Review

For years I worked within a huge bureaucracy, running a sophisticated research and development organization that achieved wonderful things in spite of the repressive environment, most notably advancing the state-of-the-art of image processing. But it was a trap. I was burdened with responsibility without authority. Organizational momentum and restrictions stifled original thinking and creativity. Rebellious misanthropes dissatisfied with their share of the pie committed acts of sabotage and couldn't be fired. It was maddening and emasculating. There were times when I wished I could abandon civilized behavior to push an offender's head through a wall. But such actions are frowned upon, and are downright self-destructive. But this experience helped me identify with the Narrator of director David Fincher's FIGHT CLUB. (Editor: Remind me never to piss you off!)

The initially mild-mannered Narrator (Edward Norton) is having a crisis. He finds his white-collar job insufferably dull. He tries unsuccessfully to take solace in materialism, only to realize that the accumulation of things is unfulfilling. Unable to sleep, he seeks a prescription from his doctor. The physician instead suggests that he discover what "true pain" is all about by attending a testicular cancer support group and, surprisingly, he finds that there he can unburden himself. He meets a patient (Meat Loaf Aday) who unsubtly represents men's fear of emasculation, the film's basic premise (castration will turn up as a recurring theme). The Narrator becomes addicted to these meetings and others; he finds that the emotional release allows him to sleep at last. Then he meets and is simultaneously repelled and attracted to the darkly sensual Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), who is also an interloper. Her presence makes him emotionally constipated; the insomnia returns.

While flying for business, the Narrator finds himself sitting next to Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden immediately pegs the Narrator as a hopelessly lost wimp. The Narrator is drawn to Durden's charismatic power. When the Narrator's apartment is mysteriously destroyed, he gives up his neatly manicured life and joins Durden in his incredibly dilapidated house. Durden teaches his newfound friend how to fight. The two men reinforce one another through brutal bouts and inadvertently create the Fight Club. But once again Marla intrudes; she becomes Durden's enthusiastic lover. The Fight Club grows, fed by frustrated men who feel aneed to regain a manhood that life and career and society have all but destroyed. §

Under Durden's charismatic leadership and through his cruel mind games, the Fight Club evolves into a paramilitary nightmare dedicated to anarchy that the Narrator finds alarming and repulsive. But he's become psychologically addicted to the violence that reinforces his masculinity. How will he react to the potential for violence turned outward? How will he resolve his conflict? The viewer can be misled. Accepting the action at face value ignores the underlying criticism of violent, subversive groups that are capable of acts of terrorism. In the last act, David Fincher plays some mind games of his own with the audience, manipulating and twisting. But that's part of the appeal of this disturbing, entertaining film. Norton and Pitt are outstanding as complex, fully formed characters. I very much enjoyed this imaginative ride.



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