ON DVD Despite violence, 'Fight Club' one of the greatest films ever

The film's era is noticeable in the dialogue as a time of pre-9/11 innocence.
Eventually, all films become period pieces -- even "Fight Club," a frenetic film that creates nostalgia for 1999.
Even in its heavy cynicism, grotesque violence and psychological treachery, its era emerges as a time of relative innocence: six years ago, when there was no 9/11, no global war on terror, no cell phone attached to every ear or Web site affixed to every product, service and person.
The movie's penetrating satire and resounding messages ring true today -- as they presumably will through the ages, for this is one of the greatest films ever made -- but "Fight Club" has already become dated, most noticeably so when the combustible Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) goes off on one of his wry rants: "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [stuff] we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression."
Is it irony or prescience that the movie -- in which Durden, playing demigod, recruits an army of terrorists to propagate murder, vandalism and anarchy -- ignites a society into battle against itself? That question will be answered in the years to come, but for now we can appreciate the jarring film's technological wonders and soulful implications.
The blasterpiece
Director David Fincher's blasterpiece drew in the crowds by presenting itself as an all-out action brawler, with Pitt and Edward Norton pounding on faceless drones amid raucous cheering in steaming underground chambers. Its viewers hooked, "Fight Club" audaciously engaged them by annihilating social conventions and pulverizing consumerism. Fincher broke the guy-flick rule: He made you think.
The energy and mastery of the writing, acting and cinematographical ingenuity feed off and blend into one another. At the base is the charbroiled screenplay, adapted by Jim Uhls from the Chuck Palahniuk novel, which carves out a twisting story blessed with sharp dialogue. Norton is the unnamed protagonist, credited as "Narrator," a burnout whose voiceover drips with sardonic distance.
As the story opens, the narrator is held at gunpoint by Durden, who is on the verge of setting off a massive attack in which several credit-company buildings will be destroyed.
The narrator jumps back to months before, when he was an insomniac corporate suit, disgusted with his job as a liability inspector for an auto corporation. A jolting late-film twist redefines the entire movie and sets it up for tantalizing clue-hunting repeat viewings.
On one of his flights, the narrator meets the ultraconfident Durden, who manufactures soap and talks wistfully about how the ingredients can be easily manipulated into making explosives.
The narrator spills about his morbid hobby of attending support groups for terminal patients, which gives him bizarre emotional relief until he notices Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) at several meetings. She's also a "tourist," and the presence of a fellow faker dampens the experience. He confronts Marla, and there would be a spark of romance if Norton's character weren't so numb.
Out of desperation
One time the narrator returns to his apartment and discovers it has been blown up. His home and all his coveted possessions are no more, and he calls Durden out of desperation. After a drinking session, Durden goads the narrator to hit him, which leads to a fight, and both men emerge refreshed and energized. They move in together, begin a formal fight club and set up some rules: "The first rule of Fight Club is do not talk about Fight Club," Durden says. "The second rule of Fight Club is do not talk about Fight Club."
The primal rawness of the bohemian battles quickly draws crowds, and soon Durden is the leader of an anti-materialist army of drones. As he plunges down the slippery slope to an outlaw life, the narrator clings to Durden desperately. In him the narrator finds a father, a friend and something of a platonic lover.
Pitt is overpoweringly charismatic as Durden, blasting rousing speeches deriding the decay of man's primal satisfaction amid a commodified world. Durden's rise to and lust for power, as he pieces together his terrorist master plan titled Project Mayhem, is parallel to that of a fascist dictator.