Brad Pitt, Fight Club
Credit: Merrick Morton

It’s a cheery, quaint, all-American tale: Alienated Everyman Jack (Norton) falls in with a charismatic anarchist (Pitt) and a self-help junkie named Marla (Bonham Carter). As their relationship develops, he drops out of his workaday life to find himself immersed in the world of ultraviolent, top secret ”fight clubs,” where men meet to pound one another into hamburger. On a (sort of) happier note: The last time Fincher and Pitt got together, they made ”Seven,” the serial-killer thriller that grossed $100 million and still has us shaking.

”’Fight Club’ is not a silly tale of empowerment,” says Fincher, who read Chuck Palahniuk’s darkly comic novel the night before Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights. ”We live in this frustrating mall society, where you have no lows to measure against your highs. In a fight club you connect with yourself — and others — by unleashing that frustration.” Says Pitt: ”We’re dealing with men who feel impotence after having done everything they were told to do. The film is irreverent and subversive, but Fincher approaches the issue with clarity. It’s like everyone is in the dark and he’s got night vision.”

What Fincher wasn’t clear on was who would play Marla. ”I’d seen Helena’s work, but the question was whether or not she could be neurotic,” says the director, who used ”American Graffiti” as the gritty, realist template for the look of the film. ”Turned out she was exactly what we wanted: funny, chain-smoking, and foulmouthed.”

Of course, even with this dynamic trio on board, most of the players involved are expecting ”Fight Club” to be a tough sell — especially in post-Columbine America. The stars spend most of the film bruised and gashed, plus the movie has a difficult message and a nonlinear structure, which Fincher likens to ”random-access downloading.” ”If you look at it with an unsophisticated eye,” says Norton, you could think the film ”is saying that if you feel bad, you should go blow stuff up. But you’d be missing the point.” BUZZ FACTOR: 8

Fight Club
  • Movie
  • 139 minutes