Listen now | This week’s episode is Fight Club directed by David Fincher.
I agree with your thoughts on the ending, but I’d go further. I think the Project Mayhem stuff in general is messy and unsatisfying. The movie starts extremely strong, but it completely loses me around the halfway point.
We spend way too long listening to nihilistic ramblings that sound cool but make no sense at all (You are not your job, but also I’m going to push this clerk to get his dream job). The movie can’t decide if the mayhem is an important revolution or a silly joke, so we get constant and bizarre shifts in tone.
The evolution from “punch each other to blow off steam” to “nationwide terrorist cell” feels way too quick and wildly underdeveloped, and the parts that are shown are cartoonish. They stop all investigations into their terrorism network by threatening one guy? Norton funds this by being weird in the office and hoping nobody told HR that he’s insane?
Is Tyler recruiting other friendless nihilists, or is he somehow radicalizing normies? Robert Paulson clearly isn’t Project Mayhem material; he immediately fails the entry test. But once he joins, he becomes dedicated enough to risk his life destroying a random coffee shop? And everyone thinks this is a worthwhile, meaningful sacrifice, and they should risk their lives for this nonsense too?
It all just feels very undercooked to me. This movie is infamous for the fact that half the people who watch it completely misinterpret its themes, and I think some of that has to be the movie’s fault. I feel like the whole second half needed another few drafts.
I hadn't rewatched Fight Club since its release, it's super fun to revisit. It's interesting that we watched Lawrence of Arabia earlier, I think it connects well thematically. To me, Fight Club is a close-up view of some themes in Lawrence, especially sado-masochism and the cult of personality.
Regarding the ending, it's kind of ambiguous what they were going for so there's not one definitive reading, but the way I see it is that there's a mismatch between the tone of the whole movie (violent, bleak and somewhat realistic) and the content, so the form points toward a dark satire but to me the story is much more related to slapstick, farce, absurdism and romantic comedy. So when he shoots himself at the end, I don't see it as any kind of resolution with thematic weight (it's not really indicated that Tyler won't come back). It's the same with the explosion, it is just the same kind of empty gestures we saw all along, just bigger. To me the sense of resolution comes with the character's declaration of love for Marla and implies that it could change his situation. I did a quick search on the internet to see if anybody else wrote on that and I found a blog post that compared Fight Club with "Bringing Up Baby", I have no idea if it's a good comparison but it might be worth a look.
As for Brad Pitt's performance, if you read the movie more as absurdist and self-contradictory, I think it makes sense that he is not a good orator. He just mumbles barely sensical pseudo-philosophy and that's enough to create a cult, making his followers the more ridiculous for it. He also embodies exactly what he criticizes (a good example is when he talks about Gucci advertising). The whole movie is full of self-contradictions like that, another example is the idea of anarchist terrorists organized hierarchically like the army, etc.
Here's the article on romantic comedies and Fight Club: https://www.rogerebert.com/scanners/fight-club-at-ten-a-love-story
There's a ton of stuff to talk about with this movie... They probably drew inspiration from Robert Musil's book "The Man without Qualities", and from poet-boxer Arthur Cravan as well (here's one of his poems: http://moicani.over-blog.com/2015/02/mina-loy-s-colossus-and-the-myth-of-arthur-cravan.html
and his fashion sense, similar to Brad Pitt toward the ending: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/arthur-cravan-logo-e1515012465317.jpg)
Anyway, if I have time this weekend, I'll add a few things on Fincher's direction, which as you said is very impressive.