March 18, 2016

Revisiting Fight Club: Fincher Improving Palahniuk

Being a teenage boy in the late 90s, the movie version of this book was totally on my radar. In fact, the movie along with American Psycho were both such a part of my self-identity that I went back and sought out the source material for the movies the summer after my freshman year so I could seek out the source material figuring if I liked the movies then I would like the books because of course the books were better.

There was – in that baby age of everyone being connected to the internet instead of just nerds – a newsgroup or a site that I think called itself the Cult. It was there I learned that Palahniuk thought that Fincher had improved on the book. (And it was not long before I burned out on Palahniuk’s works, feeling him just a one-trick pony who really couldn’t write people that deeply and female characters not at all).  At the time, I think I agreed, but that was unfair because I was such a fan of the movie that anything that deviated from the movie was wrong, because to me the movie was the source material. (Odd thought, I’ve never read any of them but there exist(ed) a market for novelizations of movies that were already books. Thought that was weird, but it may mitigate my feelings here. My first time I was disappointed in a movie vis a vi the book was Jurassic Park in like third grade, but I digress).

Ultimately, there are differences between what the movie was able to accomplish and what the book could do. I recently revisited the text, listening to it on audio, and I think I have it pegged. The movie is able to hand-hold you to the big reveal. I think that the seeds it plants are fun enough that it makes the movie worth rewatching multiple times. I remember catching something new on what must have been my 40th viewing and having listened to the director’s commentary. Say what you want about Fincher, but his work is deeply planned out. The book on the other hand is shackled to the narrator. The movie uses this to great effect, allowing the narrative voice in to add emphasis to what is happening on screen, but the book is stuck with what would be the Edward Norton character for the whole time (and this is discounting the importance of the twist reveal and the ending. So I think the book works, but it might not be Palahniuk’s best. I would say that of the earlier books that I am familiar with, it may be the easiest to film, so that’s why it made his popular reputation. Invisible Monsters and Survivor may be more interesting as texts in themselves, but I’m not sure how you make movies out of them that could come close to Fight Club (For example, the only other book that I am aware of Palahniuk that has been filmed is Choke, and that worked on a much smaller scale, and let’s be honest, Sam Rockwell isn’t Brad Pitt or Edward Norton).

In the end, the book is mostly interesting as an artifact to compare in relation to the movie because that is what made the vast majority of the public aware of the author and his work. It is not a stand out text and the story wasn’t that deep until Fincher got his hands on it and was able to use some of the anti-corporate imagery and the idea of fight clubs to latch onto some sort of late 90s, pre 9/11 aimlessness he puts in the mouth of Tyler Durden. But we have both had our great war and our great depression. Yet the critique is as valid today as it was when written. I guess it is still worth sticking back in your mind…