I’m not going to start with a lame joke about “The first rule…” (ok, I am but I’m going to try to be all meta about it).
The film begins with Jack (Ed Norton) suffering badly from insomnia, and subsequent sleep deprivation, as he flies around the US investigating crash causes for a large auto company, to determine the level of risk to cost of a recall when a fault is identified in the car. Although the job is well rewarded financially, Jack is bored and dispirited and finds release in attending support groups – alcohol, drugs, cancer – anything where the attendees release emotion. For some reason, playing along allows Jack to sleep. When another “tourist”, Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) starts attending, Jack no longer gets the same release and, after dividing the groups up with Marla, finds another release anyway…
On one of his trips, he makes friends with Tyler Durden, a soap salesman with a nihilist philosophy who mocks Jack’s buttoned-up world. On his return home from this flight, Jack finds his apartment burned down and calls on Tyler for a place to stay. After a few drinks, Tyler invites Jack to hit him. They fight and enjoy it and Jack no longer needs the support groups – fighting provides the release that lets him sleep. On the second occasion Jack and Tyler fight, other patrons leaving the bar see them and ask to join in, and the “Fight Club” is born.
Pretty soon, the Fight Club starts to grow, with new franchises opening up in major cities elsewhere but Tyler is taking the fight club over, with Jack relegated to the position of second in command. It also starts to take on a quasi-religious status with some pretty menacing aspects as their HQ doubles up as a bomb-making factory and Tyler won’t let Jack into his plans.
This is one movie where I didn’t really know anything about it, and the film was all the better for it. At the reveal, I cursed myself for not seeing it coming but also admired the audacity of it. Of the Fincher movies I’ve seen (Se7en and The Social Network being the others), this is easily the best, with some beautiful visual trickery seemingly effortlessly incorporated into the narrative and helping it along.
I’ve read that some people dislike the film because they think that we’re supposed to take Tyler’s philosophical pronouncements seriously; I don’t think this is true. Jack at one point says that one of Tyler’s arguments makes sense “in a Tyler sort of way” and I think this is what we’re supposed to appreciate – the appeal of an intelligent and charismatic person with confidence and vision, no matter how twisted, and the drive to make it happen. I’m not sure the basic concept works, since I don’t believe so many men are desperate to get beaten up as this suggests but, as a study in madness and extremism, it manages that suspension of disbelief pretty well.