Punching is manly, or, ‘Imaginary friends often lead to huge explosions.’

by TheLitCritGuy

Right,

After last weeks dose of book/film joy, which was, without too much generalisation,  pretty much universally aimed at women I decided to focus this week on something different. Something slightly more masculine. Something involving violence, punching, madness, explosions, Meatloaf, and Brad Pitt in some jeans. This long list of requirements left me feeling a little desperate, there would be no way I could possible find a film that was a book that met all of these criteria. Oh, wait a second…

Fight Club y’all….

Again, I feel I should hold my hands up and admit my own vested interest. I adore this film. It is far from perfect but David Fincher’s 1999 film has been one of my personal favourites ever since I first watched it and the more I found out about it the more I loved it. It is one of the most talked about, analysed and debated films in a very long time, so here I’m going to way in with my two cents worth.

The film stars Edward Norton as a nameless white-collar worker who is bored out of his mind by the existential malaise of the modern age and suffering from crippling insomnia, he begins by going to support groups for those with terminal illness and he finds that going enables him to sleep. On one of his travels around the country he meets the charismatic Tyler Durden and the two of them found Fight Club – a place for the men of this bored and disconnected generation to beat the hell out of each other.  As the film goes on Norton’s character begins to spiral downwards into Tyler’s world, culminating in the launch of Project Mayhem; Tyler’s project to destroy the modern world.

There is also a sub-plot with Helena Bonham-Carter as Marla, a loner that Norton runs into in one of his support groups, like him she’s also  looking for something and the two of them become closer and closer. Having done some reading into this, I found that Fincher wanted to make a coming of age film; he personally compared Fight Club to The Graduate, and whilst the two couldn’t be more different in terms of style and content the comparison does make a weird kind of sense.

Personally though I think that comparison misses something of Fight Club’s philosophical leanings. The ideology of Fight Club is incredibly bleak, unremittingly nihilistic and utterly contemptuous of modern capitalist society. For many people this is where their own personal dislike of Fight Club comes from, it seems to take away any and all hope of redemption for Edward Norton’s character. what this misses, is of course, that is exactly the point – for in Fight Club, we’re all trapped in one way or another.

Before I get too abstract then, lets focus in on the details of the film. Edward Norton is simply fantastic; all gaunt eyed despair and slowly disintegrating physicality. He manages to convey so well the emotional sterility of modern life and the sheer panic when Tyler’s true plans become clear to him. It may be a little cliché to say so, but I really do struggle to think of a film where he’s been as good, (as much as I love American History X I lean towards his performance here as slightly better in terms of emotional restraint and subtlety) In short, he carries this movie, amidst all the insanity we as viewers can still connect with the film.

Talking about crazy leads me quite nicely onto Mr Brad Pitt. Tyler Durden is possible one of the most charismatic creations in modern cinema; a swaggering ball of testosterone that every man wishes he had the balls to be – someone who truly doesn’t care about things like money, success, the opinion of your peers or your boss at the job you hate. Now, a lot has already been written about how Fight Club ‘touched a nerve in the male psyche that was debated around the world’ and much of the reason why rests on Brad Pitt’s performance – brilliant, violent and compelling to watch, his performance in this film is proof positive that Brad Pitt is a true cinematic star.

Interestingly the critical reception at the time of the film’s release was decidedly mixed – whilst many critics loved it, those that didn’t hated the film. People feared that it would lead to copycat Fight Clubs being set up; in many cases it was compared to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in the way that it glamorized violent behaviour. Now, whilst I can roll my eyes at the lack of moral intelligence that 30 years of cinema has foisted upon its critics, I do understand the point of view. Why? Because I just finished reading some Chuck Palahniuk….and let me just say that some of it, really isn’t for the faint of heart.

Fight Club is probably one of his more accessible book, and yes, that is saying a lot. Though it is dark and highly disturbing in places, just as the film it is easy and engaging to read. This was the book that pushed him into stratospheric  levels of fame; starting a short story Palahniuk claimed that he wanted to write The Great Gatsby, just updated. A story that was apostolic, one where the surviving apostle tells the story of the dead hero and in a twisted kind of way that really does work. So, enough flirting with the question is this a good adaptation?

Yes.

But, I’m not sure which is better out of the book or the film and at the moment; I’m sort of leaning towards the film. Let me get the obvious caveats out-of-the-way; I am well aware that comparing two different mediums and trying to come to any sort of objective judgement about which one is better is not really possible to do completely fairly so before you all get all sarcastic with me in the comments section I do have my reasons. Firstly, this isn’t Palahniuk’s first novel – that was the really quite good Invisible Monsters. So, publisher after publisher turned it down as being tom dark and disturbing and so Palahniuk decided to focus on a seven page short story he was writing for a compilation called Pursuit of Happiness. It was published and then expanded to full novel length and then re-published as Fight Club.

Without getting too mean then, this is why I think I prefer the film. In the book, you can’t see the scars. If you read the book, as talented a writer as Palahniuk is, it is possible to see the short story. Chapter six is by far the best bit of the novel, neat, contained just as every good short story should be. The novel feels a little stretched in places, something that has been spun out to fill the space. The film on the other hand, works as a cohesive whole – everything is slick, well designed and faithful to the original source material.  I know its rare for me to side with the film against the book but it isn’t by much, and without one there wouldn’t be the other. Where both succeed though is in the purpose that Palahnuik had for writing it. To quote the man himself…

‘..bookstores were full of books like The Joy Luck Club and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and How to Make an American Quilt. These were all novels that presented a social model for women to be together. But there was no novel that presented a new social model for men to share their lives…’

One only has to look around at modern culture to see the effect that Fight Club has had. People have been arrested over it, loved it, hated it, read it and watched it. And they always will I think. It’s become part of the societal landscape and made it OK for men to admit they often felt  lost in this world they had forged. So job done Chuck, good work.

I feel a little strange saying a film adaptation is better than its source…Looks like I’m back to splitting hairs again…Ah well..

If you agree, disagree or think I’ve missed the point entirely, don’t worry. The first rule of the great and the good is talk about it. That’s what the comments section is for.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

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