So Fight Club. From the previews, it looks like some kind of action-packed macho exploitation movie. Oddly, it's an intellectual art film that pays homage to Ingmar Bergman's Personna, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Double and Robert Bly's unfairly maligned men's movement book Iron John. While still being an action-packed macho exploitation movie. Probably the best action-packed intellectual macho homage to Bergman you'll see this year. And it was directed by David Fincher, who made Alien 3, probably one of the five worst films of all time.
Edward Norton plays Fight Club's anonymous narrator and protagonist, a materialistic working shlub who cannot sleep. He seeks solace for his insomnia by infiltrating "survivors groups," places where people with cancer or blood parasites or substance abuse problems come together to cry. The teary catharsis proves the perfect sleep-aid, until Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) appears...she too is a survivors group junkie, turning other's torment into her personal tourist paradise. The narrator, who calls himself Cornelius or Rupert or The Clever Guy, depending on which nametag he's wearing, is disturbed by her presence at his preferred places of comfort, and he finds himself unable to cry when she's there. The lack of tears leads to a lack of sleep, and the narrator must look for a new soporific.
So he meets and moves in with the flamboyantly clothed, sexually powerful, physically perfect Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, essentially playing his image of himself) and together they find another outlet for their therapeutic need to emit bodily fluids. If one cannot cry, one can at least bleed, and they form the Fight Club, where men (and only men...it's a men's thing) come together to beat the shit out of each other. After a good bruising, the narrator sleeps like a baby.
Then things get real manly...see, this is the Iron John part: that book postulated that the absence of fathers from boys' lives (fathers being out of the house working at mysterious jobs somewhere) has left boys without adult male role models. Thus, grown up in body but not in soul, they act like children in spite of their thinning hair and white-collar jobs. Tyler remembers that his absentee father suggested that he'd get his life in order if he got married, and he muses, "We're a generation of men raised by women...I'm wondering if we need more women." Fulfilling this manly lacuna, Tyler serves as the narrator's best friend and image of masculinity, an image conjured from childish and adolescent fantasies.
They bond, in that vaguely gay way that heterosexual men who beat each other up and then hug afterwards are wont to bond. Tyler burns a vagina-shaped wound into the narrator's hand. The narrator becomes jealous and resentful when Tyler tousles the pretty blond hair of another aimless young man. Tyler calls the narrator "dear." They go to the doctor together after a brutal beating between friends, and Tyler tells the narrator to tell the doctor that he fell down the stairs...you know, that sort of thing.
Then things get much weirder. Tyler forms a secret army out of the disgruntled men who come to the Fight Club, and, well, to tell more would be to give too much away, but think Gogol on steroids.
Fight Club is more than just delightfully weird, though. The screenplay is full of gems: Marla finishes a session of sex with Tyler and says, "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school!" Tyler, forcing someone at gunpoint to return to veterinary school, says, "If you're not on your way to being a veterinarian in six weeks you'll be dead!" The narrator looks disturbed as he walks past a movie theater with a dilapidated sign advertising Brad Pitt's last bomb, Seven Years in Tibet.
That gag is part of the successful experimentalism at work in this film. The movie asserts its movieness by occasionally jumping around to reveal the sprocket holes on the edges of the film. Frames from other films mysteriously appear for a few microseconds. Characters occasionally comment on the cleverness of the script. Fight Club announces itself as a film in the strongest way since that moment in Personna when the film appeared to snag in the projector and break in two.
But don't get scared by the highbrow references: there's lots of scenes of things blowing up and men beating each other until they bleed like cheap T-shirts in hot water. And of course there's sex and guns and nipples. Basically, when you see Fight Club you get the kind of film Ingmar Bergman would have made if he'd been raised by the mutant offspring of Pamela Lee, Spike Lee and Lee Marvin. What more could you want?