The Films of David Fincher – Fight Club (Film Review)
If Fincher works in tandems, runs his films in partnerships ( the serial killer duo Se7en and Zodiac, The airport novel duo TGWTDT and Gone Girl, the style over substance duo TCCaseOBB and The Social Network) then there is no doubt that Fight Club runs hot off the heels of The Game. Their central message, about our relationship to the corporate world we have created for ourselves, is identical and where Nicholas Van Orton is a ridiculed “Master of the Universe” in The Game, then it is no leap for Fincher to embrace Chuck Palahniuk’s novel which pokes fun at (yes, pokes fun at) hyper masculinity as if it were a support group for the teared up emasculated consumerist, male. The key to Fight Club is (spoiler for the ten of you who have never seen it) that Tyler Durden isn’t real. There! I said it. Actually, Chuck Palahniuk said it, and David Fincher, and screenwriter Jim Uhls said it. That should tell the scores of angry young men who follow the film and Palahniuk around like puppies, whose bark is far worse than their soft gummy bite, that it’s all in your head, and no amount of bashing yourself in the face is ever going to make it real! In fact if there are criticisms to be made of Fight Club (and that’s tricky because its such god damned easy film to love) it is that it is all criticism and no solution; unless you want to count a girl and a boy holding hands as the corporate world around them explodes as a solution to something.
At the end of the day, Fight Club is a brilliant amalgam of all the things Fincher needs to make a near perfect film: A great script (in this case something he hasn’t yet had, a great novel) a flawless cast, a creative premise he secretly believes in that he can hide behind the adman aesthetic, and cash. He’s been given thirteen million above his fifty million threshold of the past here, a strong vote of confidence after The Game only doubled its investment, nothing compared to the nine times over the thirty-three million dollar Se7en investment produced. Still, it was his biggest budget to date – a lot to risk on a film that was never likely to be a great box office hit. Fight Club is Fincher’s creative in full supremacy over his sedated adman, and the only other time he won’t at least double his budget will be his other great creative film, Zodiac, which will make less than the barely passable Fight Club. They are the only two times Fincher will make the “mistake” of making a true arthouse style of film, and to date he hasn’t returned to that world.
So what is there to say about Fight Club that hasn’t already been said? It’s a creative milestone for Fincher who breaks himself out technologically, something he will become more and more famous for. It all starts with that IKEA catalogue representation of our everyman’s life the cameras sweeping shots the digital looking a little dated, but so cleverly like the catalogue it actually gets better with time not worse, and the camera work he’ll perfect in his next film, moving around the rotten fetid house of Tyler Durden floor to floor, through the walls, giving the characters a fantastically strange relationship with their environment – something that works perfectly in the anti-consumerist online gaming feel of Fight Club but doesn’t work nearly so well in the anxsty home invasion film Panic Room that he will do next.Like the truly great Fincher films that get better with time, Fight Club looks more and more like a slice of SIMS or some other RL gaming platform, a whole new unintended subtext that sits perfectly with the Fight Club mass collection of philosophical regurgitating that the film swarms with. If you thought the puppet on a string was a strong metaphor from The Game, then Fincher literally goes nuts with Fight Club, turning it into a teeming mass of ideological swill each idea mutating into the previous as it takes hold of a body passing by. A modern bible on anti-corporate anarchy? Nietzsche’s everyman meets his Übermensch? The post feminist de-balling of hyper masculinity? The desperation borne of the inability to feel under the weight of extreme consumerism? The emergence of a previously sublimated Nazi fascism as exhibited by human soap making by upper middle class white privileged males? Porn as an anemic an act of rebellion comodified by corporate approval? The femme fatal imposition on the noir aesthetic as a metaphor for the death of masculinity? Love conquers all? A prophesy about 9/11? It’s all there – everything you want to toss into the mix. It’s even possible to do a complete feminist reading (sorry guys) about the futility of male aggression and how hyper-masculinity eventually leads to pack behavior and reduces males to drones waiting for their Queen Bee. If you want to follow any of these different ideological impulses they are all equally held up and abandoned by Fight Club in their turn, with the brief exception of the masculine ideal surfacing in order to avoid intimacy with the much feared/hated female other, which is the strongest theme of the novel and the film.
George Sand said its better to feel something than nothing, and it is this theory of fights and pain that lead the younger men around like Tyler Durden lap dogs as they search for an antidote to a pre-prescribed existence they have no interest in. Crucial to the overall aesthetic is the way Brad Pitts character gets more hysterically masculinised physically, while Edwards Norton’s character becomes thinner, weaker and more anemic. No digital enhancement here, and yet visually its one of the most beautiful parables of the film and a great example of what magic can happen when truly great actors are in perfect harmony with their director and his project. Not to mention the physically arresting Big Bob (Meatloaf being brilliant in another superb casting choice for this film) with his “bitch tits” and his process of losing his name (becoming a faceless drone) and having it reclaimed after his death. Add to that a pre Requiem for a Dream Jarod Leto getting his beautiful face beaten to a pulp in one of the most disturbing scenes of the film at the point Tyler almost becomes the protagonist. Rounding out a fantastic cast is the unlikely choice of Helena Bonham Carter as Marla Singer – one of the most exciting and interesting females to hit the screen in a long time, with her thinning hair and her non-traditional beauty.
Fight Club never pretends that Project Mayhem isn’t just another men’s support group, as emasculating in its fearful retort as the crying on those big Bob pillows. Unlike Se7en, Fincher doesn’t shy away here, but happily turns the camera on his audience, with so much empathy and success, he’s created a cult following from the very men he seeks to expose. It’s a brilliant example of a very gifted director using his abilities to connect with an audience at the deepest level without restraint, and it is interesting to note that, with the exception of Zodiac, Fincher will withdraw after Fight Club into a very safe place where his primary subject matter will be main stream, he will never turn the camera on his audience again and he will retreat to technical skill over psychological depth eventually becoming the purveyor of fantastic pop corn movies that we see today.
Oh, and then there is the score. Oh and the opening credits. Oh, and the cultural impact. In fact, it’s impossible to stop talking about Fight Club.