Fight Club ostensibly celebrates the very things it eventually decries, though that’s in keeping with its fundamental schizophrenia. David Fincher’s 1999 cult classic isn’t a simple A-B construct – its cinematic (and, thus, mass-market) glorification of its characters’ bruised-knuckle anti-materialism may be contradictory, but Jim Uhls’ script (based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel) is at heart a shrewd, scintillating work rooted in an investigation of varying degrees of masculinity and extremism. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the id to our nameless protagonist Narrator’s (Edward Norton) ego, is a sexy beast because his ethos, in its nascent form, is as well; only when truly embraced in practice does his destructive-self-help philosophy reveal its true, ugly primal underbelly. That shift is reflected in director Fincher’s exhilarating treatment of his gonzo tale, in which Tyler and Narrator’s early creation of their fight clubs has a brutal sensuality and appeal, while the later sparring-session bludgeoning of a pretty boy (Jared Leto), and the death of a Tyler acolyte (now working for a new mission dubbed Project Mayhem), are presented as the sadistic lunatic inevitabilities of unchecked machismo and its resultant fanaticism.
The final shot, then, of lovebirds staring at a skyline of terrorism-produced crumbling skyscrapers captures the fundamentally irreconcilable duality of Palahniuk’s caustic satire – interior unity via external devastation – without passing judgment. It’s a pitch-black smirk of a conclusion, a shrug at the insanity of healing thyself (and finding genuine amour) by obliterating the world. That humor courses throughout Fight Club, from its early slams at Ikea consumer culture (by way of a vision of Narrator’s apartment as a catalog layout), to Narrator’s blackmailing self-fisticuffery in his boss’ office, to his final, futile attempts to combat the very underground movement he begat. Both Pitt and Norton, playing off each other’s clashing visions of masculinity with eroticized wit and verve, have never been better. That’s similarly true of Bonham Carter as Narrator’s kindred wayward soul Marla, who seeks genuine emotional engagement by visiting support groups for the dying, and also – as with her screamy bedroom romps with Tyler, which are akin to the fight clubs – through physical pain. Just as Bonham Carter sexily wields a cigarette like few others, so too does Fincher handle his material with unparalleled eroticized agility, his CG-enhanced, Dust Brothers-scored aesthetics (an impossible zoom here, a bit of Shining-style auditory howling there) lending his better-living-through-annihilation film heady, electrified life.