Mischief. Mayhem. Soap. Time to break the first two rules.
Fight Club is the quintessential cult movie. When it was first released in October of 1999, it polarized critics and was considered a box office disappointment, grossing just over $100 million against a $63 million budget. Like many other cult classics, it found new life on home video. Twenty years later, it still has its devoted followers and is considered to be one of the best films from everyone involved, from its director to its two leading men. But why has it gathered a following so big that it holds a very high spot in IMDb’s top rated movies?
Based off of the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk (who himself can also be considered as having a cult following), Fight Club follows the unnamed narrator played by Edward Norton. The Narrator works as an automotive recall specialist suffering from insomnia and a lack of fulfillment in his job and possessions. To cure his insomnia, The Narrator goes to different support groups, pretending to have different afflictions such as testicular cancer. All is well until he comes across another “tourist” named Marla Singer, played by Helena Bonham Carter.
To make matters worse, The Narrator’s apartment is destroyed by an explosion. In a state of desperation, he calls a man he meets on the airplane by the name of Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. Tyler proclaims that The Narrator is a slave of consumerism and allows him to let everything go by starting fights in a bar parking lot. After a few fights, they attract other men into the titular fight club and it moves into the basement of the bar. What starts as a method of letting out stress quickly becomes a radical agenda that spirals into an out of control anti-corporate group called “Project Mayhem.”
Fight Club came out in a period of the late 90s when films were being made about the disillusioned American dream and going against the system. Other films that came out the same year, including American Beauty, The Matrix and Being John Malkovich, explored that disillusionment and fight against the establishment through different styles of storytelling. People involved with the film compared it to other generational angst films like The Graduate and Rebel Without a Cause (Pitt can be seen wearing a red jacket that could be a nod to James Dean’s jacket in Rebel). But Fight Club takes it a step further by throwing in a nihilistic attitude and messages of anti-consumerism.
But these themes are no good if the film doesn’t have a style or a unique enough voice. Luckily, director David Fincher and screenwriter Jim Uhls not only deliver on that promise, but they do so in a way that’s consistently entertaining, even with its twist ending, perfectly showcasing the “unreliable narrator” method of storytelling. The slick cinematography and tight editing is evident both in and out of the fights. The movie literally ends with a bang (several, in fact) as the perfect song concludes it, The Pixies’ classic “Where is My Mind?”
Fight Club has been analyzed and interpreted by a number of other people in the twenty years its been out. From toxic masculinity (sometimes, ironically enough, lost on its most avid fans) to materialism and consumer culture, it’s no wonder that people break the first two rules of Fight Club and keep talking about it. The entire year of 1999 can be seen as groundbreaking in terms of quality of storytelling and themes that are still being explored well after the year was over. But Fight Club will always stand above the rest thanks to its visuals, performances and overarching themes. If you’ve somehow gone this long without seeing it, definitely check it out!