"The Fight Club"
A film review by
Linda Lopez McAlister
"The Women's Show" WMNF-FM 88.5 Tampa
Saturday, October 23, 1999

I'm as surprised as you probably are that I chose this film, the testosterone soaked "The Fight Club," to review on "The Women's Show" today. A week ago I wouldn't have dreamed it. But in the past week I kept running into quotes from various women suggesting that director David Fincher, the creative force behind this film, was--gulp--a feminist! Helena Bonham Carter who plays Marla Singer in the film was quoted as saying he has a "wide streak of feminism" in him. And then I ran across a quote from "Backlash" author Susan Faludi, who has just published a new book about men from her feminist perspective, and she apparently loved this film. That was enough to bump "The Fight Club" into my "this one you have to see for yourself" category. So I did. And I came out of the theater with no idea what I wanted to say about this film. In the last 12 hours I've been mulling it over. Here's a report on where I stand at the moment.

"The Fight Club" is a well made, original, complex film with two tour de force performances by Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. It is a scathing and often funny satire of contemporary society and its value system. While one can agree that consumerism, the economic system, and the deadening effects of corporate America are fine targets for demolition, something feminists might, indeed, agree with, the values that the film seems, somewhat murkily, to substitute for them, e.g., male bonding, violent bare knuckles beatings, vandalism, fascistic regimentation, and finally terrorism, don't seem to offer much better alternatives.

This is one of those screenplays that's full of surprises and odd twists. About of the way through the film something happens that makes you go back and rethink everything you've seen up to that point. Any film that makes you do that, i.e., think, has some value, to be sure. But by the end I was wondering whether all this complexity has a point or whether it wasn't just some kind of gigantic sophomoric puzzle whose real reason d'etre was simply to provide an excuse for an excessive amount of "guy stuff" like fighting and proving your manhood by enduring pain, committing crimes, following orders no matter what. Maybe not, but that's at least one way to read this film.

Many of the points that this film makes about contemporary society are made more effectively in "American Beauty" and without the need for all the violence. In fact one aspect of the plot, i.e., how to quit your stultifying corporate job with a fat benefit package, is almost identical in the two films.

As for feminism, Fincher may personally agree with some feminist ideas, but there's little or no evidence of that in this film. The one female character, Marla Singer, is peripheral and seen almost exclusively as someone to have sex with, or as someone who is a merely a pain. At one point Brad Pitt's character says, apparently speaking of Gen X males in general, something to the effect that having been basically under the control of women all their lives, he didn't think that a woman was what they needed, except for good sex. Rather, to overcome their situation as thirtysomething boys and grow up, what they need is to learn to be Men with a capital M.

Strange picture. I'm glad I saw it, but I can't say I really enjoyed it. But, if there's a man in your life who wants to see it, it might be better if you went with him than to let him go with the boys. And make him take you to see "American Beauty" too, for a saner and ultimately more telling critique of America in the 1990s.

For the WMNF Women's Show this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and film.