Our unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) holds a position that could only have emerged in the late 20th century: he’s something called a recall coordinator, which basically means he negotiates the degree to which products have to annoy, maim or kill buyers before the manufacturer actually has to do something about it. It’s a brilliant occupation for the protagonist of a film that’s aged so well that its time is still coming into being. The first rule of Fight Club (1999) is, however macho/obnoxious/show-offy it may seem, don’t underestimate Fight Club.
Off the top, our young Narrator’s already reached an advanced state of yuppie zombification; his insomnia renders everything “a copy of a copy of a copy,” debilitating sleeplessness being an apt response to a world conspiring to keep one simultaneously lulled from disruptive critical thinking and excited by the possibility of perpetual shopping. Then Narrator meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a salesman of soap—"the yardstick of civilization"—and projectionist of family films into which he slips big dicks. He has silly spiky hair, dresses like a trailer park pimp, and waxes anti-establishment philosophy; he’s also handsome and sculpted and wants to get physical with Narrator, prompting what we might deem an ultra-masculine friendship, gay romance, or a solipsism so overpowering as to induce prolonged hallucinations. These guys start their titular club in basements and backstreets and it grows or catches until all over America men are denouncing their identities, pounding the shit out of each other, and waiting for cues to launch spectacular acts of terrorism.
So Fight Club’s trajectory is itself novel: boy meets girl; boy meets boy; boys fight (for fun/self-betterment); second boy steals girl; first boy finds himself; everything goes bananas. The film didn’t initially “perform,” but it established director David Fincher as a masterful, if over-eager, manipulator of industrial light and magic: the walk-in IKEA catalogue, the camera’s vertiginous swoops, the fantasy air collision all feel a little overbearing and Roger Rabbity. But who else could have told this unruly, audacious story with such vigour? In its perverse depiction of mental illness, leading up to its big twist, this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s eponymous novel is actually an outstanding adaptation of Philip K. Dick, the oft-adapted, rarely apprehended author whose schizophrenia imbued so much of his science fiction. Fight Club suggests that schizophrenia might be the natural result of prolonged exposure to late capitalism. And I almost believe it.