Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009

Fight Club

Project Mayhem Turns 10

By David Luhrssen
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Seldom has contemporary society been satirized so brutally, or so well, as in Fight Club (1999). Working from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, director David Fincher’s midnight black comedy poked savage fun at corporate consumer society along with its discontents. Nothing within Fincher’s viewfinder escaped the screenplay’s withering scorn.

Of course, the existence of a 10th anniversary Blu-ray disc of Fight Club runs against the story’s anti-materialist ethos. After all, the Brad Pitt rebel character took great glee in blowing up a computer electronics store. Sagely, he said, “The things you own end up owing you.” But the reissue gave me reason to re-watch Fight Club for the first time since it was in theaters. I liked it then, despite the in-your-face-grossness of several scenes. I think I like it even better 10 years later.

Aside from a complete absence of cell phones, the setting and scenario of Fight Club still appears entirely contemporary; if anything, the satire seems sharper today in light of the booms, busts and disasters of the past decade. Edward Norton plays the protagonist as a corporate hollow man, traveling a bleak wasteland of identical airports and hotels in pursuit of his company’s dubious ends. On a flight to nowhere he encounters Brad Pitt, a confident hipster with an intriguing line of one-line maxims. Drawn into his world, Norton helps Pitt organize a movement of ‘fight clubs,” where men gather to pound the hell out of each other and feel good about it. Out of this comes Project Mayhem, an underground army recruited from the toughest, most obediently mindless fighters. The Project begins by blowing up bad, meaningless metal sculptures outside corporate offices and ransacking franchise coffee shops. Next step? Bring down the corporate towers of credit card companies and corrupt banks in a fiery Armageddon.

Before meeting Pitt, Norton had been in meaningless pursuit of possessions, buying the furniture that “defines me as a person.” He was so empty that he began haunting self-help groups, which receive a devastating whacking in the screenplay for castrating men with the dull edge of “sensitivity” and for proffering New Age nostrums. Pitt offers a flip side in a philosophy grounded in anger at the rootless dishonesty of contemporary society. He rails against “a generation of slaves in white collars working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” Fight Club was aimed squarely at Generation X, with “no Great War, no Great Depression” to spur them to action. Pitt would give his men something to strive for after reconnecting them with their primal masculinity in hand-to-hand combat. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” he demands.

Alas, women have little role to play in his scheme, although the film finds room for Helena Bonham Carter as a slatternly, suicidal, thrift store shopping, grifting chain smoker who falls in with Norton-Pitt.

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