Watch Fight Club (1999), Story, Stars, Reviews & All You Want to Know About a Great Movie
Fight Club (1999)
An insomniac office worker and a devil-may-care soap maker form an underground fight club that evolves into much more.
- David Fincher
- Chuck Palahniuk (based on the novel by)
- Jim Uhls (screenplay by)
Fight Club is a 1999 American film directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. It is based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. Norton plays the unnamed narrator, who is discontented with his white-collar job. He forms a “fight club” with soap salesman Tyler Durden (Pitt), and becomes embroiled in a relationship with a destitute woman, Marla Singer (Bonham Carter).
Palahniuk’s novel was optioned by Fox 2000 Pictures producer Laura Ziskin, who hired Jim Uhls to write the film adaptation. Fincher was selected because of his enthusiasm for the story. He developed the script with Uhls and sought screenwriting advice from the cast and others in the film industry. It was filmed in and around Los Angeles from July to December 1998. He and the cast compared the film to Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and The Graduate (1967), with a theme of conflict between Generation X and the value system of advertising.
Studio executives did not like the film, and they restructured Fincher’s intended marketing campaign to try to reduce anticipated losses. Fight Club failed to meet the studio’s expectations at the box office, and received polarized reactions from critics. It was ranked as one of the most controversial and talked-about films of 1990s. The film later found commercial success with its home video release, establishing Fight Club as a cult classic and causing media to revisit the film.
In 2009, on the tenth anniversary of the film’s release, The New York Times dubbed it the “defining cult movie of our time.”
Fight Club (1999) Trailer
Fight Club (1999) Reviews
Sometimes, for variety, they beat up themselves. It’s macho porn — the sex movie Hollywood has been moving toward for years, in which eroticism between the sexes is replaced by all-guy locker-room fights. Women, who have had a lifetime of practice at dealing with little-boy posturing, will instinctively see through it; men may get off on the testosterone rush. The fact that it is very well made and has a great first act certainly clouds the issue.
These early scenes have a nice sly tone; they’re narrated by the Norton character in the kind of voice Nathanael West used in Miss Lonelyhearts. He’s known only as the Narrator, for reasons later made clear. The meetings are working as a sedative, and his life is marginally manageable when tragedy strikes: He begins to notice Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) at meetings. She’s a “tourist” like himself–someone not addicted to anything but meetings. She spoils it for him. He knows he’s a faker, but wants to believe everyone else’s pain is real.
On an airplane, he has another key encounter, with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a man whose manner cuts through the fog. He seems able to see right into the Narrator’s soul, and shortly after, when the Narrator’s high-rise apartment turns into a fireball, he turns to Tyler for shelter. He gets more than that. He gets in on the ground floor of Fight Club, a secret society of men who meet in order to find freedom and self-realization through beating one another into pulp.
It’s at about this point that the movie stops being smart and savage and witty, and turns to some of the most brutal, unremitting, nonstop violence ever filmed.
Although sensible people know that if you hit someone with an ungloved hand hard enough, you’re going to end up with broken bones, the guys in “Fight Club” have fists of steel, and hammer one another while the sound effects guys beat the hell out of Naugahyde sofas with Ping-Pong paddles. Later, the movie takes still another turn. A lot of recent films seem unsatisfied unless they can add final scenes that redefine the reality of everything that has gone before; call it the Keyser Soze syndrome.
Only gradually are the final outlines of his master plan revealed. Is Tyler Durden in fact a leader of men with a useful philosophy? “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything,” he says, sounding like a man who tripped over the Nietzsche display on his way to the coffee bar in Borders. In my opinion, he has no useful truths. He’s a bully–Werner Erhard plus S & M, a leather club operator without the decor.
None of the Fight Club members grows stronger or freer because of their membership; they’re reduced to pathetic cultists. Issue them black shirts and sign them up as skinheads. Whether Durden represents hidden aspects of the male psyche is a question the movie uses as a loophole–but is not able to escape through, because “Fight Club” is not about its ending but about its action.
Of course, “Fight Club” itself does not advocate Durden’s philosophy. It is a warning against it, I guess; one critic I like says it makes “a telling point about the bestial nature of man and what can happen when the numbing effects of day-to-day drudgery cause people to go a little crazy.” I think it’s the numbing effects of movies like this that cause people go to a little crazy.
Although sophisticates will be able to rationalize the movie as an argument against the behavior it shows, my guess is that audience will like the behavior but not the argument. Certainly they’ll buy tickets because they can see Pitt and Norton pounding on each other; a lot more people will leave this movie and get in fights than will leave it discussing Tyler Durden’s moral philosophy. The images in movies like this argue for themselves, and it takes a lot of narration (or Narration) to argue against them.
Lord knows the actors work hard enough. Norton and Pitt go through almost as much physical suffering in this movie as Demi Moore endured in “G.I. Jane,” and Helena Bonham Carter creates a feisty chain-smoking hellcat who is probably so angry because none of the guys thinks having sex with her is as much fun as a broken nose. When you see good actors in a project like this, you wonder if they signed up as an alternative to canyoneering.
The movie was directed by David Fincher and written by Jim Uhls, who adapted the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. In many ways, it’s like Fincher’s movie “The Game” (1997), with the violence cranked up for teenage boys of all ages.
That film was also about a testing process in which a man drowning in capitalism (Michael Douglas) has the rug of his life pulled out from under him and has to learn to fight for survival. I admired “The Game” much more than “Fight Club” because it was really about its theme, while the message in “Fight Club” is like bleeding scraps of Socially Redeeming Content thrown to the howling mob.
If it had all continued in the vein explored in the first act, it might have become a great film. But the second act is pandering and the third is trickery, and whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that’s not what most audience members will get. “Fight Club” is a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy–the kind of ride where some people puke and others can’t wait to get on again.
With its kinetic style, visceral approach, compelling storyline, and powerful social message, Fight Club makes a commanding case to be considered the ’90s version of A Clockwork Orange. In a time when so few motion pictures leave an impact, Fight Club refuses to be ignored or dismissed.
The experience lingers, demanding to be pondered and considered, and, unlike 95% of modern-day thrillers, there is a great deal here to think about and argue over. Fight Club presents an overload of thought-provoking material that works on so many levels as to offer grist for the mills of thousands of reviews, feature articles, and post-screening conversations.
Pre-release interest in Fight Club was understandably high, primarily because of those involved with the project. Jim Uhls’ script is based on an influential novel by Chuck Palahniuk (a book that, while not required material in schools, has consumed the free time of countless readers). The lead actor is the ever-popular Brad Pitt, who makes his strongest bid to date to shed his pretty boy image and don the mantle of a serious thespian.
Those dubious about Pitt’s ability to pull this off in the wake of his recent attempts in Seven Years in Tibet (which is briefly referenced as an in-joke during Fight Club) and Meet Joe Black will suffer a change of heart after seeing this film. Pitt’s male co-star, Edward Norton, is widely recognized as one of the most intelligent and versatile performers of his generation.
And Fight Club‘s director, David Fincher, has already made a huge artistic impression on movie-goers with only three features to his credit: Alien 3, Seven (starring Pitt), and The Game. Mix these elements together in Fox’s publicity blender, and Fight Club will not carry the title of “Best Movie of 1999 That No One Saw.”
The film begins by introducing us to our narrator, Jack, who is brilliantly portrayed by Norton. A chameleon of an actor, Norton seems perfectly suited to every role he plays, whether it’s the seemingly-wronged defendant in Primal Fear or the white supremacist in American History X. Here, the actor flows fluidly into the part of a cynical but mild-mannered employee of a major automobile manufacturer who is suffering from a bout of insomnia.
When he visits his doctor for a remedy, the disinterested physician tells him to stop whining and visit a support group for testicular cancer survivors if he wants to meet people who really have problems. So Jack does exactly that – and discovers that interacting with these victims gives him an emotional release that allows him to sleep.
Soon, he is addicted to attending support group meetings, and has one lined up for each night of the week. That’s where he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter, looking nothing like the poster girl for British period pieces), another “faker.” Unlike Jack, however, she attends purely for the voyeuristic entertainment value.
Then, on what can be described as the worst day of his life (an airline loses his luggage and his apartment unit explodes, destroying all of his possessions), Jack meets the flamboyant Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman with an unconventional view of life.
Since Jack is in need of a place to live, Tyler invites him to move in, and the two share a “dilapidated house in a toxic waste part of town.” Tyler teaches Jack lessons about freedom and empowerment, and the two begin to physically fight each other as a means of release and rebirth. Soon, others find out about this unique form of therapy, and Fight Club is born – an underground organization (whose first and second rules are: “You do not talk about Fight Club”) that encourages men to beat up each other. But this is only the first step in Tyler’s complex master plan.
In addition to lead actors Pitt, Norton, and Bonham Carter, all of whom do impeccable work, there are a pair of notable supporting players. The first is Meat Loaf (yes, that Meat Loaf), who portrays the ineffectual Bob. It’s a surprisingly strong performance, with the singer-turned-actor capturing the nuances of a complex character. Jared Leto, who is becoming better known to audiences (he was recently in The Thin Red Line), is the blond Angel Face.
Told in a conventional fashion, Fight Club would still have been engaging. However, Fincher’s gritty, restless style turns it into a visual masterpiece. The overall experience is every bit as surreal as watching Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. This is a tale that unfolds in an eerie alternate universe where the melodies of life have the same rhythm as in ours but are in a different key.
Fincher also shows just enough restraint that his flourishes seem like important parts of the storytelling method instead of gimmicks. And there are a lot of them. In one scene, a character’s apartment is laid out like a page in a furniture catalog, complete with text blurbs superimposed on the screen describing the various pieces. There are occasional single frame interruptions that flash by so quickly that they may pass unnoticed. The film opens with a truly inventive close-up – one that literally gets under the skin.
Also in play: a non-linear chronology, a voiceover by a narrator who might not be entirely reliable, frequent breaking of the fourth wall, and an occasional freeze-frame. As was true of Fincher’s other three films, Fight Club is dark and fast-paced. There’s not a lot of time for introspection. One could call this MTV style, but, unlike many equally frantic movies, there’s a reason for each quick cut beyond preventing viewers from becoming bored.
Perhaps the most discussed aspect of Fight Club will be its attitude towards and graphic depiction of violence. Even before the film’s official premiere, voices have been raised claiming that the movie glorifies violence by portraying it as something positive. This was the complaint leveled against A Clockwork Orange, which, less than three decades after its controversial release, is universally regarded as a classic.
There’s no denying that Fight Club is a violent movie. Some sequences are so brutal that a portion of the viewing audience will turn away. (The scene that caused me to wince was when one character reached into his mouth and pulled out a loose tooth.) But the purpose of showing all this bloody pummeling is to make a telling point about the bestial nature of man and what can happen when the numbing effects of day-to-day drudgery cause people to go a little crazy.
The men who become members of Fight Club are victims of the dehumanizing and desensitizing power of modern-day society. They have become cogs in a wheel. The only way they can regain a sense of individuality is by getting in touch with the primal, barbaric instincts of pain and violence.
In A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick depicted the actions of the Droogs but did not condone it. This is Fincher’s approach in Fight Club. As the film progresses, he systematically reveals each new turn in an ever-deepening spiral that descends into darkness and madness. There’s also a heavy element of satire and black comedy. Macabre humor can be found everywhere, from the pithy quips traded by Jack and Tyler to the way Jack interacts with his boss.
When combined together, the satire, violence, and unpredictable narrative make a lasting and forceful statement about modern-day society. It’s a timely message that hints at why there are post office shootings and kids in schools killing their fellow students. By blaming movies like Fight Club for real-life horrors, politicians want us to look at the world through rose-colored glasses that they have tinted.
Instead, Fincher offers a clear, uncompromising portrait that disturbs because it is perceptive and defies the facile answers proffered by elected officials. Movies are not to blame. Guns are not to blame. People and the society that has spawned and stifled them are.
The film has a scope not hinted at in the trailers. After all, how could 139 minutes of untrained boxers beating the hell out of each other be interesting? Fight Club doesn’t need to address that question, because its agenda is much larger. To reveal more, however, would be to disclose twists and surprises best left for each viewer to uncover during his or her own movie-going experience. Of course, as is true of all great films, it is possible to know the entire plot of Fight Club beforehand and still be blown away by the experience.
Without going into specifics, I can state that there is a structural similarity to The Sixth Sense. Here, however, the twist is not the whole point of the movie, and it is integrated more effectively into the overall story. If you figure out the so-called “surprise” in The Sixth Sense before the director wants you to, it’s difficult to see that film as more than an overlong, uneven example of overt manipulation.
The opposite is true of Fight Club, which possesses the depth and breadth to command the attention and respect of anyone who unveils the central conceit before it is explicitly revealed. It’s also worth noting that this doesn’t happen at the very end, so, while it is an important aspect of Fight Club, it does not dictate the movie’s success or failure.
It remains to be seen whether Fight Club will generate any Oscars. The strength of the writing, direction, and acting justifies a stream of nominations, but quality has never been the driving factor in who is recognized by the Academy. Regardless of how it is received in February, when the nominations are announced, Fight Club is a memorable and superior motion picture – a rare movie that does not abandon insight in its quest to jolt the viewer.
This marriage of adrenaline and intelligence will make Fight Club a contender for many Best 10 lists at the end of 1999.
- A movie review by James Berardinelli
Fight Club (1999) Credits
Fight Club (1999)
Rated R For Extreme Violence, Sex
Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden
Edward Norton as Narrator
Helena Bonham-Carter as Marla Singer
Meat Loaf Aday as Robert Paulsen
Jared Leto as Angel Face
- David Fincher
- Jim Uhls
Based On The Novel by
- Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club (1999) Plot
The Narrator, an automobile recall specialist, is unfulfilled by his job and possessions and suffers from chronic insomnia. To cure this, he attends support groups, posing as a sufferer of diseases. His bliss is disturbed when another impostor, Marla Singer, begins attending the same groups. The two agree to split which groups they attend.
On a flight home from a business trip, the Narrator meets soap salesman Tyler Durden. The Narrator returns home to find his apartment and all his belongings have been destroyed by an explosion. Disheartened by the loss of his material goods, he calls Tyler and they meet at a bar. Tyler tells him he is trapped by consumerism. In the parking lot, he asks the Narrator to hit him, and they have a fistfight. They find the experience cathartic, and agree to do it again.
The Narrator moves into Tyler’s home, a large dilapidated house in an industrial area. They have further fights outside the bar, which attract growing crowds of men. The fights move to the bar’s basement where the men form the eponymous Fight Club, which routinely meets.
Marla overdoses on pills and telephones the Narrator for help; he ignores her and abandons the conversation without hanging up. Tyler picks up the call and goes to her apartment to save her. They begin a sexual relationship, much to the Narrator’s irritation. Tyler warns the Narrator never to talk to Marla about him. The Narrator blackmails his boss for his company’s assets to support Fight Club and quits his job.
More new members join Fight Club, including Robert “Bob” Paulsen, a man with testicular cancer whom the Narrator had previously met at one of his support groups. Tyler then recruits their members to a new anti-materialist and anti-corporate organization, Project Mayhem, without the Narrator’s involvement. The group engages in subversive acts of vandalism, increasingly troubling the Narrator. After the Narrator complains that Tyler has excluded him, Tyler reveals that he was the one who caused the explosion at the Narrator’s condo.
Tyler disappears one night, and when Paulsen is killed by the police fleeing from a sabotage operation, the Narrator tries to halt the project. He follows a paper trail to cities Tyler had visited, discovering Project Mayhem has spread throughout the country.
In one city, a project member addresses the Narrator as “Mr. Durden.” Confused, the Narrator calls Marla and discovers that she also believes he is Tyler. Tyler appears in his hotel room with a different haircut and clothing, and reveals that they are dissociated personalities; the Narrator assumed the personality of Tyler when he believed he was sleeping.
The Narrator blacks out. When he returns to the house, he uncovers Tyler’s plans to erase debt by destroying buildings that contain credit card records. He apologizes to Marla and warns her that she is in danger, but she is tired of his contradictory behavior and refuses to listen. He tries to warn the police, but the officers are members of the Project. He attempts to disarm the explosives in one building, but Tyler subdues him.
With Tyler holding him at gunpoint on the top floor, the Narrator realizes that, as he and Tyler are the same person, the Narrator is holding the gun. He fires it into his own mouth, shooting through his cheek. Tyler dies, and the Narrator ceases mentally projecting him. Project Mayhem members bring a kidnapped Marla to the building. The Narrator and Marla reconcile and, holding hands, they watch as the explosives detonate, collapsing buildings around them.
Fight Club (1999) Box office
Fight Club (1999) Critical Response
When Fight Club premiered at the 56th Venice International Film Festival, the film was fiercely debated by critics. A newspaper reported, “Many loved and hated it in equal measures.” Some critics expressed concern that the film would incite copycat behavior, such as that seen after A Clockwork Orange debuted in Britain nearly three decades previously.
Upon the film’s theatrical release, The Times reported the reaction: “It touched a nerve in the male psyche that was debated in newspapers across the world.” Although the film’s makers called Fight Club “an accurate portrayal of men in the 1990s,” some critics called it “irresponsible and appalling.” Writing for The Australian, Christopher Goodwin stated: “Fight Club is shaping up to be the most contentious mainstream Hollywood meditation on violence since Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.”
Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B–” on an A+ to F scale.
Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times, praised Fincher’s direction and editing of the film. She wrote that Fight Club carried a message of “contemporary manhood”, and that, if not watched closely, the film could be misconstrued as an endorsement of violence and nihilism.
Roger Ebert, reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times, gave Fight Club two stars out of four, calling it “visceral and hard-edged”, but also “a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy”, whose promising first act is followed by a second that panders to macho sensibilities and a third he dismissed as “trickery”. Ebert later acknowledged that the film was “beloved by most, not by me”.
He was later requested to have a shot-by-shot analysis of Fight Club at the Conference on World Affairs; he stated that “[s]eeing it over the course of a week, I admired its skill even more, and its thought even less.” Jay Carr of The Boston Globe opined that the film began with an “invigoratingly nervy and imaginative buzz”, but that it eventually became “explosively silly”. Newsweek‘s David Ansen described Fight Club as “an outrageous mixture of brilliant technique, puerile philosophizing, trenchant satire and sensory overload” and thought that the ending was too pretentious.
Richard Schickel of Time described the mise en scène as dark and damp: “It enforces the contrast between the sterilities of his characters’ aboveground life and their underground one. Water, even when it’s polluted, is the source of life; blood, even when it’s carelessly spilled, is the symbol of life being fully lived. To put his point simply: it’s better to be wet than dry.” Schickel applauded the performances of Pitt and Norton, but criticized the “conventionally gimmicky” unfolding and the failure to make Bonham Carter’s character interesting.
Cineaste‘s Gary Crowdus reviewed the critical reception in retrospect: “Many critics praised Fight Club, hailing it as one of the most exciting, original, and thought-provoking films of the year.” He wrote of the negative opinion, “While Fight Club had numerous critical champions, the film’s critical attackers were far more vocal, a negative chorus which became hysterical about what they felt to be the excessively graphic scenes of fisticuffs …
They felt such scenes served only as a mindless glamorization of brutality, a morally irresponsible portrayal, which they feared might encourage impressionable young male viewers to set up their own real-life fight clubs in order to beat each other senseless.”
Fight Club was nominated for the 2000 Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, but it lost to The Matrix. Bonham Carter won the 2000 Empire Award for Best British Actress. The Online Film Critics Society also nominated Fight Club for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Norton), Best Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay (Uhls). Though the film won none of the awards, the organization listed Fight Club as one of the top ten films of 1999. The soundtrack was nominated for a BRIT Award, losing to Notting Hill.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Fight Club holds an approval rating of 79% based on 181 reviews, with an average rating of 7.40/10. The site’s consensus reads, “Solid acting, amazing direction, and elaborate production design make Fight Club a wild ride.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 66 out of 100 based on 35 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.
Fight Club (1999) Accolades
Fight Club (1999) Movie Info
Rating:R (Disturbing Behavior|Anti-Social Behavior|Violent Behavior|Graphic Behavior|Language|Sexuality)
Genre:Mystery & Thriller, Drama
Producer:Ross Grayson Bell, Ceán Chaffin, Art Linson
Writer:Chuck Palahniuk, Jim Uhls
Release Date (Theaters):Wide
Release Date (Streaming):
Box Office (Gross USA):$37.0M
Distributor:20th Century Fox
Sound Mix:Dolby SR, Dolby EX, DTS, Dolby Stereo, SDDS, DTS-ES, Dolby A, Surround, Dolby Digital
Aspect Ratio:Scope (2.35:1)
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