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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Ed Norton
Brad Pitt
Helena Bonham Carter.
Directors
David Fincher.
Screenwriters
Jim Uhls.
Running Time
138 minutes

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EMPIRE ESSAY: Fight Club
Pitt and Norton trade blows in Fincher's zeitgeist classic


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Plot
A lonely, isolated thirty-something young professional seeks an escape from his mundane existence with the help of a devious soap salesman. They find their release from the prison of reality through underground fight clubs, where men can be what the world now denies them. Their boxing matches and harmless pranks soon lead to an out-of-control spiral towards oblivion.


Review
When it opened in America to somewhat disappointing business, there was a widespread misjudgement that Fight Club was an action movie about underground bare-knuckle boxing contests — perhaps an inflated, star-powered version of Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles like Bloodsport or Kickboxer.

Actually, it's a horror movie which literally begins in the fear-centre of its narrator's brain (and arguably stays there) and spins a postmodern rethink of Psycho with enough dizzying side-trips to pull off yet again the long-blown surprise ending that two apparent antagonists are, in fact, the same person. Adapted faithfully from Chuck Palahniuk's novel, the film follows a buttoned-down insurance minion (Norton) who projects himself as flamboyant, anti-social, charismatic genius revolutionary Tyler Durden (Pitt), in order to shake up his own life and, in the end, society as a whole. The splitting of one persona into "Jack" (if that's his real name and not a convenience plucked from a Reader's Digest-ish magazine he finds) and "Tyler Durden" evokes Norman Bates and his mother, but also echoes that other once-surprising revelation, that respectable Dr. Jekyll and murderous Mr. Hyde are the same person.

By externalising an alter ego as an apparent actual person played by another actor, Fight Club might seem to be cheating — but is merely using the device Robert Bloch did in his Psycho novel, where Norman and Mother have long talks. There are similar instances in not a few horror films, like the Lucy Comes To Stay segment of 1972's Asylym (which Bloch wrote) where repressed Charlotte Rampling and homicidal Britt Ekland are one person, or The Other (1972), from Tom Tryon's novel, where one of a set of twins turns out to be either a ghost or an alternate personality.

This gambit, which many of Fight Club's original audiences found infuriating, is actually so well established in the genre that Brian De Palma could play a joke at its expense in Raising Cain, where John Lithgow's imaginary father turns out to be real after all. Fight Club is the third and most complex in director David Fincher's loose trilogy of nightmare movies, following Seven (or Se7en, to be strictly accurate) and The Game. It begins in the fear-centre of a brain and spins a postmodern rethink on Psycho Fincher's theme — trace elements can be found even in his compromised debut, Alien3 — is the crisis of middle-class masculinity in a world torn between oppressive conformity and a libido-like anarchic underbelly that is at once dangerous, alluring and life-changing.

Seven is also about an unsatisfied minion (there, Pitt) who meets his monster alter ego (Kevin Spacey) and is manipulated into murdering him, while The Game also strips away every trapping of success and wealth from Michael Douglas as he realises his whole life is a conspiracy whose purpose he fears and desires at the same time. The trajectory of Fincher's career is away from strict genre and into an unclassifiable twilight zone, but he takes with him an evolving, unique filmmaking style that suggests a final evolutionary form of the horror movie as a species of black satire shot through with impolite bursts of violence as terrifying as they are liberating.

A chronic insomniac addicted to kibitzing at self-help groups, Jack encounters goth chick Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), who has a similar kink, and is forced into a wilder sphere when he hooks up with Durden, whom he seems to meet on an aeroplane. When his Ikea-outfitted condo is blown up in a mysterious explosion, Jack moves into a dilapidated old house (reminiscent of the Bates Motel) with him. The pair indulge in recreational fistfights in a bar parking lot, which expands into an underground club for alienated men to take out their frustrations on each other as a homosocial and homoerotic act.

Though Durden and Maria have a noisy affair, fantasised and actualised by Jack, women almost don't impinge on the world of Tyler Durden. It's a plot feint about the overt attraction between the male leads, beautiful Brad and wiry Edward, that winds in on itself with the revelation that Jack has been fighting himself. Durden turns Fight Club into Project Mayhem, a campaign of revolutionary pranks which extends so far into the infrastructure of society that when Jack catches on to his double life and confesses, most of the cops turn out to be in on it.

There is a great deal of sick humour at the expense of masculinist ideals and white-collar society — Durden's bizarre pranks (splicing porno frames into family films, making soap of liposucked human fat) to the dizzying third act as Jack is bewildered by the escalation of the project his disciples know he has initiated, with his statements taken up as chanted slogans and seemingly every bruised man he meets in on the scheme. It culminates in real horror as Jack purges himself of Durden by shooting himself in the mouth, blowing out Durden's brains but not his own, and embracing the puzzled Maria as the skyline of financial buildings explodes.


Verdict
After Fight Club, it's impossible to go back: to ordinary life, to ordinary fears, to ordinary films.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for EMPIRE ESSAY: Fight Club
Empire Star Rating

The greatest movie of all time

fight club is absolutley incredible and the best movie that has ever been released. end of story. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by reeceh46 at 22:26, 26 October 2012 | Report This Post


The greatest movie of all time

fight club is absolutley incredible and the best movie that has ever been released. end of story. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by reeceh46 at 22:26, 26 October 2012 | Report This Post


Fight Club Review

Solid acting, amazing direction, and elaborate production design make Fight Club not only a classic but one hell a wild ride. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 15:24, 12 April 2012 | Report This Post


Abandoned Superhighway

Fight Club is Fincher's masterpiece, but unless you've never seen Se7en or Zodiac, then you're given access to his most brilliantly satirical and humourous effort yet, with added twist endings and pre-9/11 premonitory explosions, which only work now, probably the reason why the film was seen as the man-on-man wet dream of teenage action fiends, when in actual fact it's laughing at those people. Brad has never been more sexy, either, which is always a bonus for me, as he is one of my favourite ac... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by twinpeaks4eva at 13:59, 20 December 2011 | Report This Post


Fight Club is Amaizing

First can I say that David Fincher is a superb film maker. Fight Club is in one word amaizing and has a hell of an ending. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 15:44, 18 April 2011 | Report This Post


Sorry..

French CLONING romp. Can't forget the cloning part of Alien Resurrection. Ridiculous fun and I don't care who disagrees. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by darkraven28 at 16:00, 07 March 2010 | Report This Post


Sorry..

French CLONING romp. Can't forget the cloning part of Alien Resurrection. Ridiculous fun and I don't care who disagrees. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by darkraven28 at 16:00, 07 March 2010 | Report This Post


Brilliant

Still great, Fincher! Is it a testament to the film's greatness that over a decade later I STILL listen to the soundtrack with a big grin on my face? Well, it's one of the testaments to it. And honestly, I'm one of those of the mind that Fincher has yet to make a bad film (not even Alien 3, which I know even he hates, but at least that one had a TOTAL ending even if they did do a French romp film after it.) He's a master director, but I'm still having a hard time considering watching Benjam... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by darkraven28 at 15:58, 07 March 2010 | Report This Post


One of the greatest movies ever

From the phenomenal acting to the brilliant direction this film just oozes the feel of a great film, and a strange film as well, but that isn't a criticism but a complement to David Fincher, one of the best of his generation, to see a film that snaps the formula in two and does it in style amazes me. If you are going to rate a film 4 stars please point out the flaws. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jolyonstevens at 20:04, 23 January 2009 | Report This Post


Quite Simply...

This film is the greatest motion picture to grace our TVs and Cinema Screens. Brad Pitt, who has on occasions taken on roles that had less than 1% of the depth Tyler has, proves to any of his critics that he undoubtably one of the greatest actors of his generation and possibly one of the better actors of all time... Ed Norton maintains the high standard of the film and his portrayl of a beaten down, disillusioned minion of soceity is truthfull and blunt. Inspirational. Best Film Ever... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Chris Robson at 19:54, 02 December 2008 | Report This Post


I might have to see this movie again,it"ll make so much more sense.

I thought this movie was amazing,Igave the zodiac five stars and i still think it deserves 5 stars but yet this is better,if it were possible i would give it 6 stars.Edward,Brad and Helena are fantastic in this movie.What"s wrong with you Empire this is definitely more then 4 stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnPaul1996 at 22:48, 24 July 2008 | Report This Post


Really? Greatest ever?........Definetly

I'm not going justify why it is the greatest, it speaks for itself. It's perfect. :D ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by xboyo123 at 18:07, 19 March 2008 | Report This Post


Really? Greatest ever?........Definetly

I'm not going justify why it is the greatest, it speaks for itself. It's perfect. :D ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by xboyo123 at 18:07, 19 March 2008 | Report This Post


how much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 10:35, 21 October 2007 | Report This Post


awesome ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by niallC05 at 15:32, 28 August 2007 | Report This Post


fuckin awesome

im quite shocked empire gave this 4 stars when it so deserves 5 but this is a truly awesome film of a generation ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by niallC05 at 15:31, 28 August 2007 | Report This Post


people who love this film dont seem to realize the faults. i understand the film but there are many flaws, and dont get me wrong, the acting and direction is excellent. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dazz at 11:41, 29 April 2006 | Report This Post


RE: best movie ever

ired film.  st a shame the idiots at 20th Century Fox marketed the film in the wrong direction, so the Daily Mail brigade could miss the point completely.   Ed Norton is brilliant in this film, as is Brad Pitt.  Career best from both.   From an amazing novel for starters, this film encapsulates social commentary excellent drama.    e Godfather Part II, as good as it is, any film ending with ies vote.   Essential viewing for all. ... More

Posted by JIm R at 15:06, 25 January 2006 | Report This Post


RE: best movie ever

L: mvannierop great story (adapted novel) great actors great cinematography great music great editing great special effects great production design great direction great sound design t=tahoma]father: Part IIurpasses lubevery aspect you mentioned above, with the exception of perhaps the special effects, but that doesn't really mean that much, either. ... More

Posted by The Don at 13:50, 11 January 2006 | Report This Post


RE: best movie ever

I second everything written above, the last truly great film of the milenium and what a film to go out on. It still looks stunning and I cant see its point being diluted or ideas feeling old-fashioned anytime soon.Everytime I see it makes me want to take steps to stop my life ending one second at a time. Even though I dont at least this film gives you the urge to break your bonds... ... More

Posted by MartinBlank76 at 13:43, 11 January 2006 | Report This Post


RE: best movie ever

Tyler Durden = best movie character ever (probably)! ... More

Posted by BobaJango at 17:00, 09 January 2006 | Report This Post


RE: best movie ever

The first time I saw this, I hadn't a clue what was going on. I'm sure quite a few people can empathise with that. If only more directors were brave enough to make movies as intelligent and original as this, rather than the current diet of remakes and TV show/comic book adaptations. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by The Mighty Quinn at 18:53, 05 January 2006 | Report This Post


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