Ostensibly a movie about the creation of a ‘fight club’ where guys beat the crap out of each other in bare-knuckle fights so they can feel real again.
Some abstract concepts are also explored with visceral intensity, so Fight Club is also about existential dread, consumerism, and the refusal to live a numb life.
The tone is set even before the formation of the titular club. We meet the narrator, Jack (Ed Norton) who is suffering a general malaise compounded by insomnia.
He has the soul-challenging job of investigating accidents for which his automobile company employer is culpable, using an equation that measures the cost-effectiveness of out-of-court settlements versus a product recall.
Jack (pictured at right) seeks to reconnect with authentic human emotion by joining a variety of support groups. It is at one such group, for survivors of testicular cancer, that he meets Robert Paulson (Meat Loaf). In the naked, unmediated pain of others, he finds solace. Briefly.
He becomes indignant when he encounters the same woman, Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), at every support group (even testicular cancer). Her insincerity as a ‘tourist’ diminishes his sense of authenticity in the experience of each group, and his restlessness returns.
While on a business trip, he strikes up a conversation with a fellow passenger named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) who travels selling his own brand of soap.
When Jack’s condo is firebombed he calls Tyler, who invites him to move in with him in an enormous dilapidated mansion ‘where nothing works’, and the two of them have a blast, hitting golf balls and staying up late.
Jack stays with his day job and also helps Tyler (pictured at left) with his business, making designer soap out of human fat stolen from liposuction clinics. They take it to high-end department stores and sell it for 20 bucks a bar. “We’re selling their fat asses back to them,” Jack sniggers.
Jack and Tyler hang out in a seedy bar and end up punching each other out in the parking lot one night. Other guys observe them, are impressed, and end up forming ‘fight club’ where guys take turns beating each other up.
The idea spreads and eventually a movement is formed, wherein the dispossessed gather to bloodily exorcise their quiet desperation by beating and being beaten.
Marla shows up and starts sleeping with Tyler. But while she turns to Tyler for sex, she prefers the company of Jack, who still remains indignant.
The club morphs into a hyper-disciplined paramilitary cult and we learn that Tyler has been secretly visiting dozens of cities, setting up flight clubs across the country, and recruiting hundreds of terrorists to promote chaos and acts of violence against ‘corporate art’.
The ultimate goal is to recruit enough people on the inside to blow up a few key office buildings, thereby destroying all the financial records in the USA.
There’s a coffee cup in every scene of Fight Club, according to director David Fincher. In fact, there’s an entire Tumblr page dedicated to finding every coffee cup. The exception, apparently, is when a coffee shop gets destroyed.
Helena Bonham Carter
Tim De Zarn