FIGHT CLUB directed by David Fincher (USA, 1999)

This is the story of an insomniac office worker and a maniacal soap maker. It’s a movie you have to watch more than once but no matter how many times you see it you’ll almost certainly end up confused.

With its overt rejection of religion (“We are God’s unwanted children”) and a moral vision that can only be described as nihilistic, it’s easy to see how this has earned a cult status and won a place in the list of top ‘mindfuck’ movies.

David Fincher directs as if it were a two-hour rock video and it belongs to the genre as the disturbingly (and deliciously) deranged puzzle movies by mavericks like Cronenberg, Aronofsky and Lynch.

In one sense it could be seen as a satire of feminised masculinity, ridiculing reconstructed males who try to be all touchy-feely to get in touch with their sensitive side. The single object of the men’s group the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) attends seems to be to get the members to cry a river to release their  inner pain. This briefly cures his insomnia but makes him unhealthily addicted to support groups, getting ‘support’ for problems he doesn’t even have just to get a fake sense of belonging.

A direct contrast to the narrator is Tyler Durden played with a swagger by Brad Pitt. He has an attitude as hard as his Abs and a core belief that you begin to really live when you face the reality of death and recognise that this could happen at any moment. Tyler explains exactly what he signifies to his weaker-willed alter ego: “I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable and, most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not”.

The fight clubs and mayhem making sub terrorist groups that spring from them represent the ultimate men’s self-help group built on organised violence and based on the premise that you haven’t really lived until you’ve been beaten up and followed your destructive instincts.

By these means male physical strength and heightened competitiveness is not directed towards conventional, materialistic goals like the pursuit of high-flying careers or rampant consumerism.

Tyler argues that buying stuff you don’t need is a slow death of the soul and Brad Pitt says of the message of the movie (and book by Chuck Palahniuk) is that: it “is a metaphor for the need to push through the walls we put around ourselves and just go for it, so for the first time we can experience the pain” This quote reminded of the lyrics to Trent Reznor‘s Hurt : “I hurt myself today/To see if I still feel/I focus on the pain/The only thing that’s real” and the self harm issues are very strongly to the fore in this film.

Ultimately,it’s a movie that I find both fascinating and repulsive. It is driven by the full-blooded (and bloody) performance by Brad Pitt. If watched superficially it might be deemed deeply offensive and if watched too reverently you might regard it as having more depth than it merits.