Featured: Top of Home Page

Fight Club (1999)

Jonathan Beller and Rhonda Baughman

Does capitalism have you by the balls? If you're feeling a little limp lately, a little flaccid, emasculated, or impotent, then David Fincher's Fight Club may just have your number. This film kicks butt, and in doing so it also manages to suggest that your need for it and for other butt-kicking films is a late capitalist symptom of contemporary psychosis.

Fight Club

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Zach Grenier, Jared Leto, Meat Loaf
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: 20th Century Fox
US Release Date: 1999-10-15

Does capitalism have you by the balls? If you're feeling a little limp lately, a little flaccid, emasculated, or impotent, then David Fincher's Fight Club may just have your number. This film kicks butt, and in doing so it also manages to suggest that your need for it and for other butt-kicking films is a late capitalist symptom of contemporary psychosis.

In the universe of Fight Club, there are two options. Either you become an Ikea-Boy seeking your erotic gratification in the Horchow collection, or you seek out alternative male community. In this respect the film reminded me of Nicolas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause � its creation of intense relationships and of a hero critical of the social order depends upon its delimitation of homoeroticism via the narrative-prohibition of homosexuality.

The narrator, a corporate secretion stunningly played by Edward Norton, first compulsively attends meetings of AIDS patients and victims of testicular cancer. At one point he cries in the huge feminine bosom of Bob, a former body-builder and abuser of steroids (consummately rendered by Meat Loaf), who has recently lost his testicles. But in part because of the disruptive presence of a phallic woman (Helena Bonham Carter), the cathartic embraces quickly become beatings. There can be no Fight Club if male-male desire leads to gay sex. At the same time, the film suggests that only by blowing his brains out, or at least half of them, can a man have a satisfying heterosexual relationship. And given nuclear-family, two-career monogamy, maybe that's not too far from the truth.

Fight Club begins with a hyperreal journey through what first appears to be cosmic outer space becoming neuronal tissue becoming testicular vasdeferines. In positing the deep unity of these three elements, which are, in principle at least, differentiable, Fight Club organizes the transformation of the narrator from a white-collar wage slave into the leader of an anti-capitalist terrorist organization. His transformation, which involves rediscovering primal masculinity, is wrought through his identification with alter-ego Tyler Durgan, expertly played as the long lost rebel by Brad Pitt. In Fight Club, Pitt is literally the phallus, the film's image of male power. It becomes exceedingly clear that the narrator desires this stylized phallic image to combat the emasculation dealt out in daily life. Through a truly brilliant organization of image-clusters and narrative, the film thematizes the problematic of masculinity by seeing Pitt as the utopian dick he is.

Tyler has several activities and to each he brings a unique dickishness: As a waiter he urinates in the soup of fancy hotels, as a cinema projectionist he cuts a couple porn-frames of penis into children's films, as a vandal he furiously drills 1 inch holes into rows of new computers. What unites all of his phallic activities (including his formation of a terrorist army to blow up credit-card companies), and what gives him his extraordinary charisma, is a profound hatred of the castrating reality of bourgeois life.

Although the film is cynical, misogynist, homophobic and violent, with respect to American fantasy it has the virtue of clarity. It activates a structure of feeling while making it legible. Tyler's splicing of subliminal cock-shots into family entertainment (hilariously answered by reaction shots of various perturbed, aroused and balling viewers, some of them children, who see them but don't know they saw them) is the key to understanding his significance. He is the subversive masculine, internal to yet undermining the image of commodity culture. The film cuts to the core of straight white masculinity, powerfully activating in the space of the theater its homophobic and indeed racist dimensions and its simultaneous utopian aspirations for liberation.

The vector of desire sustained between the narrator and Tyler and thus between spectator and Tyler has its conditions of possibility in the exclusion of homosexuality and of an incipient racism (as made manifest by a scene where an Asian grocer is nearly the victim of "human sacrifice"), even as it is driven by its hatred of postmodernity's economic automation and its callous indifference to individual potentiality. A communist revolution organized to overthrow capitalist domination, tomorrow's revolution, not yesterday's, appears as a legitimate if vexed erotic and political option.

Tyler's army is not composed of mere spectators of phallic power, but of participants in it. You viewers aching to cease channeling your desire through designer dishes and minivans, in order to reach down to the real man lying dormant in your scrotum, are sick, and your sickness, according to this film is nothing less than the castrating anomie of corporate power and its consumerist disciplinary regime. The film appeals to you to consider and indeed to grasp the revolutionary potential of your manhood. Why?


by Rhonda Baughman

Ahhh, the mysteries of the male psyche. I'm not just talking about Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, the stars of David Fincher's new movie, Fight Club, but Chuck Palahniuk as well, the author of the novel of the same name. A brutal and graphic movie to complement the brutal and graphic novel, it still makes me wonder just what might be floating in Mr. Palahniuk's and Mr. Fincher's tap water.

Fight Club is a jolting endeavor, to say the least, and it packs quite a few punches, literally, as well as a few surprises. The most surprising aspect, really, being the fact that this is a wonderful adaptation of the book � rare is the director who can manage that task. Fincher does, though, and keeps us riveted until the end with tricky visuals, plot twists, and narration. The latter itself is preserved from the book so well, that not much is lost in the translation to the big screen. Truthfully, however, the attractive cast doesn't detract from the film either.

Worker-bee, furniture freak, corporate climber, (Edward Norton), known only as "Jack," who possesses body parts and bile, meets nihilistic, group therapy addict, alluring degenerate, Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), then just happens to run into anarchist, virile, soap-maker Tyler (Brad Pitt) on an airplane. Seductive is the atmosphere that surrounds these major players, and violent is the circumstances that brings them together. It is with a look, a drag of a smoke, and a flowery statement such as "You know, Jack...you're the worst thing that ever happened to me," that Carter's portrayal of the lonely waif with "issues" comes out on top, helping to ease the overkill of manly machismo. Without her, the movie would lose much of its focus towards inevitable destruction.

In two interesting roles are "space-monkey" Jared Leto, who in a particularly brutal scene with Norton is mangled beyond recognition, while onlookers can only stare after Norton who merely states, "I just wanted to destroy something beautiful." Secondly, there is veteran musician and actor Meatloaf, who is outstanding as a group therapy member with a certain "condition," who is just trying to fit in with society. Much of Meatloaf's career has been about just doing his own thing, and it pays off for him here as well.

Impossible to predict and a probable choice to be directed towards the "cult classic" section in ten years, Fight Club has not done as well at the box office it seems as studio execs would have liked. Even in Canton, Ohio, Fight Club barely lasted two weeks before being ousted by several other films. Fight has also stirred up a bit of controversy in Brazil, as well, but then again, most violent movies stir up a controversy somewhere on the planet, don't they?

Edgy humor, blurry and surreal sequencing, killer narration to string it all together, Nazi-esque soap techniques, and a master plan to ruin all master plans before it, Fight Club risks quite a lot, but in the end comes out a winner with its keen peak at middle-class discontentment, the extremist views of stress, and the draining point of nothing ever being what it first appears to be. Cliche? Maybe. Intriguing, nonetheless? Definitely.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.