In life, there have been numerous instances where things become so hallowed by a sect of society that it is afforded the description of being iconic, legendary or classic. Books, football players, TV shows, bands, albums, you get the gist. As Roman poet Lucretius once said, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.
Like everything in the consumerist world, and life in general, everything is subjective, even what we name different pieces of furniture is affected by this sentiment. But if we attribute it to the “creative” realms you’ll see it is at its most rampant. You know it yourself. Off the top of your head, you’ll remember countless instances where you’ve disagreed over an actor, musician or film with friends or family. We’ve all been there.
People like different things, we get that. But there are some occasions where we feel that things get put on a pedestal, even though it is not warranted. Or, when we can respect the thought behind it, but when the thing in question seems a little hollow, the positioning of it in some gilded halls of respect falls short. Take the 2014 black-comedy Birdman, for example.
One would wager that there exists another film that is one of the most overrated of all time, or at least, is not the masterpiece that many believe it to be. Before diehard fans explode into a tangle of rage and bewilderment, wondering who wrote this garbage, just think back to our earlier point about subjectivity. Sorry to edge-lords everywhere, but the film is David Fincher’s 1999 thriller, Fight Club.
The film was based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel of the same name. The novel itself is brilliant. It brims with socio-political modern themes and is a critical take on the consumerist, unwavering neoliberal society that the ‘Westernised’ world has become. It contains nods to existentialism, feminism, and anarchism, to name but a few, and some of Palahniuk’s takes on the ascendancy of the corporations are astounding. It is a dense social commentary and, using its protagonist as an unnamed narrator who suffers from insomnia, Palahniuk expertly manages to make audiences feel akin to the anonymous man.
“The film manages to carry these themes off”, you might say. This is true to a minor extent, but one would argue that they are overshadowed by the film being somewhat affected. We would go so far as to argue that the time the film was produced maybe had a hand in this. After all, 1999 was the turn of the millennium. It was the period where the ’90s had become an excessive caricature of itself, where supposedly “arty” or meaningful projects fell flat.
For instance, Danny Boyle’s 2000 outing, The Beach, is very thematically similar to Fincher’s adaptation of Fight Club, with the protagonist wanting to escape the mundane trappings of the western world, escaping into this unsettling nether-zone of violence and insanity. However, more so with The Beach, the subject material is skewed for a brilliant audio-visual journey that carries no real weight.
Here we land at our central point, in 1999, there was a string of films released that did well in commenting on American society, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings and American Beauty. Fincher’s Fight Club is often hailed as being the forerunner of these, making use of technological advancements to augment its message by way of an innovative cinematic form and style.
This is true to an extent, as the soundtrack is incredible, as is the majority of its camerawork. The end scene where the towers are blown up, set to Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind?’ is one of the defining cinematic moments of the era. However, due to the inherently Gen X, faux-nihilist themes that the script conveys, it misses the point of the book and becomes an embodiment of art for art’s sake, or more kindly, missed the point owing to style over substance.
Now we’re not going to go far down the rabbit hole of all the weirdness ‘Project Mayhem’ and the titular boys club-inspired, because that would be reductive, as so many necessary pieces of art have had negative effects on those whose temperament calls for it. We only have to note, the way that in the ’80s, heavy metal listeners were deemed to be Satanists by elements across society to heed this. However, this does go some way in accounting for why the film is overrated — it was loved for the wrong reasons.
The irony is that film ended up becoming part of what Palahniuk was critical of. The uber-masculine essence of Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden, and the chaos loving violence of Edward Norton’s narrator fed into this faux-nihilism that galvanised Hot Topic and Blue Banana frequenters everywhere, and Fight Clubs sprung in schools across the globe. Even the deeply misogynistic and racist ‘alt-right’ have co-opted Palahniuk’s term “snowflake”. Let that sink in.
Fight Club became an unsubtle take on the original book. Some points remain, namely the violent anti-capitalist rhetoric, however, this has been misconstrued. Whilst there are good performances from the actors, and clever cinematography, when you revisit it, you realise that it’s not one of Fincher’s best works. Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network and even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo rank above it in his filmography.
Maybe it’s because, in the post-9/11 world, in 2021, so many things have happened in society that makes the film seem futile and regressive. In a century that has been plagued with the ill-effects of numerous violent, anti-societal mindsets, and one where we are challenging the regressive social ideals that abounded even in 1999, the film doesn’t hold up.
We get that it can in some ways be compared to era-defining flicks such as 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause and 1967’s The Graduate, in so far as they are social commentary’s, however, that is where, from a 21st-century lens, the praise of Fight Club stops. The film is a flawed social commentary, and as the years drag on, this is made even clearer.
This is just our opinion, but if you revisit Fight Club, you’ll see elements of what we mean, even if you don’t fully agree. As a concluding point, can you think of any other overrated films that don’t deserve the credit they get?
Watch the trailer for Fight Club, below.