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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fight Club is the 1999 movie based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel in which Edward Norton plays an insomniac office worker who meets his masculine ideal opposite with whom he begins to get in touch with his primal self as well as a desire to sabotage consumer culture. Impressionable kids and teens are likely to miss the dark satire while witnessing numerous examples of graphic beatings, vandalism, shootings, and bombings. The overall cloud of nihilism permeating this movie, the lead character's attempts to place subliminal one-frame shots of pornography in family movies in a theater where he works as a projectionist, scenes in which characters who work in restaurants urinate in food, a scene in which the female lead, after engaging in loud and passionate sex, says, "I haven't been f--ked like that since grade school," as well as the aforementioned graphic violence, make this best for audiences mature enough to see the film's deeper messages on the ways in which consumer culture warps our individuality and self esteem. There's also frequent profanity, nudity, smoking, and drinking.
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What's the story?
Ed Norton's central character is nameless (Closed-Captioning and DVD menus call him either Jack or Rupert), a bored office worker suffering from alienation-induced insomnia. He can only sleep after attending anonymous support groups for alcoholics and cancer victims, although he is neither. That option disappears when he finds a hostile woman, Marla (Helena Bonham-Carter) doing the same thing, for kicks and free food. He meets a charismatic soap salesman and part-time movie projectionist named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), with more extreme coping solutions for modern life. The duo forms a "fight club," beating each other for the primal thrill. The notion attracts other bored young men, and soon a number of secret Fight Clubs pummel themselves throughout the city. For Tyler, though, it's only the beginning of something he calls "Project Mayhem," orchestrated sabotage to overthrow the consumerist society. He's already been conducting his campaign on a small scale by splicing subliminal frames of pornography into family movies. Now, using Fight Club as an underground army, he spearheads bombings and monkey-wrenchings against The System. Rupert (or Jack, or whoever) watches Tyler's progress with alarm, as his own condo explodes and police link him to the attacks. Worse, Marla resurfaces, and a dangerous love triangle forms between her, the Ed Norton character, and Tyler. We already know from the film's dynamic opening that Tyler will end up holding a gun on his former friend, and the storyline is a flashback. Not necessarily a reliable flashback, though, and Fight Club has a celebrated Sixth Sense-style plot surprise that demands the viewer rethink all that's come before.
Is it any good?
Even without the whiplash revelation, the film is a wild ride. Among its many inside jokes and eccentricities, the filmmakers, in imitation of Tyler, stuck single-frame subliminal nude photos into the feature. Not-so-subliminal are incidents of extreme violence, as Fight Club members hold nothing back (and wear no boxing gloves), and a sex scene with Marla that's no less intense for being mostly CGI.
FIGHT CLUB derives from a novel by trendy author Chuck Palahniuk, whose book actually has a stranger, more downbeat ending than the movie. You wouldn't want kids to use either as a blueprint for behavior (at least the filmmakers made certain that the bomb-making recipes in the script are ineffective). Unlike Brazil, another striking cult picture that advocates terrorism against dehumanizing forces, Fight Club at least claims to take place in the real world. We can only recommend it for older teenagers who recognize it as more of a punk satire than a real call to arms.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the cynicism and anarchy shown here. What pushes the main characters to behave that way? Why do the narrator and Marla have a fascination with self-help groups? How are the extremely flawed characters here somehow likeable?
What would be the challenges in adapting a novel like Fight Club into a movie?
This movie, with its acts of vandalism and terrorism, was released two years before the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Could a movie like this be made after 9/11? Should a movie like this be made after 9/11? Does the film's style and message seem relevant to today or dated?
- In theaters: October 15, 1999
- On DVD or streaming: March 7, 2000
- Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
- Director: David Fincher
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 139 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: disturbing and graphic depiction of violent anti-social behavior, sexuality and language.
For kids who love dramatic thrills
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.