How did our narrator (Edward Norton) end up on a top floor of in an empty building with a gun in his mouth? For that explanation, he tells us, we have to go back in time to when he was suffering through a dead end job as a crash investigator and feeling as if his insomnia was eating him alive. He went to a doctor to find out if he could die from the condition, after all when he did get to sleep he would sometimes wake up in strange places, but the doctor told him no. And then he said, go and attend a support group for testicular cancer sufferers, then you'll see what sorrow really is. But the narrator had a surprise coming when he met one Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on a plane...
Fight Club was based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, and if nothing else it popularised his fiction. But it did do something else, as for many this was the defining film of the pre-Millennial nineties, the film that captured the malaise of a world that felt there were bad times just around the corner and needed to feel that they could control their lives in the face of it. Even if, as the story's catalyst Durden says, modern man is merely a consumer when previously he had been a hunter, a pioneer, a survivor, here was a message that said that there was something you could do to change.
Perhaps this is why Fight Club struck such a chord when at the time it was released it was widely dismissed. The fans who caught it in its cinema release, and of course later on DVD, were having none of this derision and championed Durden as their visionary, and it's true that there's a rebellious swagger to the work that is seductively arrogant while managing the appearance of piercing the heart of the modern society as many were experiencing it. For the narrator, who finds solace in support groups so he can cry at last, even thought there's nothing physically wrong with him, Durden is everything he would want to be if he had the guts, and there were plenty who sympathised.
Who wouldn't want to blackmail their suffocating place of work to make them pay to support them, so releasing them from the daily grind? You wouldn't even have to be a burden on the state. And which man would not wish to prove his masculinity, an issue that emerged when too many felt they were being wrapped in namby-pamby cotton wool by having to get in touch with their emotions? Hence the narrator and Durden set up the Fight Club of the title, where the disenfranchised men of the city can beat the hell out of each other in private, ramming home the theme of catharsis through physical injury.
And this is not to impress women, as the only significant female character is Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) who is evidently present solely to prove that Tyler and the narrator are not gay; she could easily be a male character with very little script tweaking. Watching it now, as the entertainment world has caught up with and surpassed this film's cynicism, it's easy to see its daring behaviour and topics of tearing down the constructions of a stifling society as self-serving and self-pitying posturing, but David Fincher's nervy direction and Pitt's charismatic performance bring out the wit in a narrative that grows ever more preposterous. The sad fact is that the revolutionary zeal carried in Fight Club is more product, as much as the other big 20th Century Fox movies: they found what sold and pushed it. Yes, you can even out-cynic a jaded film like this these days. But the jokes are good. Music by The Dust Brothers.