Cult Movie: David Fincher's Fight Club still subversive and stylish at 20

Edward Norton and Brad Pitt in David Fincher's Fight Club
Edward Norton and Brad Pitt in David Fincher's Fight Club

Fight Club

IT’S hard to believe Fight Club is 20 years old. I remember first seeing director David Fincher’s 1999 film as if it was yesterday. I staggered alone out of the Strand cinema in Derry after a lunchtime screening perplexed, confused and slightly angry about what I’d just seen.

I didn’t read Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 source novel until later, so I was unprepared for the assault on the senses that the film would deliver. A pulsating and paranoid fable of modern masculinity and a smart-assed tirade full of pre-Millennium dread and loathing for what society had become, it wrong-footed me and left me unsure of whether I loved it or hated it.

Watching it again two decades on, many of those feelings remain the same.

Fight Club was, and is, a film that’s desperate to provoke a reaction by any means possible. It rails endlessly against man’s emasculation, advertising and the breakdown of traditional community and fires a hundred garbled messages and snippets of quotable dialogue at you with break-neck speed and precision.

It’s also a bit of a mess structurally and never seems sure if it’s really got anything to say or if it just wants to shock you for the sheer sake of it.

Ed Norton is electric as the unreliable narrator who chucks in his mundane office life for the physical pleasures of beating the tar out of his fellow man in hastily organised 'fight clubs'.

Brad Pitt is perfectly cast as the preening soap salesman Tyler Durden who mysteriously appears to guide proceedings along into more dangerous political waters as the film progresses. There’s even a role for Meat Loaf, who gets to sport the most outrageous set of man boobs imaginable, and Helena Bonham Carter turns up as a grief junkie who provides a little much needed female perspective in a male-obsessed world.

This was Fincher’s fourth film and while it’s certainly not his most commercially successful – for that you’d have to turn to his excellent 1995 serial killer classic Se7en – it’s possibly his most ambitious.

He plays with conventions, inserts subliminal messages and pulls the rug from under you with an ending that left me shaking my head at the time and still has the same effect today.

It’s a train-wreck of big ideas, brash surface noise and often literally bone-crunching violence, some of which still shocks with its sheer primal ferocity. It looked and sounded incredible in 1999 and still does in 2019.

A mishmash of grainy style, moody visuals and pounding soundtrack Fight Club comes at you fists flailing and thumps you into submission with its inbuilt sense of superiority.

Throughout the surface outweighs the actual content – but that’s the point, in a way: this is a damning indictment of capitalism, consumerism and greed.

It’s a subversive and submersive shocker that still packs a considerable tooth-loosening punch in the crazed 21st century theme park of Brexit-fried and Trump-helmed 2019.

I still don’t know if I actually like it though.