Fight Club (1999)
Frequently Asked Questions
No, a great deal of the plot has been changed. For example, in the novel, Tyler Durden and The Narrator first meet on a nude beach, whereas in the film, they meet on an airplane; in the novel, the fat Tyler and The Narrator use to make soap is fat from Marla Singer's mother, which Marla had been storing in her fridge for collagen injections, whereas in the film, Tyler and The Narrator steal the fat from a liposuction clinic's dumpster; in the novel, The Narrator ends up in a mental institution which he believes is heaven, whereas in the film, he is free and ready to start living a new life with Marla. Screenwriter Jim Uhls wrote the first draft of the script alone, as author Chuck Palahniuk wasn't interested in writing it (although he fully supported the adaptation). Uhls worked with other writers on subsequent drafts, including Andrew Kevin Walker, writer of Se7en (1995) and 8MM (1999), and Cameron Crowe, writer/director of Jerry Maguire (1996) and Almost Famous (2000). Director David Fincher, producers Ross Grayson Bell and Art Linson, and actors Brad Pitt and Edward Norton all did uncredited work on the screenplay as well.
According to author Chuck Palahniuk, he actually preferred the film to the novel. In his DVD commentary, which he shares with screenwriter Jim Uhls, Palahniuk points out numerous scenes in the film which he feels are improvements on the corresponding scenes in the novel. Additionally, Palahniuk has commented,
The film is great. When you consider how much of the convoluted plot is intact, and how many ideas and surprises are presented in such a short time, it's staggering. In the same way I love to use non-fiction forms within fiction, Fincher uses so many brilliant non-entertainment visual forms such as the furniture catalog, the security camera, the television news, to tell the story. He's the master of computer animation, using it in short powerful sequences that never outlast their impact. Norton and Pitt were their characters incarnate. Bonham Carter broke my heart. Everybody involved brought so much more to tell the story, I felt a little ashamed of the book.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with 2-Disc DVD]
The Narrator's (Edward Norton) name is never specifically stated in either the novel or the film. In the novel, The Narrator finds old Reader's Digest magazines containing articles written by organs in the first person, wherein the organs identify themselves as either Joe or Jill's organ (eg Joe's colon, Jill's medulla oblongata etc). After reading this, the Narrator occasionally says, "I am Joe's sense of..." to describe how he is feeling. In the film, something similar happens (although the filmmakers weren't allowed to use Readers Digest, so instead used the fictional magazine, Annotated Reader. They also had to change the name of "Joe" to "Jack" due to copyright issues with the publisher of the original articles). However, neither Joe nor Jack is the actual name of the Narrator. Some fans suggest that perhaps the Narrator's real name is in fact Tyler Durden, and because his alter ego was more dominant, the name was applied to that alter ego rather than himself. In the novel however, the Narrator shows Marla his driver's license, and says only that the name on it is not Tyler Durden.
Interestingly, the blurb on the back of the Fight Club DVD, as well as the Public Service Announcements bonus feature, refer to the character as Jack, and the chapter list for the film is called "Jack's Chapters". On the other hand, if you watch the movie with closed captions, the Narrator is called Rupert (one of the pseudonyms he uses at the support groups). As a final point of interest, on his DVD commentary, actor Edward Norton claims to know what the character was "really" called, but he refuses to reveal it to anyone, even director David Fincher. In the same commentary however, Norton does acknowledge that in the script, the Narrator's dialogue was marked by the name Jack. Marla Singer ([link]nm0000307[/link]) even asks him when they first meet, "What should I call you? Cornelius? Rupert? Any other of the fake names you use?" And he doesn't answer.
As astute viewers will have observed, Tyler Durden appears in the film six times prior to the scene where the Narrator meets him on the plane. Four of these appearances are single-frame flashes, which director David Fincher refers to on his DVD commentary as "subliminal Brads" (a single frame is 1/24 of a second in duration, just slow enough for the human eye to register). The first subliminal Brad appears while the Narrator is standing at the photocopier at work, trying to stay awake; the second appears as the doctor (Richmond Arquette) tells the Narrator that to see what real pain is, he needs to attend the testicular cancer support group; the third as the support group leader (George Maguire) makes his opening remarks; and the fourth as the Narrator watches Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) walk down an alley. Durden's fifth and sixth appearances are not single-frame flashes but cameo appearances: he is the furthest waiter on the right in the hotel welcome video and a passerby on a walkway in an airport.
On his DVD commentary track, David Fincher explains that the idea behind the subliminal Brads was to convey a sense of exasperation on the part of Tyler Durden; it is as if the Narrator has already created Tyler, but is hesitating to release him. The subliminal Brads are an attempt to illustrate Tyler's frustration with the Narrator—if the Narrator would simply allow him free reign, Tyler could tackle many of the problems holding the Narrator back. Significantly, all four subliminal Brads appear at times of stress, as if Tyler is choosing these precise moments to remind the Narrator that a solution is within his grasp, he just needs to follow through with it.
Yes he did, whilst in the guise of Tyler; prior to the car crash near the end of the film, Tyler Durden reveals that he blew up the Narrator's apartment. However, as we subsequently discover, Tyler is simply a figment of The Narrator's imagination, so the implication is that the Narrator blew up his own apartment, whilst in the Tyler persona. The problem some viewers have with this concerns the question of when he may have done it. After the Narrator loses his suitcase in the airport, he goes straight home to find his apartment on fire, prompting some to suggest he had no time to destroy the apartment. Similarly, when Detective Stern (Thom Gossom Jr.) of the Arson Unit calls, he says freon was sprayed into the condo's front-door lock and the cylinder shattered with a chisel. He then says that the gas was probably just used as a detonator for home-made dynamite (to which Tyler has already alluded, when he met the Narrator on the plane for the first time). As Stern makes no mention of a timer, one must assume that after the plane landed, Tyler became "active", left to blow up the condo, and then got into a cab somewhere. Then the Narrator's personality reasserted itself some time prior to his own arrival back at the apartment.This is partly supported by the theory that the scene depicting the Narrator attempting to retrieve his lost suitcase may itself be imagined, and in reality, he is actually in the process of blowing up the apartment, and covering it up from himself with this imagined scene. Evidence for this interpretation is provided by the fact that Tyler is seen jumping into a convertible in the background, prompting someone to yell at him, "that's my car," indicating that Tyler is really stealing a car. Obviously, as a figment of the Narrator's imagination, Tyler could not do such a thing (which David Fincher acknowledges on the commentary track), and hence the Narrator could be imagining the entire scene so as to cover up his own actions.
According to David Fincher on his DVD commentary, the idea of having the film literally jump from the gate was a way to convey to viewers the intensity of moment. As Tyler crystallizes his manifesto and begins to develop his philosophy beyond the Fight Clubs and into Project Mayhem, things become so intense that even the celluloid itself can no longer handle or contain the intensity, and therefore it jumps in the projector; it is as if Tyler's words are so powerful and important that they are affecting everything around them, even the film on which the scene is printed. It is also one of many moments where the film breaks the 4th wall. Other scenes which use this method include the voiceover narration, the "flashback humor" joke, the "subliminal Brads", both the narrator and Tyler directly addressing the audience/camera and the penis splice at the end. These breaks of the fourth wall, force the viewer to think outside of the film, thus facilitating a more objective analytical response, in the classic Brechtian style.
David Fincher himself raises this question on his DVD commentary. During the scene when Tyler and The Narrator have the argument in the car prior to the crash, Fincher speculates as to whether or not Ricky (Eion Bailey) and The Mechanic (Holt McCallany) can hear both Tyler and The Narrator's voices or just The Narrator's. The film makes it fairly clear that the Space Monkeys can hear both Tyler and The Narrator when they are being spoken to directly, but it offers no real clues as to whether or not both voices are audible when they are talking to one another. At one point during the argument, Tyler does turn around and address Ricky and The Mechanic, and they answer him, but again, this is a direct address, it is not part of the conversation between Tyler and The Narrator. Ultimately, the film offers no solid evidence as to whether or not the Space Monkeys can hear Tyler's voice when he is speaking to The Narrator, leaving it up to each individual viewer to reach his/her own conclusions. It could be said that The Space Monkeys heard the conversation but mistook it as Tyler speaking to them directly. Hence why they kept reciting the rules of fight club despite being told to shut up.
In the opening scene of the film, as he holds the gun in the Narrator's mouth, Tyler asks him if he has anything significant to say to mark the occasion, to which the Narrator replies, "I can't think of anything." Later, when the film returns to this scene, and Tyler again asks the Narrator if he has anything to say, the Narrator says, "I still can't think of anything," to which Tyler replies, "Ah, flashback humor." This is simply a joke for the more film savvy members of the audience (as David Fincher himself points out on his DVD commentary). The second time we see the scene, it should be an exact copy or replay of the first time we saw it. This is because it is the exact same scene, just shown twice. Because most of the film is a flashback which occurs after Tyler has asked the Narrator if he has anything to say, but when the scene replays, it begins prior to him asking the question, the Narrator is actually acknowledging that we have already seen this scene by referring to our original viewing of it (hence the word "still" in his answer the second time around). The addition of the word "still" is what prompts Tyler to say, ''Ah, flashback humor;" it is as if the Narrator is acknowledging that two hours (the duration of the film) have passed since he was last asked that question (which, of course, is exactly what has happened from a viewer's point of view), when in reality, he is really only being asked for the first time (from the character's point of view). As such, the use of the word "still" is simply a piece of self-reflexive humor, and to embellish the self-reflexivity of the moment, Tyler himself actually comments on it.
Due to the graphic nature of the gunshot at the end of the film, many viewers believe that the Narrator actually kills himself and therefore only "imagines" the last few moments of the film as he dies. Director David Fincher does acknowledge on his DVD commentary that the gunshot causes confusion because it is so outrageous, appearing to actually go through the Narrator's jaw. However, the Narrator is depicted as supposedly having suffered no serious injury, and importantly, if you look at the scene closely, you can see the bullet ricochet off his jaw and bounce back out of his mouth, thus explaining why the apparently fatal injury was not in fact fatal. In the novel, the Narrator's face is much more grotesque than in the movie as he already has a hole in his face due to the fight with Tyler. The gunshot then hits the other side of his face, causing another hole, which connects with the original hole, creating a huge, Joker-like grin.
To examine the scene further, there are all sorts of theories as to the symbolism of the gunshot and its effect, primarily in relation to the death of Tyler. Some argue that the gunshot was the Narrator's final way of "hitting bottom" as Tyler wanted, so therefore Tyler ceased to exist, as he was no longer needed. By attempting suicide, the Narrator is obviously no longer afraid of death or pain (which is what Tyler is trying to teach him during the scene where he pours lye on his hand). For this reason, Tyler's role becomes obsolete, because the Narrator had only created Tyler initially so as to express the more reckless nature which he had tried to repress. Others argue that the gunshot represents the Narrator's absolute rejection of Tyler, thus killing him. This is based on the concept that the bullet did in fact pass through the Narrator's head, but since he was two people, it was Tyler who was killed and not the Narrator (hence the exit wound in the back of Tyler's head). In this sense, it is significant to note that the affliction from which the Narrator seems to be suffering, dissociative identity disorder (DID), has been known to be "cured", or otherwise eradicated, if the patient experiences a traumatic event; receiving a gunshot to the face undoubtedly counts as a traumatic event. Another possibility is that the bullet went through a portion of the Narrator's brain, causing a pseudo-lobotomy and removing the "Tyler" part of his consciousness.Yet another argument is that rather than Tyler dying and the Narrator surviving, the two characters merge. After the gunshot, the Narrator has clearly become a different person, evidenced primarily by the fact that he stops denying his feelings for Marla. Additionally, the flash of the penis just before the credits would seem to support the idea that Tyler is still alive "somewhere", hence the merging theory.
No. Upon the release of the movie, a rumor began to circulate that the penis at the end of the film was in fact that of actor Brad Pitt. However, this was nothing more than a rumor. As Chuck Palahniuk and Jim Uhls mention on their DVD commentary, the penis belongs to someone else entirely (although they have no idea who). Regarding the casting process for the single frame, Edward Norton humorously states in his commentary track that "David Fincher appears in all his own films."
This brief section touches on only three possible ways to interpret the character of Tyler; there are a myriad of others.
On the most basic level, Tyler Durden is a figment of the Narrator's imagination. The Narrator seems to be suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID). According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, DID...
is a condition in which a person has more than one distinct identity or personality states. At least two of these personalities repeatedly assert themselves to control the affected person's behavior. Each personality state has a distinct name, past, identity, and self-image. [see here for the full article]
According to Psychology Today, The individual experiences two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person's behavior. Each may exhibit its own distinct history, self-image, behaviors, and, physical characteristics, as well as possess a separate name. Particular identities may emerge in specific circumstances. Alternative identities are experienced as taking control in sequence, one at the expense of the other, and may deny knowledge of one another, be critical of one another or appear to be in open conflict. [see here for the full article]
These two passages seem to offer a good summary of the Narrator's predicament: Tyler Durden is an alternative identity of the Narrator. A common argument regarding the aspect of the Narrator's personality represented by Tyler is to equate him with the id. This is what Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and David Fincher do on their DVD commentary, arguing that Tyler is essentially a manifestation of the Narrator's id, insofar as he partakes of all the things of which the Narrator is afraid to partake and acts in ways the Narrator wishes he could act. He quite literally is the Narrator's suppressed desires and yearnings.
However, for many fans of the film, for numerous critics and scholars, and for many of the filmmakers themselves, it isn't quite that simple. Whilst they acknowledge that Tyler is a figment of the Narrator's imagination, they are also keen to explore what exactly he represents in and of himself, beyond the Narrator; taking Tyler as a standalone character, what exactly does he signify? According to Edward Norton,
A lot of people have been responding to Tyler as a sort of Nietzschean Übermensch in the sense that he's advocating liberation of the human individual through the rejection and destruction of the institutions and value systems that are enslaving us.
[Graham Fuller, "Fighting Talk: Interview with Edward Norton", Interview Magazine, 24:5 (November, 1999); available here]
However, as Norton points out on his DVD commentary, Tyler's methods ultimately veer into the same dehumanizing tactics used by the systems he claims to abhor, such as when he orders around the members of Project Mayhem with a megaphone or when he denies them names.
The tension in the film comes from my character asking, "What are the limitations of a nihilistic attitude?" It can be enthralling, it can be seductive, it can feel liberating on certain levels. But at what point do the practical applications of it start to become exactly the things they're critiquing, and at what point do Tyler's initiatives start to dehumanize people just as much?
In this sense then, Tyler's manifestation, and ultimate corruption, of the Nietzschean concept of nihilism is rejected by the Narrator, but the point is that Tyler represents a sort of corrupted nihilistic ideology; "It's a critique of how Nietzsche becomes Hitler" ("Edward Norton Yale Interview", (October 3rd, 1999); available here, and on all 2-Disc DVD versions of the movie). In this sense, Tyler represents the excesses to which flawed ideology can fall victim.
Looking at Tyler as a symbol for a political manifesto is only one interpretation of the character, albeit the most common. A compelling alternative is provided by Adrian Gargett in his article "doppelganger: exploded states of consciousness in fight club". In this article, Gargett takes a basic psychoanalytical approach to interpreting Tyler, ignoring the political imperative of the role, and arguing instead that he functions primarily as the Narrator's double:
The Double explores the spiritual dimension—the representation of a desire for immortality. ... [The Narrator] develops Tyler in the identification of a secondary, apparently hostile component of his personality with a "physical" double—who may be real or imaginary. Tyler is not simply a physical replicant of the protagonist, but a complementary addition to his own identity. The Double originates from within the host as an external expression of repressed emotions/desires. Via doubling, an alter-ego is created that embodies a demonic subjectivity. Tyler is a manifestation of the narrator's sense of incompleteness and parental abandonment.
[Adrian Gargett, "doppelganger: exploded states of consciousness in Fight Club", disinformation (August 22nd, 2001); available here]
Of course, this is not dissimilar to suggesting that Tyler is simply a manifestation of the Narrator's id.
In the end, however, the character remains indefinable and unquantifiable, with each viewer investing him with meaning based on his or her own subjective reaction to the movie.
The fight scenes are a means to an end, a metaphor for something beyond themselves. The film is not literally about men beating each other up; the fighting serves a purpose beyond its superficial connotations. Fight Club is concerned with the why behind the fighting, and the fight scenes are invested with symbolic meaning that obviates the superficial "violence for the sake of violence" interpretation.
As Edward Norton points out, The violence of the fight clubs serves as a metaphor for feeling, rather than to promote or glorify physical combat. The fights are tangible representations of resisting the impulse to be cocooned in society. Fighting between the men strips away the fear of pain and the reliance on material signifiers of their self-worth, leaving them to really experience something valuable.
[Louis B. Hobson, "Get ready to rumble," Calgary Sun, (October 10th, 1999); available here]
Norton also argues that...
The idea of the fighting is not about the suggestion that violence directed outward toward other people is a solution to your frustrations. It's very much a metaphor for self-transforming radicalism, the idea of directing violence inward at your own presumptions. Tyler doesn't walk out of the bar and say, "Can I hit you," he says "Will you hit me?" It's this idea that you need to get shaken out of your own cocoon. The fighting is a metaphor for stripping yourself of received notions and value systems that have been applied to you that aren't your own. And freeing yourself to discover who you actually are
[Edward Norton, Round Table Interview, (September 28th, 1999); available here]
The fighting serves as a metaphor for the shaking off of the shackles imposed by contemporary society, a means of discovering aspects of one's self which one would not be exposed to were one to toe the line. Fight Club suggests that society has become so oppressive that to find out anything about themselves, men must do something extreme, like engaging in violent physical combat. In Norton's argument, the extremity of the fighting is in fact a commentary on the oppressiveness of society: only by doing something extreme can one free oneself. As such, the fighting serves simply as a metaphor for how downtrodden and subjugated men have become in this corporate culture of advertising.
Numerous critics, however, disagree with the metaphoric connotations of the fighting, arguing instead that the film was only about physical violence, there was nothing beneath the surface or between the lines, and as such, the film was reprehensible, insofar as it encouraged such actions amongst its (apparently infantile and unintelligent) intended audience. Film scholar Gary Crowdus summates the views of such critics when he points out that... they felt the fight 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.
["Getting Exercised over Fight Club," Cineaste, 25:4 (September, 2000); quoted in Jethro Rothe-Kushel, "Fight Club: A Ritual Cure For The Spiritual Ailment Of American Masculinity", The Film Journal (February 2004); available here]
Numerous critics fit Crowdus' description, but none better than Roger Ebert, who called the film, A celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up. 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
[Fight Club Review, Chicago Sun Times, (October 15th, 1999); available here]
Ebert also said the film included "some of the most brutal, unremitting, nonstop violence ever filmed"—a bizarre claim which prompted some to ask if he'd even seen the film. Another excellent example is Kenneth Turan, who called the film, a witless mishmash of whiny, infantile philosophizing and bone-crunching violence. Director David Fincher, with Alien³ (1992), Se7en (1995) and The Game (1997) in his past, is one of cinema's premier brutalizers, able to impale audiences on meat hooks and make them like it. So it's no surprise that Fight Club's level of visceral violence, its stomach-turning string of bloody and protracted bare-knuckles brawls, make it more than worthy of an NC-17 if the MPAA could ever work up the nerve to give that rating to a major studio film...aside from the protracted beatings, this film is so vacuous and empty, it's more depressing than provocative
[Fight Club Review, Los Angeles Times, (October 15th, 1999)]
To accuse the film of being simply about violence is to analyse it on the most superficial level possible. The fighting in the film carries metaphorical significance which far outweighs its literal violent connotations.
The most common argument as to what the film is primarily about is that it deals with the conflict between young people and the corporate value system of advertising which has become an integral part of the society in which they find themselves. In this sense, the film is very much anti-materialist, and deals with the schism created when someone can no longer tolerate the value system with which they are simply expected to comply. This system of advertising has become so ingrained into all aspects of contemporary society that when one tries to reject it, one is quite literally engaging in a personal revolution. Furthermore, the film probes the problems caused by the system and a corporate dominated society insofar as it examines what that society has done to the men who inhabit it. Males, traditionally, the hunter/gatherer, have been reduced to what Louis B. Hobson calls "a generation of spectators" ("Get ready to rumble", Calgary Sun, (October 10th, 1999); available here), their inherent "abilities" as men no longer needed for the smooth running of society (as Tyler Durden points out in the scene where he chastises The Narrator for knowing what a duvet is, asking how such knowledge helps in "the hunter/gatherer sense"). Instead of a need for survival and a desire for moral and spiritual well-being, man is instead driven by a desire for material "things," a desire instilled by a society of advertising which defines a person based upon their possession of what Jim Slotek calls "external signifiers of happiness" ("Cruisin' for a bruisin,'" Toronto Sun, (October 10th, 1999); available here). This in turn creates a pointless and ultimately empty obsession with possessing items which ultimately come to possess the owner, and causing an abandonment of the search for spiritual happiness. It is this very society which the film critiques.
However, this is but one interpretation of a film which is open to a virtually any reading. A good way to engage with the various possibilities as to meaning is to look at what some of the filmmakers themselves have said about their own interpretations of the work. This selection of quotations offers a broad cross section of their opinions:
Chuck Palahniuk (author): We are a nation of physical animals who have forgotten how much we enjoy being that. We are cushioned by this kind of make-believe, unreal world, and we have no idea what we can survive because we are never challenged or tested.
[Movie EPK; quoted here] Jim Uhls (screenwriter): "It's about numbness and alienation and finding self-empowerment through drastic means" ("How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD).
Brad Pitt: "Fight Club is a metaphor for the need to push through the walls we put around ourselves and just go for it, so for the first time we can experience the pain" ("Club fighting for a respectful place in life," Post-Tribune (March 15th, 2001); quoted in Wikipedia article).
Chuck Palahniuk: "It offers people the idea that they can create their own lives outside the existing blueprint for happiness offered by society" ("How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD).
Edward Norton: To me it's very much a story about a person who feels at odds with everything he's expected to engage in. Who hits a juncture in his life and chooses to move toward the seduction of negativity and nihilism. There's this presentation of a guy who's kind of hilariously desperately out of sync with all the things he's supposed to participate in, who kind of has this Elaine Robinson, or in Marla's case, he has this women who's kind of like his female doppelganger. She is him. And he recoils from it. It's like he recoils from the image of himself and moves toward what turns out to be this idealized vision of himself, as opposed to himself the way he is. There's this moment that I really like in the phone booth where he attempts to call her. There is this moment where he could call her and go after the simple human connection that ultimately by the end he kind of realizes he should have gone after all along. And he almost calls her, and he hears her voice and it sounds too much like him and he hangs up and he goes the other way. He goes toward this idea of a new version of himself. And explores that negativity and all its excess. That's what interested me. This idea of the seduction of the negative. Like, you know, sort of Tyler as Mrs. Robinson. This exploration that has consequence, terrible, terrible consequence and that you have to wake up from it and ultimately reject it to get to a sort of new middle ground. Tyler gets him to give up on God, but ultimately he has to give up on Tyler and give up on the excesses of what Tyler is suggesting that men ought to be. He's found what his own boundaries are, he's not his old self, but he's not willing to go all the way in this new self.
["Edward Norton Yale Interview", (October 3rd, 1999); available here and on all 2-Disc DVD versions of the movie] Bret Easton Ellis (author of Less Than Zero (1987), American Psycho (2000), The Rules of Attraction (2002) and Lunar Park): Fight Club rages against the hypocrisy of a society that continually promises us the impossible: fame, beauty, wealth, immortality, life without pain. It's a relentless, dizzying take on the male fear of losing power.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD] Ross Grayson Bell (producer): The underlying theme is that you have to break yourself apart to build something new. It is only when you realize that you're not your lousy hair, or your bad debts, or your fears that you're not good enough, that you can actually create a new life for yourself.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD] Ross Grayson Bell: It shocks you into looking at who really controls your life: you or your fears. Once you make that distinction, you then have the choice to take control or not. It's better to have options than to be eternally bemoaning your lot.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD] Ross Grayson Bell: It spoke to the heart of a disenfranchised generation, my generation. Like The Graduate (1967) two decades before, it spoke to the frustrations of ordinary guys trying to make sense of the sorry world previous generations were so smugly handing over to us like so much skid-marked underwear.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD] Chuck Palahniuk: The first way in which a new generation takes control of society is through the culture: the arts, films, books, music. Through all entertainment. People who feel safe and secure in the existing society are frightened by ideas that threaten their power. People who hold the power in society want nice complacent forms of entertainment, films that comfort people and support the status quo.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD] Brad Pitt: I think there's a self defense mechanism that keeps my generation from having any real honest connection or commitment with our true feelings. We're rooting for ball teams, but we're not getting in there to play. We're so concerned with failure and success like these two things are all that's going to sum you up at the end.
["Club fighting for a respectful place in life", Post-Tribune (March 15th, 2001); quoted in Wikipedia article] Edward Norton: I felt like it named a lot of things that I saw or felt in the energy of my generation. I've looked for things as an actor and director that I thought were specifically kind of generational nerve pieces or pieces that I thought were about my generation and its particular dysfunctions and relationships with the culture. And I haven't run into very many. And I never felt like the films that were getting made that were targeted at us, sort of the Reality Bites (1994) version of us as a generation, were very on-target for me. I always thought it was very baby boomer, kind of concocted, somewhat over-simplistic. And I thought a somewhat disdainful reduction of us to this kind of Gen-X, slacker, aimless, low energy, angst-ridden kind of banal realism and I just didn't buy it, and I certainly didn't respond to it. It didn't seem to me to speak to some of the deeper things that I was feeling. And this was the first thing I'd read where I just laughed all the way through it. I laughed because there were passages in it that were just instantaneously impressed in my brain. The idea of a generation that's had its value system largely informed by the advertising culture is really provocative to me. On a certain level, in the absence of collective spirituality, there is a notion that the external signifiers of your material life will make you happy. That you'll find spiritual peace through home furnishing. And it just made me laugh, it made me laugh because I was in the process of furnishing my house. And it was making me feel calm, for a while. And I felt like so much of what peeves me about the culture that I can't necessarily put a finger on, was named in this book. It was very focused on this idea of men and their sense of being displaced, their role in the culture being displaced. Of absentee fathers and the effect of that. There's stuff about it that are classically Nietzschean almost. I thought this is a piece about the challenge of individual self overcoming. Of making yourself evolve and of shattering old value systems and received value systems and institutional kind of hierarchies to free yourself individually. And about what happens, what are the practical limits of applying that as a philosophy in the real world. And at what point does that start to become the thing that it was seeking to free people from? The solution becomes negative and destructive and dehumanizing in the sense that all of these guys give up their names to become part of the movement that's supposed to be freeing them? I was thinking, "Jesus, you know, this is a critique of fascism." Or it's a critique of how Nietzsche becomes Hitler.
["Edward Norton Yale Interview", (October 3rd, 1999); available here and on all 2-Disc DVD versions of the movie] Edward Norton: It has a generational energy to it, a protest energy. So much of what's been represented about my generation has been done by the baby boomers. They dismiss us: the word "slacker," the oversimplification of the Gen-X mentality as one of hesitancy or negativity. It isn't just aimlessness we feel; it's deep skepticism. It's not slackerdom; it's profound cynicism, even despair, even paralysis, in the face of an onslaught of information and technology.
[Joanna Schneller, "Brad Pitt & Edward Norton Interview", Premier, (August, 1999); available here] Edward Norton: I feel that Fight Club really, in a way probed into the despair and paralysis that people feel in the face of having inherited this value system out of advertising.
[Stephen Schaefer, "Two of Hollywood's hottest thirtysomethings embrace mayhem and millennial meltdown in Fight Club", movies.com; available here] Edward Norton: This idea of our generation having its value system largely dictated to it by advertising culture and by all these cultural signifiers telling you what your life is supposed to be, what are the trappings of your life, that if you take them on will result in spiritual happiness. Like the idea of being sold all of our lives, the idea that you will achieve spiritual peace through home furnishing or your material possessions or that happiness is tied to lifestyle. And the phenomenon that I think our generation has been going through of waking up into adulthood and recognizing the emptiness of that promise and the inability of that promise to be fulfilled by those acquisitions and kind of the whole idea of a received value system really isn't working for you or making you happy and what do you do at that point? I've always felt that our generation in particular is a generation that is having its midlife crisis in its twenties. And I think that that on some level is a very healthy thing, but it is disturbing. I felt the film in those themes. It also dealt more specifically with how men in particular feel emasculated in the contemporary culture. It was kind of like some weird '90s version of reading Nietzsche in college. It was like Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It's about two people exploring how do we liberate ourselves from value systems that aren't ours or that have been applied to us and that we've been told we ought to accept and exploring the practical limitations of that kind of nihilism
[Edward Norton, Round Table Interview, (September 28th, 1999); available here] Edward Norton: Fincher was always very firm in saying that it needed to be a film about two people exploring certain questions and in the end, going in two different directions. There's a dialectic between Brad's character and my character and at the end, things happen a certain way, but you're essentially left without a pat theme or glib conclusion by the film. It doesn't get wrapped up in a neat package for you so that you can walk out and say, "Oh, the message of that film was this." You have to, in essence, take it out of the density of it all. You have to think about it a little bit and decide was Tyler's practical execution of this idea of self-liberation through kind of an anarchism negative. Did that become negative in its own right? Did the people surrounding them lose their identity as much as they had been before they got into this whole thing? Or was The Narrator afraid to go the final mile? And I liked all of that as a general approach to the film, the idea of wrestling around in it and leaving it in an audience's lap.
[Edward Norton, Round Table Interview, (September 28th, 1999); available here] Laura Ziskin (President of Production, Fox 2000 Pictures): The movie is really about the causes of violence and is, in fact, anti-violence, although it acknowledges those impulses in human nature. If art can't examine those issues then we are in a lot of trouble.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD] Edward Norton: It is the responsibility of people making films and people making all art to specifically address dysfunctions in the culture. I think that any culture where the art is not reflecting a really dysfunctional component of that culture, is a culture in denial. And I think that's much more intensely dangerous on lots of levels than considered examinations of those dysfunctions through art. I don't believe that it's the chicken and the egg question. I do think there is violence in our culture. I think there always has been violence in our culture in one form or another. I think that it's a very appropriate discussion to ask what are the ways in which the presentations of violence affect us. I would aim those questions more at films that present violence in a way where it's presented as entertainment or where violence is made an aesthetic in its own right. I think that there's a legitimate question as to how certain presentations of violence without impact affect us all. But I don't think that the violence that is in our culture means that art shouldn't examine that violence. I think that if we were to refrain from serious examinations in art of the kind of ways in which we're unhealthy or ways in which we're dysfunctional as a culture, then we wouldn't have most of the things we point to as landmarks in our cultural landscape. Nabokov wouldn't have written Lolita out of fear that an old man would go and molest a young girl. Scorsese would have never made Taxi Driver (1976) and the Beatles wouldn't have written The White Album, because Manson might use it as an outlet for his pathologies. My grandfather really didn't like The Graduate (1967). He thought it was negative and subversive, but my father loved it. And I think you would erase most of the serious discussion about our dysfunctions if you did that. I don't think it's the responsibility of filmmakers to account for every possible misinterpretation of a film that you might make. I would think that would quell serious debate too much. I think it would quell serious considerations of the ways that we're unhealthy. I think that it's a very, very appropriate film. Films are a potent, arguably one of the most potent, cultural mediums that we have right now and it's totally appropriate for them to be entertaining. But I think it's also critical that a medium as potent as film be examining the ways that we're unhealthy. And I've never worked on a film where violence was romanticized in the sense of being presented without impact or where the roots of it weren't being examined specifically as the intent of the film. And so I've never hesitated on that score where my films are concerned because I feel like it's very important sometimes to hold an uninflected mirror up to those things. Or to just hold any mirror up to those things. It's meaningful to me to work on pieces that wrestle around in territory that we're all very uncomfortable with. When we first started going out with the press on this Fincher said something like, "If it doesn't piss off a healthy number of people then we've done something seriously wrong." And I agreed. I hope it rattles people. I hope it dunks it very squarely in your lap because I think one of the things we strove very specifically to do with this was on some levels retain a kind of a moral ambivalence or a moral ambiguity - not to deliver a neatly wrapped package of meaning into your lap. Or in any way that let you walk away from the film like this, comfortable in having been told what you should make of it. Or what the theme was. And I think that's fine too. Another film that I worked on, American History X (1998), I think was a much more thematically packaged film. I think it was just like a tragedy. It was intended to have a prescriptive message. But this is not. But a big part of the intent of this was to point a finger at certain things and name them, and dump it in your lap and say, "What do you want to make of that?" I think it's intentionally surreal, it's intentionally metaphoric and I think it's not for kids.
["Edward Norton Yale Interview", (October 3rd, 1999); available here and on all 2-Disc DVD versions of the movie] Numerous scholars and critics have also offered their own interpretations of the film. For example:
Alex Burns (film scholar): It is a fable about postmodern consumer society and the potential for an American fascism. Fight Club belongs to a social protest movement that has emerged since the Cold War's endgame, typified by fears about trans-national corporations, media-savvy activists, and the demise of the traditional bi-polar political framework
["fight club: a postmodern consumer parable", disinformation, (May 3rd, 2001); available here] Adrian Gargett (film critic): The men who become members of Fight Club are victims of the de-humanizing and de-sanitizing power of contemporary society, inhabiting an essence of identity marketed by consumer culture. The only way they can regain a sense of individuality is by locating the primeval and "barbaric" instincts of pain and violence. The Narrator can only define himself in terms of male, consumer, insurance worker, insomniac, but he feels that he has lost any sense of self. He is confined by the mechanisms society adopts for categorization.
["doppelganger: exploded states of consciousness in fight club", disinformation, (August 22nd, 2001); available here] Jethro Rothe-Kushel (filmmaker): The film comments profoundly on America's problems of meaning (e.g. indentured servitude to capitalism in a land of freedom, violence in a land of justice, consumer Darwinism in a land of community, meaning in a post-modern reality that understands all meaning as a relative cultural construct, etc.). In sociological terms, [The Narrator], a white male, could represent the hierarchical leadership of the American patriarchy; "I was the warm little center that the life of this world crowded around." America seems to love him, but he feels hurt and betrayed by his culture and the dulled-down consumerist dreams he has inherited. Without Tyler, [The Narrator] is a spineless, volumeless, emotionless, placid, and flaccid half-man. His creation of Tyler allows him to reclaim his masculinity amidst a culture of post-feminist, cathartic, self-help groups. The film frames America lacking a public venue to integrate the emotional component of white male identity. When there is a communal or cultural void, history suggests that violence can complete that lack. Fight Club exposes the void and offers three solutions: crying, violence, and movies. It asks the question, what do you want to do with the Narrators of our country - those unwanted children of America who were raised on cultural action hero myths and yearn to live those stories?
["Fight Club: A Ritual Cure For The Spiritual Ailment Of American Masculinity", The Film Journal (February 2004); available here] Adrienne Redd (political and social critic): Prima facie, Fight Club is about masculinity, but with the crucial proviso that it is about masculinity among a specific class of American men: the burgeoning stratum of service or gray-collar workers. There was a time when blue-collar workers could invest in a kind of honor and mythology of hard physical work, but the world has changed and now former steelworkers are parking cars, waiting tables, and watching security monitors. They have not even the solace of big muscles and the solidarity of unions from which to construct their identities and with which to salvage their bruised egos. And as a character says in the film, they lack a great cause, like a war or depression, in which to test themselves. Fight Club is really about what it is to be a man who serves others (as women have traditionally) and how such men construct identity and meaning in their lives. That women now can take most of the jobs that men can is certainly a background fact, but the film explores other issues or sources of masculinity. This ties into the American dream and the mythology that anyone can become rich or become president. Part of the way that the working poor are lulled into cooperating and staying in the service of richer classes is by this unspoken promise that if they work hard they will ascend to higher security and status. The film is also about escaping conventional society. Representative of escaping out the top of a cold and constrictive society are the references to being a millionaire or a celebrity. Representative of escaping out the bottom are the constant references to "trying to hit bottom" to attain a freedom that doesn't come until one has nothing to lose
["Masculine Identity in the Service Class: An Analysis of Fight Club", Criticism.com (June 27th, 2004); available here] Hilary Johnson (film scholar): It is about the imminent large-scale social and economic obsolescence of the male species. Men are failing at work, at school and in families, in theory because the modern knowledge and skill-oriented world is basically testosterone-intolerant. While men's strength and aggression were useful in establishing the modern world, they are an impediment to its smooth day-to-day operation, a task better suited to the instincts and behavior of females.
[Village Voice; quoted in Nick Roddick, "Fight Club: How Hard to be a Man?", Urban Cinefile; available here]
Upon the release of the film, it was primarily vilified by critics for two reasons: glamorizing violence and pro-fascism.
Roger Ebert called it "the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since Death Wish (1974)" (Fight Club Review, Chicago Sun Times, (October 15th, 1999); available here). Alexander Walker claimed that "it echoes propaganda that gave license to the brutal activities of the SA and the SS. It resurrects the Führer principle" (London Evening Standard; quoted in "How to Start a Fight booklet, included with DVD).
Fans of the film argue that on the surface, the film may seem to flirt with a radical political ideology which could be called pseudo-fascist (or, based on Project Mayhem's anti-corporatist actions, Anarcho-primitivist), but if one looks a little deeper, one can see that the film ultimately rejects the tenets of Tyler Durden's Project Mayhem, and any leanings towards fascism along with it. As director David Fincher says, "Isn't the point of fascism to say, 'This is the way we should be going'? But this movie couldn't be further from offering any kind of solution" (Damon Wise, "Menace II Society," Empire, (December, 1999); available here). Even the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) made this observation about the film's so-called pro-fascist message: The film as a whole is - quite clearly - critical and sharply parodic of the amateur fascism which it in part portrays. Its central theme of male machismo (and the anti-social behavior that flows from it) is emphatically rejected by the central character in the concluding reels.
Club", Variety (September 11th, 1999); available here]
As such, the very simple answer to the question of whether or not the film is pro-fascist is: No, it isn't; at least it certainly isn't as far as the filmmakers themselves are concerned. As mentioned above, the film does flirt with a fascist ideology upon the initial founding of Project Mayhem, but as Tyler's ideas become more and more radical and dangerous, the Narrator (and the film) pulls back from them, disassociating himself (and itself) from his ideology and ultimate goals. As the BBFC points out, the film concludes with the Narrator completely rejecting the pseudo-fascist ideology of Tyler, a rejection shared by the film itself. In layman's terms, by the end of the film, Tyler has very much become the villain, with the Narrator presented as the desperate (and righteous) protagonist. With that in mind then, to say that the film is simply "pro-fascist" because it initially presents a pseudo-fascist character in an attractive light is to grossly oversimplify things, not to mention completely miss the point of the dénouement.
Quite simply, Fight Club was the first mainstream movie with violent content to be released after the Columbine incident, and as such, it was the first film to be attacked in the press and accused of fostering the violent attitudes in society which led to the murders. As screenwriter Jim Uhls explains, It gave moral pundits a shot at something tangible, a scapegoat. It's a film about fist fighting, but it made the "mistake" of showing too much blood. These same opposing voices were silent about clean, fun-looking automatic rifle slaughter in films released before Columbine.
["How to Start a Fight" booklet, included with DVD]
Similarly, as Edward Norton has argued, To make some glib associative link between this film and Columbine is just lazy journalism. It's not giving it a sophisticated treatment. And even to the degree that there is some sort of link, violence is in the culture and if art stops addressing the violence in the culture, then you're got a culture in denial, in essence. I think it's a completely legitimate debate, and the thing to question is how violence is presented in films. Oftentimes violence is presented as entertainment or violence is presented without impact or almost as a pure aesthetic itself, for example, The Matrix (1999), a film where violence was literally violence as ballet. And those raise interesting questions. But for my money, I think a film that is in essence about the dynamics that go into shaping people's frustrations, I think the idea of squelching that kind of discussion is more dangerous than having the discussion and having it be misinterpreted by anybody. You wouldn't have most of the things that we now see as great cultural landmarks, that were mirrors up to the times. You wouldn't have Taxi Driver (1976) or Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange (1971) if people had said, "I'm not going to make this because it might be misinterpreted as espousing this.
[Edward Norton, Round Table Interview, (September 28th, 1999); available here]
Opening credits: "Stealing Fat" by The Dust Brothers.
Ikea sequence: "Corporate World" by The Dust Brothers.
Narrator starts going to therapy groups: "Tzigany Waltz" by George Fenton and John Leach.
Marla invades Narrator's therapy groups: "Marla" by The Dust Brothers.
Montage showing Narrator traveling for his job: "Single Serving Jack" by The Dust Brothers.
Narrator and Tyler fight for the first time: "Jack's Smirking Revenge" by The Dust Brothers.
Tyler and Narrator enter the bar for the first official meeting of Fight Club: "Goin' Out West" by Tom Waits.
Tyler has sex with Marla for the first time: "Marla" by The Dust Brothers.
Marla and Tyler escape from Marla's apartment as the paramedics show up: "Single Serving Jack" by The Dust Brothers.
Marla sings while leaving Tyler's house: "Theme From Valley of the Dolls (1967) " by Dory Previn and André Previn.
Narrator and Tyler steal fat from liposuction clinic: "Stealing Fat" by The Dust Brothers..
Tyler burns Narrator's hand: "Chemical Burn" by The Dust Brothers.
Fight Club members try to start fights with innocent people: "Space Monkeys" by The Dust Brothers.
Montage showing homework assignments escalating into vandalism: "Homework" by The Dust Brothers.
Tyler teaches Raymond K. Hessel a lesson / exploding computer store: "Hessel, Raymond K. " by The Dust Brothers.
Tyler and space monkeys attack the commissioner in the bathroom: "Commissioner Castration" by The Dust Brothers.
Car crash scene: "Medulla Oblongata" by The Dust Brothers.
Narrator tries to track down Tyler : "Homework" by The Dust Brothers.
Narrator realizes that he is Tyler Durden: "Who Is Tyler Durden? " by The Dust Brothers.
Narrator runs from police station / finds bomb in the van / gets beaten up by Tyler: "Finding The Bomb" by The Dust Brothers.
Narrator and Marla watch the buildings explode: "Where Is My Mind? " by The Pixies.
The original R2 UK 2-disc Special Edition DVD released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (UK) in 2000, the R2 UK 2-Disc Definitive Edition DVD released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (UK) in 2007, the R1 US 2-disc Collectors Edition released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in 2000 and the R1 US 2-disc Collectors Edition Steelbook released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in 2007 all contain the following special features:
• A feature length audio commentary with director David Fincher and actors Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter.
• Cast and crew biographies and filmographies.
• 6 behind-the-scenes multi-angle/multi-audio vignettes ("Alternate Main Titles", "Airport", "Jack's Condo", "Paper Street House", "Corporate Art Ball")
• 9 visual effects multi-angle/multi-audio vignettes ("Main Titles", "Fürni Catalogue", "Ice Cave/Power Animal", "Photogrammetry", "Mid-Air Collision", "Sex Sequence", "Car Crash", "Gun Shot", "High-Rise Collapse")
• On Location: Fight Club (2000); a 5-minute making-of featurette.
• US Theatrical Teaser Trailer, US Theatrical Trailer and an unused US theatrical trailer
• 17 TV Spots
• 2 spoof Pubic Service Announcements by The Narrator and Tyler Durden
• A 4-minute collection of clips from the film scored to the music of The Dust Brothers.
• 5 Internet Spots.
• A gallery of lobby cards
• The Press Kit
• A gallery of production stills
• Transcript of an interview with Edward Norton at Yale University from October 1999.
• The entire storyboard collection for the film
• A gallery of visual effects stills
• A gallery of production design stills
• A gallery of costume and make-up stills
• A gallery of artwork for the main title sequence
• A gallery of pre-production concept art
• Six deleted scenes with a text introduction to each one (see below for more information on these scenes).
The R2 UK 2-Disc Definitive Edition DVD released in 2007, the R1 US 2-disc Collectors Edition released in 2000 and the R1 US 2-disc Collectors Edition Steelbook released in 2007 also contain the following additional special features:
• A feature length audio commentary with director David Fincher.
• A feature length audio commentary with author Chuck Palahniuk and screenwriter Jim Uhls.
• A feature length audio commentary with production designer Alex McDowell, director of photography Jeff Cronenweth, costume designer Michael Kaplan, visual effects supervisor Kevin Tod Haug and digital animator Richard 'Dr.' Baily.
• An additional deleted scene ("Angel Face's Beating")
The 2-Disc US Collector's Edition and 2-Disc UK Definitive Edition DVD contain 7 deleted/alternative scenes:
1. Rupert and Chloe: This scene occurs just after Chloe (Rachel Singer) gives her speech about wanting to get laid before she dies. As The Narrator makes his way to speak to Marla, Chloe intercepts him and begins to chat to him. He awkwardly tells her that she looks good, and then excuses himself and follows Marla outside.
2. Marla's Pillow Talk: This is the infamous original line spoken by Marla after she and Tyler have slept together; "I want to have your abortion." Fox 2000 Pictures President of Production Laura Ziskin was so horrified with this line (which is taken directly from author Chuck Palahniuk's novel) that she demanded director David Fincher reshoot the scene with a different line. After hearing the replacement line ("My God, I haven''t been fucked like that since grade school"), Ziskin pleaded with Fincher to put back the original line. He refused.
3. Copier Abuse: An alternative version of the scene where The Narrator's boss, Richard Chesler (Zach Grenier) discovers the rules of Fight Club in the photocopier. The dialogue between himself and The Narrator is slightly different, but by and large, the scene plays out the same way as the theatrical version.
4. Tyler Quits Smoking/Jack Quits Work: Two short scenes which were removed from the film after the scene where The Narrator beats himself up in front of Richard Chesler was repositioned in the overall narrative, occurring much later in the film than it originally did. The Narrator comes downstairs and offers Tyler a cigarette, but Tyler says he's quit. The Narrator then leaves for work. Later that day, The Narrator returns home, having gotten the free supplies, and Tyler, unimpressed with The Narrator, tells him they need to take Fight Club up a notch or close it down altogether. Also included is behind the scenes footage of the shooting of the first scene.
5. Angel Face's Beating: Two versions of the scene where The Narrator beats Angel Face (Jared Leto) to a pulp: the original unedited theatrical version and the edited version which was released in the UK after the BBFC refused to pass the uncut version. Also included is behind the scenes footage of the rehearsals and shooting of the scene.
6. Walter: An alternative version of the scene where The Narrator attends the meeting with the salesman (David Lee Smith), where he is asked if he likes the product, and swishes blood through his teeth. The scene itself plays out the same, but the voiceover is different, and includes a rant about the salesman himself (whose name, we learn, is Walter) which is absent from the finished film.
7. Tyler's Goodbye: An alternative version of the scene where Tyler muses about his perfect world whilst The Narrator lies in bed recovering from the car crash. The actual scene itself and Tyler's monologue are both identical to the finished version of the film. However, the alternative version lacks the sound effects heard in the theatrical cut, and additionally, all of the fades to black from the finished version of the film are here just straight cuts.
The UK version classified 18 was slightly censored in five scenes, primarily in the beating of Angel Face. All cuts were waived for the 2007 re-release.
Yes. Both the US 10th Anniversary Edition and the UK 10th Anniversary Edition, both released in 2009, include all of the special features from the R1 US Collecter's Editions and the R2 UK Definitive Edition, plus a number of new HD featurettes: "A Hit on the Ear: Ren Klyce and the Sound Design of Fight Club" and "Flogging Fight Club". Additionally, enhanced viewing mode (called Insomniac Mode) includes "I Am Jack's Index Search" and "Commentary Index". BD-Live is also available.