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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I think there should be a new rating for movies: NFE - Not For Everyone. The rating would designate those movies which are likely to turn off the majority of moviegoers with their bizarreness while still appealing to those who actually like eccentricity. If such a rating existed, I would immediately apply it to Fight Club. This movie is almost hypnotically weird, and I liked it for that very reason. Not everyone will.

Edward Norton plays a character known only as the Narrator, a corporate drone living a material existence. The measure of his success is what he owns and how much it costs. In one extraordinary scene, his apartment turns into an IKEA catalogue before his very eyes. Despite - or perhaps because - of his willful participation in consumer yuppie-ism, Narrator can't sleep. He also wanders through life unable to express emotions. It is this problem that leads him to attend various support groups, pretending to be the victim of alcoholism, tuberculosis, or even testicular cancer. It takes being around people with real problems to make him feel.

Narrator soon meets two important people. The first is a mysterious woman named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), another support group "faker." Narrator can't stand her because, he claims, he can't express himself if another faker is in the room.

The other person he meets is Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman with a roguish manner and an air of danger. The two strike up a friendship and go for beers. In the parking lot, Tyler asks Narrator to hit him. He does, and a fistfight breaks out. But it's not an angry fight. Instead, it's a male-bonding exercise, a way of men coming together to take their aggressions out on each other instead of on the rest of the world.

The Narrator finds the fighting strangely freeing, and before too long, he and Tyler organize an underground fistfighting group called "Fight Club." Pissed off men from all walks of life meet in dingy basements and pummel each other silly. More than a sport, the club is a type of liberation from jobs, mortgages, responsibility. There's a macho element, as if the participants are defying the world at large to beat them up as badly as they have beaten one another. Fight Club blossoms, but tensions erupt. Marla becomes involved with Tyler (to Narrator's sudden dismay), and then Tyler changes the rules, becoming more anti-social. What started out as a self-contained basement rebellion evolves into an all-out attack on society. The soap salesman harbors a mischievous streak and encourages a series of sociopathic activities.

I know what the perception of Fight Club is. From the ads, it appears to be a movie about that underground fistfighting organization. I have to tread lightly here, because the movie has a major surprise near the end that changes what the story is really about. So much has been made of the surprise at the end of The Sixth Sense; the one in Fight Club is every bit as shocking. Without giving anything away, let me say that Fight Club is really a parable about urban malaise and the way it can push someone over the edge. Wonder why some people do crazy, violent things in today's society? This picture floats a theory on that.

It's perfect material for director David Fincher (Seven, The Game) who - with his continual attraction to edgy material - has got to be one of the darkest people on earth. He's absolutely the right guy for the job, though, as be imbues Fight Club with a kind of angry morality. Fincher's message seems to be that if the world's going to hell in a handbasket, it's the product of our own doing; we are dumb enough to stand there and watch it happen or, worse, participate in it.

All of this is conveyed in the picture's brilliant style. There are many fantasy sequences, stream of consciousness asides, and visual puns contained within it (I definitely saw some subliminal shots inserted throughout the film). Fincher uses these techniques to create a feeling of unreality. Take, for instance, the scene in Narrator's apartment. As he walks through it, product descriptions and prices pop up next to his rugs, tables, etc. It's a way of showing the materialism that has overtaken the character. Later on, Tyler flies into a rage; as he does, the image on-screen begins to shake until it appears as if the film itself were shaking right off the screen (we see the sprocket holes of the film on the sides of the screen). Even the obligatory sex scene gets fantasy treatment. Remember that effect in The Matrix where the characters would freeze in mid-air while the camera swirled around them? That's how the love scene was shot here.

Fincher's sleek and imaginative visual look gives Fight Club a distinct punch (no pun intended, I swear). Adding to that are the performances. Norton and Pitt seem right at home inside the movie's odd universe. Both capture the feeling of minds going over the edge of sanity. Norton is really one of the best young actors we have. He does a fantastic job showing the depths to which the Narrator sinks. Just as good is Pitt, an actor I've never really thought much of. This time, he really catches fire though. The guy is totally believable as the lunatic Tyler, bringing an authentic mixture of menace and bravado to the role.

I've reached that point where I can say no more about Fight Club without ruining it all. I know the subject matter (and the method with which it's presented) will not appeal to everyone. It'll be too abstract or maybe just too weird for some. I appreciated what the film was trying to do, although to be fair, it took me a while to get it. By the time the movie ended with a satisfyingly quizzical finale, I realized one simple thing: Fight Club is original, weird, and endlessly fascinating.

( 1/2 out of four)

Fight Club is rated R for disturbing and graphic depictions of anti-social behavior, sexuality and language. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

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