The first (and apparently second) rule of Fight Club (1999) is that you do not talk about Fight Club. I am guessing I am not the first reviewer, nor probably the last, who will point out that writing about this film breaks that rule(s). Not that I care. Before the other night, I had never seen the movie, a supposed cinematic masterpiece that people talk about in hushed tones as if they were describing the birth of their first child. Now that I have seen it, frankly I do not understand the hoopla. Admittedly, the film was ruined for me going into it because I knew that Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) is a figment of the narrator’s (Edward Norton) mind, or more accurately, his alter-ego. The film is over twenty years old, and has been widely seen and discussed, so I cannot say that I have any qualms about spoiling it. I am sure there are many who have watched it multiple times (for some reason) and find it enjoyable despite knowing that one of the main characters is not real. I suppose if you have never viewed or heard anything about it (and skip over this introductory paragraph), the big revelation that the narrator is Tyler Durden could be shocking. My knowledge of this is not why I found it unenjoyable.
The narrator in Fight Club is Tyler Durden, but you do not know that right away. Instead, he is introduced as a self-proclaimed corporate slave, flying out to review car crashes in order to determine safety violations and liability for his company. His soul-sapping employment and his obsessive pursuit of the latest Ikea furniture causes insomnia. His doctor will not relieve it with pills, and instead tells him that if he wants to see what real suffering is like, attend a support group for men who have survived testicular cancer. Doing so causes the narrator to become addicted to support groups, basically feeding off their pain so that he could get a good night’s sleep. In making the rounds of the various meetings, he encounters Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a chain-smoking fellow support group enthusiast. He immediately spots her for a fake because he is one too, and tries muscle her out of attendance before they agree to split up the schedule. Still, the dynamic is lost and the narrator starts losing sleep once more. On yet another business trip, he encounters Tyler Durden. They strike up a conversation, and they connect over their distaste of the modern consumer lifestyles. Their relationship becomes much closer when the narrator’s apartment blows up and he needs a place to stay. During the course of their shared living arrangement, in a house that time, maintenance, and city code enforcement forgot, they discover a mutual love for fighting. What starts as simply the thrill of letting each hit the other as hard as they can begins attracting followers. At first a few of them have their brawls in a bar parking lot, but soon it expands and is taken into the seedy basement of the seedy watering hole. Those who come to the title group are those who are also disenchanted with their lives, and their only outlet is their fists. Still, it is not all fun and black eyes for long. Tyler begins carrying on a sexual relationship with Marla, much to the narrator’s disgust. Tyler also begins turning the Fight Club into an urban terrorist organization, causing damage to corporate properties all over the city. Things get out of control for the narrator when Bob Paulsen (Meat Loaf), one of the original men he met at the testicular cancer meetings, is shot and killed during one of the attacks. The narrator feels Tyler has gone too far and goes around the country trying to find all the cells he had gone around planting. It is during one of these encounters with a Fight Club in another city that it finally dawns on the narrator that he is Tyler Durden. He started the Fight Club by punching himself in the face for others to see. He is also able to start such a widespread organization utilizing the working-class underbelly of society because he fills his insomnia riddled life with various odd jobs. Despite this revelation, he still has to fight Tyler Durden (even though he knows it is only himself). Tyler’s master plan is to blow up several buildings belonging to major financial institutions in order to reset the economic order. I suppose because the script says so, he cannot go around unwiring all the bombs he has set up. Besides, Tyler had warned all his followers that eventually the narrator would figure out Durden’s identity and try to thwart his plan. Hence, the only solution the narrator can come up with for getting rid of Tyler is to put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. This seems to do the trick, although it miraculously does not kill him. Instead, he and Marla watch as several skyscrapers in the downtown area crumb to the ground in balls of fire.
You can say that I am getting soft in my old age, but such a destructive ending as Fight Club, and indeed the whole film, is not what I like to see. I get it. Jobs suck. So many of us have trouble seeing what we do for a living as truly mattering. Our bosses seem oblivious, the companies we work for even more so, and when we leave at the end of a shift it is all we can do to stop ourselves from crying out in anguish that we have to come back the next day and repeat the monotony. So, the solution is to blow everything up? Or, worst of all the corporate sabotages short of arson and explosives, slip pornography into children’s movies playing in theaters? The narrator, or Tyler, or Jack (he refers to himself as that sometimes, too), or whatever you want to call him, his problem is not his employment. It is that he cannot find a higher meaning in anything. God created each of us with a purpose in mind. Check out Ephesians 4:11-16 some time. In those verses, Paul talks about the various things people are called to do with their lives. Working counter, or not with, that purpose can lead to heartache. Clearly, the narrator was not meant to be employed for the car company. Still, even if you find yourself in a job that you do not love, there is a bigger source of love that can succor you through difficult moments, and that is God. If that is too esoteric for you, try simply finding some other occupation. I can think of a list several miles long of things to do if you do not get much out of your employment, and becoming a domestic terrorist would not be on that list. And it is because this is the main character’s solution, that is why I cannot understand why people like it.
Now, you might say that you like Fight Club for the slick way the director hides the fact that Tyler Durden is a figment of the narrator’s imagination. Or you could be interested in how it is an innovative look into mental health issues. For me, the violence and destruction, not to mention the nudity and other forms of general foulness, are hard passes. I will not be watching it again.