‘The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club’.
And despite its relative secrecy, most people will know: ‘the second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club’.
While the line is certainly iconic, tonight that rule must be broken because it’s been 19 years since it hit cinema screens and we just have to talk about it.
If somehow you’re unfamiliar with director David Fincher’s legendary movie – although I’m not sure how you could be – it follows a dejected, unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton) as he forms a fight club and unleashes anarchy with soap maker Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt).
Based on the 1996 novel written by Chuck Palahniuk, on the surface Fight Club is a movie about men turning to violence as they seek a way out of their mundane lives, but as you delve deeper you will find out the film is much more philosophical and psychological than it at first appears.
In fact you don’t really need to look beneath the surface as Fincher’s film repeatedly tackles numerous themes including consumerism, identity, isolation, emasculation and of course violence to name a few.
You can watch a trailer for Fight Club here:
That’s one of the many beautiful things about Fight Club. While it is easy watching, the film is also very complex and thought-provoking, it’s no wonder people are still talking about it almost two decades later.
Very open to interpretation, film critics and essayists, even the movie’s crew, have written and written and written about what Fight Club is really about and what it all means.
And I can’t imagine that will stop any time soon – Fight Club has enduring appeal, especially as new audiences discover it and begin to tackle the film from their perspectives in a different era.
While Fincher, the director, describes Fight Club as a modern day coming-of-age film following Norton’s everyman as he attempts to find himself and happiness in a world filled with false optimism and hope, others have differing takes.
Jim Uhls, who wrote the screenplay, believes the dark movie is actually a ‘romantic comedy’ although he admits this is not ‘typical’ of the genre.
This is because while the Narrator is struggling to develop an intimate relationship, he actually finds this with Tyler who he becomes helplessly drawn to.
But like with all romantic comedies, the couple then fight with the Narrator soon realising he should have actually pursued another interest, Marla, who of course was also involved with Tyler. It’s a classic love triangle. But with more blood.
According to cinema studies lecturer Jans B. Wager, Fight Club is best described as being a film noir; a term used to describe very stylish Hollywood crime dramas predominately made in the 1940s and 50s including Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
While at first you may be questioning Wager’s view, her essay Dames in the Driver’s Seat outlines how Fight Club has similar characteristics to these classic films with Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla being a major element of this.
That’s because Marla is your typical film noir femme fatale; passionate and sexual, drawing the everyman and audiences into the criminal and dangerous underworld.
Cultural historian Robert von Dassanowsky instead saw Fight Club as being a direct response to fascism in Europe making references to Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Von Dassanowsky explains better than I can how the film does so in his essay Catch Hannibal at Mr. Ripley’s Fight Club If You Can: From Eurodecadent Cinema to American Nationalist Allegory.
Fight Club reframes Nazi historiography as it plays with homoeroticism and phallocracy, the body cult and even the low-art/high-art conﬂict of Visconti.
The suggested homosexual coupling is revealed as schizophrenia, thus making the very root of the ﬁght club not the original battle between the Narrator and his alter ego Tyler Durden, but once again pure Selbstzerﬂeischung wherein the Narrator is both perpetrator and victim of the fascist world he has created/accepted, and to which he rises as a romantic/irrational but deiﬁed icon.
His activist self as Durden creates an all-male, black-uniformed, self-sacriﬁcing, paramilitary society poised against a feminization of America. It clearly echoes the Nazi ‘revolution’ against a decadent Weimar republic, which offers an even more dehumanized world than the middle-class corporate values Fight Club attempts to escape.
Von Dassanowsky then explains how the characters using human fat from liposuction in the soap they produce is a reference to the Holocaust while the the Narrator and Marla’s hope for a fresh start at the end is ‘as potentially wish-fulfilling as any hyperthyroid promise Hitler may have made to a tired and bruised nation in 1933’.
From all of these interpretations it is clear Fight Club is an intelligent tale which has stood the test of time, recognised for its innovation as well as a being highly regarded by critics and consumers alike.
While now it is considered to be a modern masterpiece, Fight Club had a troubled production struggling to find a studio and director before commercially flopping when it was finally released in 1999.
However as the years passed people grew fond of Fight Club spreading by word of mouth – apposite when you think of the growth of the clubs across the country within the film – it wasn’t long until the cult classic became a slow burn blockbuster.
But Fight Club could have been a completely different film under a different director with another cast.
Neither Pitt, Bonham Carter or Norton were originally considered for their roles but they are also some of the key reasons behind Fight Club’s success.
Pouring their hearts and souls into their work, the cast brought their complicated characters to life pulling us into the wild ride of a film.
Brad Pitt came onboard as the hot-headed and aggressive Tyler Durden, because the studio believed casting a major star would help make the film more commercially successful.
Pitt was also on the look out for a hit film after his previous work, the 1998 romantic fantasy Meet Joe Black, bombed at the US box office and with critics.
Although Fight Club at the time wasn’t the triumph both Pitt and the studio wanted, it’s one of Pitt’s most recognised roles and arguably, his best performance.
Pitt threw himself into the role in a way he’d never done before and hasn’t done since.
Voluntarily visiting a dentist to have pieces of his front teeth chipped off, Pitt completely changed his physical appearance, dedicating himself to an intense workout regime which left him with one of Hollywood’s most admired physiques.
Working out six days a week and following an incredibly strict diet, Pitt was completely shredded for this film, giving his character the powerful and intimidating presence required.
He was careful not to become a big, bulky, meathead though; remaining slight like Norton’s Narrator was key because (*spoiler alert*) the two were dissociated personalities in the same body.
Tyler Durden also had to be engaging and charismatic enough to draw the audience in, as did The Narrator.
Everyone loves a bad-boy and Pitt made sure his character was dangerous enough to intrigue, with a cheeky, funny and freaky side, giving the film some strange subversive comic relief.
For the role of The Narrator, the studio wanted a ‘sexier’ name such as Matt Damon or Sean Penn, as they thought this would again, make the film more commercially viable.
However, Fincher wanted Norton after seeing him in the 1996 film The People Vs. Larry Flynt.
Both Norton and Pitt dedicated themselves to the role learning how to box, grapple and make soap professionally – this comes across on screen.
Playing against Pitt’s outrageous Tyler must have been a difficult job as Norton had to make sure his more timid Narrator stood out too.
Although Pitt does steal the show – it was always going to happen as Tyler is such a great character – Norton makes his everyday man quirky and twisted enough to make an impact.
His nuanced performance is mesmerising and by making his narrator strangely familiar, audiences are attracted to him as they see aspects of themselves in the character.
The main criticism Fight Club has received over time is, it’s a ‘guys’ film’, with only one main female character, Bonham Carter’s Marla, playing a love interest for the two male leads.
Although this is true, Marla is much more than a simple love interest. She’s central to the film, at first invading the support groups, providing the love interest and finally helping the Narrator find the strength to kill Tyler.
Pitt’s Tyler and Norton’s Narrator certainly shout louder, but Bonham Carter’s Marla has a more subtle impact and the film just couldn’t happen without her.
Unfortunately for Tyler I don’t think anyone will be done with breaking his rule about talking about Fight Club for many years because the most beautiful thing about the film is there is just so much to talk about.
Puzzling, sexy and violent, it’s hard not to be attracted to this burning world which is an uncompromising and unforgiving classic.
And we thank
Tyler Brad Pitt for making it so enjoyable.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.