In Fight Club, the always intense Edward Norton plays the nameless Narrator, who holds a dull company job, leads a dull, materialistic life, and first tries to cure his anomie through compulsive attendance at self-help sessions for problems he doesn’t have; the weekly meeting for survivors of testicular cancer (none too subtle a phallic message THERE) is a particular balm, and he develops a dynamic love-loathe connection with Bob (Meat Loaf Aday), who has developed gigantic breasts as the result of postop hormone therapy (none too subtle a bisexual muddle THERE).
Certainly, the Narrator’s relationship with Bob is richer than anything he has with Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), a chain-smoking, insatiable ball-buster with a bruised, smug face who, as the only prominent female in the movie, apparently represents all of womanhood as a trash receptacle for sex.
But with the appearance of the Narrator’s mysterious buddy, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), everything changes. Tyler is a truculent, reckless brute – he’s all id, assuming the personification of id can be costumed like a movie star on a pub crawl – and when he introduces his all-superego mirror image to the catharsis of slugging and stomping, well, then, it’s bye-bye IKEA. ”After Fight Club, everything gets the volume turned down,” the black-and-blue convert marvels, with blithe indifference to the homoerotic subtext in Jim Uhls’ declamatory script.
Pitt and Norton enthusiastically throw their all into their unattractive roles, yet an inextinguishable flame of self-satisfaction burns in these vibrant young stars even when they’re painted and greased to look their worst. (Vanity be damned, Pitt revels in dental imperfections!) Meanwhile, Fincher, more obsessed than ever with atmospheric ugliness, never settles for the suggestion of pain when a loving, lingering display of it will do.
If ”Fight Club” means to encourage a rejection of pathetic consumerism, the movie loses its potential customers midway through the sales pitch. If, with the ”Game”-like mind-bends it lays on at the end, it means to suggest that anarchic destruction is NOT the answer to male rage, the fancy care lavished on repellent activities belies the avowal. If, as Fincher has said, this movie is supposed to be funny, then the joke’s on us.