Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fight Club - David Fincher (1999)

  1. Fight Club is a wonderfully strange film by David Fincher, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. 
  2. It’s easy, in a post-Fight Club world, to imagine that the film was a simply a serviceable adaptation of a classic novel by a great American author. This is down to some A+ direction on the part of Fincher, and spot-on performances from Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter. In reality the novel is a flimsy mixture of school-shooter philosophy, wouldn’t-it-be-weird anecdote, plus one great ingredient that fell in by accident. Fincher made it what it is, making Palahniuk what he is in the process. 
  3. Palahniuk has described the story of the messianic figure of Tyler Durden, and his effect on the life of the nameless narrator, as ‘apostolic’ fiction. It probably also reminds you of Oscar Wilde’s rule that ‘all first novels are the author as Christ or Faust’, since Durden is both. You needn’t tell anyone that Fight Club was actually Palahniuk’s second novel, as his first Insomnia: If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Already, never found a publisher. 
  4. Like many first novels the book is freighted with ideas that Palahniuk obviously felt were important at the time. Some of the ‘ideas’ are just lines that sound cool, and many of them contradict one another, eg: What’s the point of the ‘human sacrifice’ if it just encourages its victims to participate more totally in a system that is worth nothing? What about Tyler Durden’s vision of an agricultural society founded in the ruins of late capitalism where you will ‘wear leather clothes that will last you your whole life’? And the whole narrator-is-really-beating-himself-up thing? I mean, come on. (Oh yeah, spoiler. Soz.)
  5. The scattergun tendency of the film’s philosophy can be excused in two ways: nihilism, (ie if your goal is chaos confusion is good) and insanity (the story as the product of one man’s confused imagination).
  6. This is one of the wonderful things about cinema: that it can take an insane novel from an outsider figure like Palahniuk and expose it to millions of unsuspecting punters. In this sense the whole film is a subversive act. When Norton’s character goes looking for Durden at the end of the film, he passes two conspicuously labelled files in the Paper Street map room. One is labelled ‘Mischief’, the other ‘Misinformation’. Feel free to imagine the screenplay nestling in either.
  7. In a recent introduction to the book Palahniuk admits that the rules of fight club were a filler introduced to help bind the novel together in those places where he didn’t want to develop characters or describe action. As you may have noticed words = time in fiction. The paradox is that if you want to indicate the passage of time you need to keep stacking up the words, without it ever looking like you’re merely passing the time. The rules were what Palahniuk came up with when he ran out of Nietzsche, Buddhist philosophy, and neat one-liners like ‘I want to have your abortion’. 
  8. Some of the best lines in the film aren’t in the book. Notably ‘I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school’*. In a really delicious piece of Hollywood chicanery Fincher offered it as a substitute for ‘I want to have your abortion’, which was unacceptable to the film's producers. Needless to say, they weren’t delighted with the new line, but Fincher had forced them to agree that, if he re-shot, the replacement would on no account be cut. What. A. Dude. 
  9. You may notice that, during one of the corporate scenes, they’re talking about ‘cybernetting the office’. This is one of the few reminders that the film was made in 1999 when Google still looked like this. The other major reminder is the final scene, with the exploding skyscrapers, which would be virtually impossible to shoot post 9/11. In fact, the film is extremely prescient about the possibility of a violent reaction against western consumerist culture, although in the event it was to come from radical Islam rather than from within western culture itself. Equally, the viral nature of the fight club movement has only become more believable with the passing of time.
  10. Palahniuk claims the inspiration for the book came from going into work with a black eye and finding that no one would asked him about it. You’ve probably also wondered whether it had anything to do with the 1991 Atari game Pit Fighter

* (trans. primary school)

1 comment:

  1. 11. Fight Club (the novel) was actually Chuck Palahniuk's SELP project in the Landmark Forum's Curriculum for Living. His intention was for the story to serve as a synthesis of the Curriculum's teachings, which themselves are a synthesis of various philosophical suggestions, including Buddhism. Interestingly, other projects that came from this include The Matrix (also an analogy for the Forum) and Pret a Manger. Mine was my water app, so I'm a comparative underachiever, but I would like to write my own Forum novel.