The star talks about lazy journalists, copycat pugilists, and why he hates the Volkswagen bug

Edward Norton
Credit: 20th Century Fox

”Fight Club” is already stirring up a fight of its own. Some critics have suggested that the film’s violent themes — plus the sight of a sweaty, half-naked Brad Pitt pummeling the snot out of other sweaty, half-naked guys — may inspire some testosterone-frenzied audiences to put up their dukes. Costar Ed Norton isn’t buying it. ”It’s lazy journalism,” he says. ”It’s amazing to me before a film even comes out to read these glib connections between the movie and some headlines that have happened recently when anybody who looks at the film can see the idea of the fighting is not about [depicting] violence as a solution to your frustration. Violence is in the culture, and if art stops addressing it, you have a culture in denial.”

Norton thinks critics should apply a different set of standards to ”Fight Club” than they do the usual studio fare. ”The responsibility shifts to the critical community to grant the film a more sophisticated treatment and maybe see it twice before they review it,” he says. ”People skewer [the moviemakers] just for the attempt because they didn’t spend enough time with the film to understand it. When a film like this emerges miraculously from Twentieth Century Fox and is this dense with provocative ideas, you would hope people would take a harder look.”

The ”American History X” star also hopes audiences will come away from the film not with a desire to knock out their buddy’s teeth, but with a better understanding of Generation X. ”We’re the first generation raised on television, and we’ve been raised to believe we should all be millionaires and rock stars. And now we’re discovering most of us aren’t, and we’re very upset about that,” Norton, 30, says. ”This generation has had its value system dictated to them by advertising culture and all these cultural signifiers that tell you what the trappings are that will result in spiritual happiness. I feel like my generation is having its mid-life crisis in its 20s, which I think on some levels is a healthy thing, but it is disturbing.”

And Norton thinks that the chance to strike a chord with twentysomethings is worth the risk of unintentionally inspiring a few viewers to violence. ”You wouldn’t have most of the movies we call great cultural landmarks, like ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘Clockwork Orange’ or ‘Lolita,’ if people said ‘I’m not going to make this because it might be misinterpreted,”’ he says. ”This movie could be for us what ‘The Graduate’ was for people in the ’60s.”

Not that Norton has any great love for the ’60s. The star has a bone to pick with aging hippies who’ve recycled their cultural artifacts for the IKEA set. ”Brad [Pitt] and I figured out we had a mutual loathing of the new Volkswagen beetles,” he says. ”So we managed to work in a scene where we whack one with a baseball bat. We’re saying that it’s a perfect example of the baby boomer generation marketing its youth culture to us as if our happiness is going to come by buying the symbol of their own youth movement. It’s appalling to me.” It’s almost enough to make you wanna hit someone, eh?

Fight Club

  • Movie
  • R
  • 139 minutes
  • David Fincher