By Mark Harris
October 22, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

A few weeks ago, I predicted in this space that Fight Club would be this fall’s love-it-or-hate-it movie. Now that it’s opened and reviewers have weighed in, I can be less discreet: I HATED IT. Don’t worry — this isn’t going to be a rant against the movie’s relentless, brain-pulverizing violence. You go to a movie called Fight Club, you pretty much know what to expect in that department. Nor is this going to contain any hand-wringing about copycat fight clubs (hey, if you’re THAT stupid, good luck, and I hope it hurts), or a parental, Rosie O’Donnell-style diatribe about how it’s our moral duty to avoid this movie. (Rosie, I love you most of the time, but before you get on that high horse, you owe every single moviegoer in the United States an apology for Exit to Eden.)

No, there are plenty of other reasons to despise Fight Club. But for now, I think I’ll limit myself to just five:

(1) The opportunistic way in which the movie tries to import some sociological significance to its loathsome story by pretending to be a parable about the rage and innate violence that lurks in the heart of overcivilized — meaning “feminized” — men. You’ve been hearing a lot about ideas like this lately — Susan Faludi has just written a whole book about how displaced men feel now that they can’t hunt or forage or kill or fill other traditionally male roles.

Puh-leeze: This makes for fine book contracts, media columns, and talk-show segments, but it’s a paper-thin argument that relies on a belief that men are so overwhelmed by genetic memories of our apelike ancestors that any attempt to transcend it emasculates us. In Fight Club Edward Norton is shown to be a girly-man because he (A) shops at Ikea, (B) holds a job, and (C) isn’t buff like Brad Pitt. Logical ways for him to overcome said emasculation are (A) to get punched a lot, (B) to blow stuff up, and (C) to become a soap salesman. Well thought out, no?

(2) Brad Pitt, making a speech to his fellow fight-clubbers about how America teaches us to be disappointed if we don’t make millions of dollars and look like movie stars. This is tantamount to receiving a lecture on privacy from Sharon Stone, or on the importance of obeying the FDA’s food-groups pyramid from John Travolta. Brad, do me a favor. Dump Jennifer Aniston, stop having your hair professionally highlighted, and give me the millions you made from this movie. Then we’ll sit down in the living room of MY gigantic new home and have a nice long talk about the hollowness of the American dream.

(3) The way David Fincher treats women. Or, more accurately, woMAN, since Helena Bonham Carter has the only female role in the movie. Let’s peruse Fincher’s résumé. His contribution to the Alien films was to cut off Sigourney Weaver’s hair and then kill her. His masterstroke in Seven was to cut off Gwyneth Paltrow’s head and put it in a box. And in Fight Club, he turns the always game Bonham Carter into a raccoon-eyed skank who combines the worst personality traits of a philosophy grad student and a crack whore. Good going.

(4) The soap made from human fat. Oops — sorry if I’m giving away one of the film’s two big secrets. Then again, maybe there’s something, oh, just the slightest bit unseemly in taking one of the ugliest and most horrifying aspects of the Holocaust and transforming it into an elbow-in-the-ribs punchline for a studio marketing campaign.

(5) The way in which the film cloaks itself as an anticapitalist manifesto. Chief villains in this regard are Ikea (again), credit card companies, and Edward Norton’s character, for holding a 9-to-5 desk job. I’m always wary when Hollywood filmmakers, who are some of the most materialistic people in America and some of the least likely to know what it’s like to hold a steady job, deliver “scathing” indictments of ordinary people who hold steady jobs in order to get the money to procure material things for themselves, like food and furniture.

Want to do your part to strike the blow against corporate money mongering that Fight Club advocates? It’s simple: Sneak into the movie without paying. You don’t think Twentieth Century Fox would mind, do you?

Fight Club

  • Movie
  • R
  • 139 minutes
  • David Fincher