Two of the greatest actors of our time come together in a celebration of violence and cynicism under which lies a profound social criticism? I wouldn’t miss it for the world. True, some may say this 1999 David Fincher film is for boys-only, but it need not be. There is more to the film than the testosterone thrill of the (many) fighting scenes. In fact, the questioning of middle-class masculinity values and stereotypes and rebelling against consumer culture are two of the most striking messages of the film. Cloak that with great actors, quality shots, and an unexpected twist in the end, and you end up with a fantastic film.
Edward Norton (an unnamed narrator) holds a white-collar job in an automotive company which sends him traveling all around the nation. He suffers from insomnia and the only place he can find relief is by attending support groups, posing as a victim of testicular cancer. All is well until he is faced with the “Big Tourist” Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). She is another imposer whose “lie reflected my lie” and so deprives him of what little masculine joy he had left. Our unnamed narrator’s perfect IKEA apartment burns to the ground and he is forced to stay with a bizarre soap salesman he met on an airplane, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Together they discover a secret desire not only to fight, but to be beaten up half to death. Their guilty pleasure turns into a fight club whose number one rule is never to talk about it.
The concept of a secret guys-club has never been put under a magnifying glass as in this film. It raises a disturbing question about what constitutes masculinity today and what degrading acts one must submit himself to in order to justify his existence as a Man. The lack of meaning is accentuated by the multiple references to the unsatisfying and impersonal jobs we must hold just so that we can hold on to our precious cars, furniture, or some other commodity.
The great thing about movies of this kind is that they force us to join a discussion about the most essential aspects of our lives. It may not provide all the answers, and it may present a bleaker picture of reality than we would admit to, but that’s what it does best- shock us into thinking of our lives.