from their interaction on the flight. He meets him for a drink because he needs a place to stay. He needs someone to commiserate with regarding losing all of his stuff. Tyler offers some truly sage advice:
“Fuck off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns, I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let… lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may.” And also offers to the narrator “The things you own end up owning you.” The Narrator asks to stay with Tyler with nowhere to go, he obliges, as long as he can hit Tyler as hard as he can. This turns into a friendly fist fight between the two men until they’re both bleeding in multiple parts of their face and are winded. They both remark how euphoric that was and have to do it again sometime. Tyler’s house is dilapidated and located on paper street which has long been abandoned. It’s a minimalist shelter, old copies of Redbook and Reader’s Digest all strewn throughout the entire downstairs, creaking wooden planks and stairs.
Tyler and the narrator increase their fights, many times choosing to do it right in the parking lot outside bars. Soon more men are drawn to their brawls and join them. From here a full fledged Fight Club is started in the basement of their favorite bar and takes place on late Saturday nights after closing time. The group keeps building as a key outlet for men to identify with as a symbol-less, meaningful, affirmation of what their lives lack.
Fight Club begins the recruitment of an underground terrorist organization that seeks to overthrow the capitalist system through a fascist mantra and anarchist destructive ends that seek to decimate the credit system of The United States of America. All of that would make an incredible story if there wasn’t a monumental twist before the start of the last 1/3 of the film. That Tyler Durden is the true identity of The Narrator we’ve been following all along. That Tyler Durden the physical manifestation is every way what The Narrator seeks to be. He looks how he wants to look, behaves how he wants to behave, he is free in all the ways that The Narrator isn’t. This revelation comes as the group that started Fight Club has morphed into a group that calls themselves Project Mayhem and that he is responsible for and the leader of a major terrorist organization.
Fight Club is no less than one of the best films every made if only for it’s incredible narrative structure, detail, social commentary, and wallop of dramatic punch that few films can pack. It works on many levels from its basic story to the deep philosophical and psychological allegory on the machinations and manifestations of humanity. Edward Norton gives the closest thing to a perfect performance, his dry and sarcastic delivery are wonderful comic tools and his sheer terror in moments of near castration give the film genuine stakes. Fight Club is ultimately a pop masterpiece because it’s a capitalist product that promotes anti capitalist views and comments on the culture in which it was created. It’s an incredibly deep execution of immensely thought out narratives that connect so many characters that speak to a time and place in society.