Why ‘Fight Club’ Still Speaks to Us 20 Years Later

Fight Club has been a sort of bible for film lovers of the ‘90s and later. Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, it was not a big success when it opened October 15, 1999, despite starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. I was there to see it on opening night but it took several years for people to catch on.

Edward Norton at the Fight Club premiere
Edward Norton at the Fight Club premiere | LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images

For the 20th anniversary, I will discuss spoilers for Fight Club. Most people know by now even if they’ve never seen it. Everyone knows you don’t talk about Fight Club but if your only discovering the film now, please don’t let me spoil it for you.

If it were just about a Fight Club, it would’ve been enough

I was drawn by the simple premise of a fight club: bored working stiffs start hitting each other just so they can feel something, anything. Even pain would be better than mediocrity.

Fight Club premiere
Fight Club premieres in 1999 | Barry King/WireImage

A movie that we’re just about a fight club would be a fascinating character study, but of course Fight Club is more. The fight club escalates to Project Mayhem and a larger attack on ‘90s society. 

And maybe that’s the point. It would never just be a fight club. Once they got their fill of hitting each other they’d have to take their violence out elsewhere. So the story is still a dissertation on the nature of violence. It always bleeds out, pun intended, to hurt more people than simply the perpetrators.

You can never watch ‘Fight Club’ for the first time again

Once you know the twist it’s impossible to unsee. This is where I discuss the main twist. I am Jack’s spoiler. Tyler Durden (Pitt) and The Narrator (Norton) were the same person. It got me the first time. 

Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter of Fight Club
Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter in Venice for Fight Club | Eric VANDEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Now? Every time Narrator asks Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) what she’s doing in his house, tells her Tyler’s not here, the look on her face is a reaction to a guy denying they had an intimate relationship. It makes Maria much more sympathetic because she’s not encroaching on Narrator’s world. He invited her in so she’s like WTF? 

Even down to Tyler and Narrator having the exact same briefcase, that’s almost like teasing. Like really? You still didn’t see it coming? I wonder if he actually kept the soap and his paperwork in the same briefcase. He probably just imagined the soap.

Tyler Durden’s wisdom sounds right but it’s not

Tyler Durden is a compelling figure for disenfranchised people to follow. He’s got Brad Pitt’s movie star charisma, Paluhniuk’s articulate words and David Fincher makes him look like a God.

You need pain, you are not your career or your possessions, you won’t be millionaires rockstars or movie gods. That sounds like solid tough love, although I found the last point ironic in a movie starring Meat Loaf. Jared Leto has a band too. So obviously someone is going to be movie stars and rock gods because they made this movie. In a few years, many of that generation became tech millionaires too. So Tyler was wrong about that.

Meat Loaf at the Fight Club premiere
Meat Loaf at the Fight Club Premiere | Sam Levi/WireImage

You are not your career is a good one, as is a healthy rejection of materialism. They were addicted to Ikea furniture. Fight Club couldn’t have imagined a world of smartphones and social media promising validation that never really comes. You are not a unique snowflake is also prescient, as the subsequent generation started giving every kid a trophy.

A frustrated generation will embrace nihilism. It seems like the alternative to authority giving them platitudes. Tyler is giving them platitudes too though. Success and fulfillment doesn’t come from following anyone’s rules, even the rebel’s. You have to do the soul searching and take risks. Plus, Tyler was the manifestation of the Narrator’s psychosis. He needed it so bad he created it, until it went too far also.

‘Fight Club’ is so ‘90s

Coming at the end of Y2K, which many feared could be the end of the world, Fight Club was the ultimate modern movie. It’s a time capsule now. It was a time when you’d order Ikea from the catalog, not online. You could call someone on a pay phone and leave it off the hook. Marketing was pervasive but it wasn’t quite beamed into your space and personalized yet.

Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter at the Fight Club premiere | Sam Levi/WireImage

The film is still as relevant now as then. There’s more disaffection for this generation. The housing crisis ruined people and they lost their homes. Police violence has only gotten deadlier since Rodney King. Mass shootings at schools and public places have escalated since the year Fight Club came out, the year of Columbine.

Fight Club could happen today. Technology might inspire some of their targets but probably wouldn’t change their MO. They’d probably keep it off the grid and not use social media or even the dark web. They’d still rally against the 1% but they might be deadlier now. I hope the people susceptible to a Fight Club learn the lesson of Fight Club. Not only don’t you talk about Fight Club but it’s also not the answer to your problems. It’s a great movie though.