Take Ed Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter, shake vigorously, and you have the main ingredients for what, in this writer's view, is one of the most original films to be produced in years – Fight Club.
Oh, sure it may be juvenile, cultish, sophomoric and so many other things I could say to put it down, but I love the film Fight Club the same way I admit, somewhat shamefully, that at one time in my life, I actually listened to and liked and perhaps even loved The Violent Femmes. (No, I don't have any of their records anymore, because this was back in the day before CDs for those who remember the lovely smell of vinyl and how the unique sound of the needle as it touched down and made that static, sweet crackling sound through the speakers.)
The premise of Fight Club begins deceptively simply enough: our main character, Ed Norton (whose character name remains vague for the first part of the film), seems reasonably normal enough, albeit with some strange habits such as the fact that he's a self-help/support group junkie, attending groups for everything from prostate cancer to alcoholism, even though none of these things is wrong with him. Otherwise, Norton has an ordinary job - a reasonably good one anyway - as some kind of insurance adjuster figuring out mortality and recall rates based on a mathematical equation he uses.
The first thing about Norton's character that we discover that seems more than a little off is this dependence on support groups, despite the fact that he has no real need of them in any normal sense of the word. He attends, among others, testicular cancer, parasites, tuberculosis, blood cancers, and the like when really, nothing at all is wrong with him. He is the healthy, beating centre of every group, and the groups provide a release that can only be found, at least for Norton, only there. Only here can he cry, feel, in short, emote. For a while, he is content – he has found his emotional release and even gets to cry on the man-breasts of a great cameo by, of all people, Meatloaf (perfect casting) who plays a testicular cancer survivor on estrogen therapy who has, because of the estrogen therapy, grown enormous man-breasts between which Norton finds himself often crying.
Things seem to be going swimmingly for Norton until... Two things happen to mess things up: the first arrives in the form of Helena Bonham Carter, 'Marla', who, like Norton, is herself a 'tourist' of support groups - a phony and a fake. She attends the groups for not only the thrills but also because 'it's cheaper than a movie and there's free coffee' – clearly Marla has some problems of her own.
Bonham-Carter is, as ever, a colourful character and what we'd expect
from off-PBS Bonham-Carter – a bohemian, off-beat, semi-Goth, cool chick as reflected in her vintage clothing store style (old taffeta bride's maid's dresses and combat boots and tussled short hair), Bonham-carter's naturally luminous white skin adds to the effect as does her dark lipstick all combined with her studied nonchalance and constant smoking. She is, in so many ways, the perfect match for Norton. Yet because she attends the groups, Norton's only forum for emotional release, he must reject her. Should someone he know or even like get involved, he would be unable to express emotion. So it is that Marla becomes the object of everything that he hates because two posers, we find out, cannot co-exist together comfortably.
And so it is that together, like reasonable people, the two works out a schedule of attendance for their specific support groups and life seems good – for a while, until one evening, Norton is on his way home after a meeting only to look up at his building and see his own condo flaming and his possessions blown clean out of the window by a home-made bomb.
Just when things look like they couldn't get any worse, our hero remembers a 'single serving friend' he once sat next to on a flight – a soap maker whose name is named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who runs a company called Paper Street Soap and whose card he has – and decides to give him a ring. The two meet for a beer and on this night, two deals are made.
First, Norton needs a place to live and so moves into Tyler's dilapidated house on Paper Street (truly dilapidated) and second, the two have a fist fight (the first for both because each sees a fist fight as a sort of rite of passage and so they decide to fight each other). The fight is so affirming, causes such a rush, gives each so much confidence that they decide men everywhere can and ought to do this and thus Fight Club is born: a basement of a bar where men can do to fight, bare fisted but fair. Fight Club becomes a nationwide phenomenon, a sort of underground network of men who wish to fight to feel more alive or some such philosophy.
Fight Club, however, will go too far. As for her part, Marla – Bonham Carter – is lovelier than ever and finds herself involved with Tyler Durden, the soap maker, much to Ed Norton's chagrin as he still loathes Marla. Marla and Tyler play out this odd domestic drama in the dilapidated mansion. They are never in the same room at the same time save for those long and loud nights that play on Norton's mind contriving to make him more hostile.
Fight Club is a great film and this review won't be a spoiler and give away the end. It is a time-lasting film in that it is hard to
place the time period. It could be now or a decade ago or a decade
into the future or even more. Yes, the story is rather dark and in many ways sick – the whole 'survivors group' addiction is but one example (it gets much worse than this), yet there is a strange humour in there and we find ourselves laughing despite ourselves. It's not that it's so funny, or funny at all, for a smoker to light up at a lung cancer survivor's group... but even I as an ex cancer patient couldn't help but laugh. If ever the word 'Outrageous' applied to a film, this is it.
Tyler's relationship with Marla is one for the books – it is at once tempestuous, testy, angry and extremely complicated as you'll find out. The acting here is absurd. We know that Bonham-Carter (who sadly, does not ever seem to get the recognition she has long merited in America and abroad) will give the role all she has. She plays Marla like the pro that she is; it is so convincingly that you start to believe that this is who Bonham-Carter is.
Norton has always been a terrific actor and there is no change here. It's off the beaten path for Norton but did him some good and no doubt he had some fun during the filming. He's proven he has the chops to act, so why not take on a role that is of a lower profile and, though Fight Club was a while back, Norton still had a profile already, as did Brad Pitt who plays soap-maker Tyler Durden.
Miss Fight Club and you'll be missing a cult classic. It is not like so many cult classics that leave us empty and stupid, but this one makes you think and, despite the amount of violence here, the fact that so much of it is tongue-in-cheek makes it more believable and bearable. The film almost made me want to go to an all-women's Fight Club just to feel the rush of fighting. I have to ask myself, is it coincidence that I took up kickboxing after seeing this film, or would I have done it anyway? I made a move from my peaceful yoga practice to some serious 'just let me die now' kickboxing shortly after I saw Fight Club. This isn't to condone the film or what is in it, only to say what I felt. More, you need to see the end of the film to really get it at all.
Miss that and you've missed everything. It ain't over til the fat
lady sings? In this case, It ain't over til it's over. One wonders
when, or if, that ever is.