Fight Club was released in late 1999. American director David Fincher had already had a massive hit in 1995 with Se7en, a minor one with The Game in 1997 and an experience that he’d rather forget with Alien 3 in 1992. But with his adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel he would really make his name, despite critics being divided and the box office being less than enthusiastic.
It wasn’t really until the following year when the DVD was released that Fight Club began to build its following. It’s worth remembering that in 2000, DVD was still in its infancy and it wasn’t until the release of Sony’s PlayStation 2 (the first game console to use DVD technology) that sales started to go up.
Fight Club, therefore, had three things going for it: a cool aesthetic that looked tremendous on a digital format, a controversy slipstream that forced those of us who missed its brief theatrical run to try it out at home, and an excellent DVD package that warranted the new media’s still hefty price tag. And so, Fight Club became one of (if not the) first cult hit of the DVD age (and, indeed, the new millennium).
In the ten years since its DVD release, Fight Club has grown in stature. It has crept its way up ‘greatest film’ lists and in Tyler Durden has created its own icon (not that Tyler is much of a role model). First and foremost, this is because it is a great film, but perhaps most importantly, it is because the themes the film addresses (wage slaves, idealism, consumerism, terrorism, consumer terrorism) are still hot topics today.
In the face of the current recession, many of us have witnessed firsthand the fallout of the capitalist greed that Tyler was so determined to put a stop to. Conversely, Tyler’s Project: Mayhem is essentially a scheme to bring about a forced recession, which we now know isn’t quite as romantic a notion as we might have thought.
In fact, Tyler’s plan is flawed not only in its outcome but in its very conception. Project: Mayhem’s forced recession might work in bringing down the banks and corporations that we despise so much. But in doing so it will adversely affect the lives of the very employees that he is trying to liberate. Sure enough, some of these worker bees may be emancipated enough to go out and do whatever it is they really want to do, but others will not and will be stuck unemployed and penniless and not be able to live as they would like. So Tyler’s plan is revealed to actually be a bit narrow-sighted and ultimately selfish. Just like the grand plans of your average corporation.
It’s an example the corruption of power. Of course, there are many other interpretations that can be gleaned from Fight Club, and this is the very reason that it remains so vital eleven years later. And as long as capitalism and consumerism reign, it will remain so. Even if our society changes track and goes off in a different direction, future generations can look back on this film as a time capsule to the Starbucks era.
So far, this makes it all sound very serious and like a political/social polemic. But this is not the case at all. It is very important to remember that, when all is said and done, Fight Club is very, very funny. The performances from Brad Pitt (he will always be Tyler Durden), Edward Norton (never better) and Helena Bonham Carter (a revelation – remember, she’d only really done period dramas up to this point) are all subtly hilarious.
Whether it’s Tyler’s endless sloganeering, Marla’s borderline psychosis (everyone’s a bit mental here), or the Narrator’s dismay at Tyler and Marla’s relationship. There is always something here to make you laugh. Even a couple of the famously violent scenes are played for laughs (Fight Club members picking fights with strangers, the Narrator beating himself up in front of his boss).
One of the reasons for the divisive nature of the film is its violence. Many critics argued that it was so for the sheer sake of it, for shock value. The other side of the argument is that the characters need something to shock them out of the rut that is their lives.
Violence gives them the shock they need. So yes, the excessive violence is for shock value, but for the characters, not for the audience. Another argument on top of that is that we, like the characters, need shocking out of our ruts, and the film is a call to arms. This is what is known as satire, and the filmmakers knew only too well that for satire to work, it needs to hit close to home, and for this reason they didn’t pull any punches (pun intended).
Having said that, if one was to synopsize the plot, it could read a little like this (spoiler alert): a man, discontent with his wage slave life, creates a cool imaginary friend who recruits similarly disaffected young men and wages war on consumerism. It doesn’t sound too realistic does it? It’s all in the execution.
A subsequent comparison that is somewhat inevitable would be 9/11, a terrorist attack by a charismatic leader on America’s financial district. Had Fight Club been made a mere two years later I doubt any of us would have seen it. Perhaps even today, nine years after the fact, Hollywood would be a bit jittery. Make of this parallel what you will, but obviously, Tyler Durden’s ethos was closer to some than Palahniuk, Fincher et al could have imagined.
Not that a commentary on an existing ideology and a call to arms are necessarily the same thing (despite what your average Daily Mail reader might think).
The surface of Fight Club has barely been scratched here. Opinions and interpretations continue to differ on what it all means. Why not give it another spin? It’s out on Blu Ray now as well, and what would Tyler make of that?
But then, we’ve already broken his first two rules anyway…