Every month (or so) we take a look at a movie on the Internet Movie Database’s List of the TOP 250 FILMS OF ALL-TIME. These are movies that transcend a simple “My Favorite Scene” column. These are movies that are hard to just pry five gems from, but we do and examine the film overall. We’re on our ninth installment in this series. Click on the links for The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction , Schindler’s List, 12 Angry Men, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, and The Return of the King to check out previous installments.
“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never really been in a fight?” Brad Pitt asks it of Edward Norton shortly after they meet, and people (particularly men) have been asking each other the question ever since David Fincher’s 1999 anarchic masterpiece was released. Based on the equally (and oddly quite wise) novel by Chuck Palahniuk. Fincher’s film is a unique and insightful look at the societal neutering of the American male. I’m going to write this from the standpoint of one…since that’s what I happen to be. Men are hard-wired for aggression. We want to punch stuff. We like to see things blow up, destroyed, and laid low. We’re hunter-gatherers at our core. Now we spend 40 hours a week in a sea of grey cubicles, and our weekends at Bed, Bath & Beyond. There’s something missing. We’re missing a key part of ourselves and it manifests in bottles of whiskey and Prozac. We don’t know ourselves, because most of us haven’t been in a fight. That’s why Fight Club (which didn’t do well in theaters) became a cult sensation. It touched a nerve with men. It was a revelation.
“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
Fight Club is one of the most quotable movies (and books) of all-time. Fincher proved Aliens 3 was not his fault by deft direction, boldly using Edward Norton’s narration to guide us through his journey, subliminally leading us to the movie’s key twist, and using graphics and text to visually stimulate the viewer. Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter are magnificent. The film has held up brilliantly in the near 20 years since its release, and remains as incendiary, challenging and sparked fight clubs across the nation. I can’t tell you if I was in one or even if one existed that I know about. That brings us to our first scene.
1. “The Eight Rules of Fight Club”
This is the most iconic scene from the film and Brad Pitt grabs the camera by the throat and bellows the standards by which Fight Club will by run. Fincher intercuts the rules with shots of average guys taking off wedding rings, slipping out of loafers, and slowly measuring each other. Then the middle children of history discover a side of themselves they never knew existed. Fight Club is also a very darkly comic film. I love that Edward Norton’s office slowly becomes filled with men in business formal who have clearly had the snot kicked out of them recently and no one comments on it. They can’t. It’s the first two rules, after all.
2. “I Want You to Hit Me As Hard As You Can.”
Here’s where the journey to Fight Club begins. It’s startling. It’s funny (YOU HIT ME IN THE EAR?). Everything that follows, leading to the film’s anarchic end, begins with Tyler uttering these 11 words.
3. “I Am Jack’s Smirking Revenge”
Eventually the problem of Fight Club’s growing enterprise toward PROJECT: MAYHEM begins to interfere with Jack’s (Edward Norton) day job. In order to maintain his paycheck and exit his stifling existence, he proceeds to beat himself half to death in front of his boss, screaming for everyone outside the office to hear his pleas for mercy. The brilliant physicality it takes to authentically beat yourself senseless may be Norton’s most impressive accomplishment in the film.
4. “The Things You Own; Own You.”
This is just a simple scene after Jack’s exceedingly well-manicured apartment is blown-up (by Tyler) where Tyler reveals his philosophy of life. It’s an example of the wisdom in the mayhem and madness of this film. How many of us define ourselves by our stuff? It’s just stuff. It’s not who you are. At least, it shouldn’t be. “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Truth.
5. “I Am Dave Breaking His Format”
I wasn’t lying. Fight Club is filled with funny, shocking, wise, outrageous, despicable, weird, brilliant quotes. I thought about the twist revelation as my fifth scene. But then, why should I be confined to rules? This is Fight Club. I don’t have to be a slave to my own format. So, here, instead, is a nine minute quote montage.