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May 6

Fight Club: Film vs. Novel

Category: Opinions

Until the Kindle for Mac app was released, I’d never actually read Fight Club, but I’d always just figured it was amazing. I mean, the film version sounds like Chuck Palahniuk at his best. It sounds like Survivor, and Invisible Monsters, and Choke. Fight Club is one of the movies I turn on just to listen to the writing, it’s practically an audio book. The film version of Fight Club is edgy, and smart, and entirely plausible in a violently surreal way. Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden is fucking brilliant, and totally fuckin’ cool. You want to be him, or at least hang out with him. It’s obvious why Edward Norton’s Narrator created him for an alter-ego. The film’s ending, all those corporate offices crashing down, Norton’s Narrator and Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla Singer holding hands while everything burns, it’s beautiful and perfect. They’re two fucked up people, but they found each other and in that moment, they’re happy.

If I had to pick a single word to describe Fight Club as a novel, that word would be “juvenile.” If I had to pick a second word, it’d be “tedious.” I found reading it to be painful. Palahniuk is so over-the-top, so obviously trying to shock people, that the novel reads like a ridiculous farce. The Narrator isn’t likable, he reads like a bitter seventeen year-old walking around in a thirty year-old body. We get more of his back-story, but his story isn’t endearing. Throughout the novel, one doesn’t get the sense that he’s evolving, growing up, learning anything from his experiences. He isn’t learning anything from Tyler because Tyler isn’t teaching anything genuinely valuable, he’s just an angry kid throwing a violent tantrum at the world. The Narrator and Tyler are just different degrees of bitter teenager, Tyler being more prone toward violence. Pitt’s Tyler is definitely irreverent, absolutely an Anarchist, but when he speaks it’s intelligent. He makes sense, in a dark sort of way. The same can’t be said of Tyler’s book-bound counterpart.

The novel contains various themes; losing everything makes one free to do anything, material possessions are an empty measure of one’s worth, paternal abandonment, destruction as a form of creation, all interesting for one to consider.  Unfortunately for the novel, these ideas are buried under a ridiculous story in which Tyler is making soap from stolen lard liposuctioned from Marla’s mom’s ass, lard Marla was saving to use for her own future lip and ass enlargement injections. A story in which Tyler and Marla constantly refer to each other as “buttwipe.” A story in which Marla and a bunch of cancer patients, some in wheelchairs, race to the top of a building to stop Tyler from killing himself. Fight Club as a novel smacks of immaturity and blatant attempts to shock readers with useless, crude dialogue. I’m sure at seventeen, Fight Club would have been taboo and amazing, but I’m not seventeen, and I’ve experienced too much to be able to relate to so much fluff.

The film version of Fight Club manages to distill the best elements of its source-material into a thought-provoking, intelligent story that’s ultimately beautiful in all its darkness. Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d read the novel first, but I doubt it.


5 Comments so far

  1. josh May 7th, 2010 12:44 am

    Wow. You know, Fight Club is the only Palahniuk novel (between the start of his career through Rant, anyhow) I never actually got around to reading, but I’ve always heard it holds it’s own against the movie until now. Good to hear you call him out on his mistakes. Hell, it was his first novel. It was bound to happen, right?

  2. carl May 7th, 2010 10:39 am

    its nice to see someone actually say that out loud.

    invisible monsters is unquestionably my favorite.

  3. Marc May 15th, 2010 1:58 am

    See Gattaca…I think you will like it.

  4. mariah May 25th, 2010 7:36 pm

    Fight Club has remained my favorite movie since seeing it. Everyone always asks if I read the book– I haven’t– though I’ve read plenty of Chuck’s. Thank you for steering me away from it.

  5. CountessM June 28th, 2010 10:58 am

    So strange, in my first email to you I was going to ask, ‘What did you think of Fight Club as a boo vs the movie?’

    I’d like to think great minds think alike, but then I would be flattering myself.