In a nutshell, the film stars Edward Norton, who plays the unnamed protagonist but who is often referred to be commentators as 'Jack', and Brad Pitt, who plays delightfully anarchic Tyler Durden, as well as Helena Bonham Carter as Marla Singer, a support group junkie who becomes involved with, well, both of them. Jack and Durden strike up a friendship after Jack's apartment is trashed in a freak explosion, and soon they've begun an underground boxing group, the Fight Club. Things escalate, and soon Durden is running an anarchy organisation, Project Mayhem, hell bent on bringing down the establishments that fence in society.
Fight Club is notable as being the first film in which I ever saw Brad Pitt, and while I'd often dismissed him as nothing but a 'pretty boy', it became fairly obvious within about forty minutes of this film that the guy knows what he's doing. Durden is seductive in his chaotic ways, and Jack doesn't even seem to realise that he's swapped one routine for another; the former might be the way of capitalism and materialism, while the latter proposes itself as liberation, but they're both essentially routines. I once read a review which posited Jack as a 'misery vampire', due to his predilection for attending support groups for conditions he doesn't have, but in some ways, it is Durden who is the vampire, preying on the weak (Jack, Marla, the whole host of men that he turns into footsoldiers).
The film was originally touted as featuring 'subliminal' messages, due to the flashes of words and images during incongruous shots, but I refute that suggestion, since anything that appears on screen for long enough to be processed by the brain cannot be considered subliminal, and anything that appears for less than that doesn't get processed at all. No, Fight Club is extremely upfront about what it's trying to do. I actually don't see it as being a progressive statement in favour of individual freedom and an overthrow of the establishment - if that were the case, then Durden wouldn't need to turn the attendees of Fight Club, and later the drones of Project Mayhem, into automatons. They'd all follow him for the strength of the message alone. Instead, I can't help wondering if the film is trying to say that people need a leader.
I've since read Chuck Palahniuk's original novel, Fight Club, and I think the film is one of those rare instances where the film is more successful than the book. The characters feel more rounded in the film, more than just mouthpieces for what Palahniuk wants to say, and as a result the whole thing feels more plausible, which is extremely unsettling in a way.
The film became famous for its "rules", and really, I've broken the first two by talking about it, but I think it's equally quotable elsewhere. I've actually lost count of the number of times I've seen those "sunshine and pixie dust" life quotes on Facebook, and thought "You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else". But then that might just be me and my cynicism. It's also full of "Is that true?" moments, like the discussion about making soap - and how by adding a few household ingredients, you can make said soap a bit more...dramatic.
Anyway, I'll leave you with this clip, in which Durden really cranks up the crazy...