It starts with an explosion of sound and neurotransmissions and leads right into the conclusion of the film, like plunging us all into ice cold water without forewarning. Everything else is flashback from there. Without wasting any time at all we are introduced to the character of Jack (Edward Norton), a white-collar yuppie slowly wasting away due to insomnia. We're drowning in his poetic narrative and some of the best dialogue to come out of Brad Pitt in years. The scenes are like the ebb and flow of the tide; some are overwhelmingly powerful and some seem to exist for none other than stylistic reasons. Somehow I don't give a damn as long as Norton keeps talking and the camera keeps doing that thing it does. Shiftng out of focus and shivering. Freezing in place and moving abruptly forward. "The Matrix" and some other things. For example, I love the shot in the very beginning where camera moves down to the van parked in the basement. Impressive camerawork overall. The all-out effects delicately balanced out Norton's narrative, giving it just enough oomph but not taking effect away from it. I mentioned that Norton's voice-over was like poetry; in fact the entire film is Homeresque in its scale and beauty. It's not afraid to do things that haven't been done before, to laugh at itself with its twisted sense of humor (yes, it is very funny).
Pitt and Norton prove a superb duo (in a movie that is all about the interaction between Jack and Tyler); it's nice to see Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter throw away their images and throw themselves into their eccentric roles. Norton, however, holds up the bulk of the movie and proves that he earned that Oscar nomination. If "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Rounders" didn't make him a star, this movie will. Don't be fooled by Pitt's top billing. It's all about Ed this time.
One friend, deceived by the film's title (as I was), claimed that if he wanted to go see a film about men fighting, he'd see a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Well, as anyone who's see "Fight Club" can tell you; the "Fight" has nothing to do with the theme, at least not directly. Yes, there are a lot of fights, but all staged to illustrate a central theme. The beauty of "Fight Club" is when you look back, when the movie is winding down to a halt, at everything that happened, you realize that all parts coalasce to become a whole, and everything clicks into place. Without all of its individual parts the tale would not be whole. It's intriguing, and it makes you want to watch the entire movie again just to see its genius and foreshadowing at work. "The Sixth Sense," anyone (I haven't actually seen the movie yet, I just read an article in Entertainment Weekly :)? It's like one of those riddles that give you a crime scene and ask you to find out how the victim died.
I've heard the aforementioned EW doesn't like this movie. They say it's senselessly violent. I think they're missing the point. Yes, there is a lot of violence in this movie, and I wouldn't recommend it to young children; but is it senseless? Is the movie rendered pointless because in the end, we find out that Tyler never even existed? That he was just Jack's alter- ego in his fantasies? Some say by writing Jack into a lunatic you destroy the whole purpose of the movie. I say it only adds layers of meaning. It's about a man's struggle with his inner voice and his ideas that are being suffocated by upper-middle-class monotony. On the outside, his suits are crisp, clean, white as snow; his behavior impeccable, his choice in furniture excellent. Inside, as the film shows us, he is turbulent. And this is where the violence comes in. It is terrible, but it is definitely not senseless. It serves to illustrate a point, to develop Jack's character.
I cannot help but wonder, however, if the film wouldn't be better if it had just ended with Jack dying. That ending would've felt more in tune with the rest of the movie. This one feels fine too; I couldn't have asked for anything more beautiful and poignant. Jack's still screwed up, but he found someone just as screwed up as he is. In the end we're not only shaken by the look into our materalistic lives but we've also gotten a haunting and penetrating look into the mind of an "ordinary man."
Rating: A (First viewing, 10/23/99)