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Friday, November 5, 1999 Published at 18:06 GMT

Showdown at the Fight Club

Helena Bonham Carter and Edward Norton in Fight Club

By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Fight Club, a dark and violent drama starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, promises to be one of the most controversial studio films of the decade.

On the eve of its release in America there were signs that a showdown over the film, which comes from director David Fincher, was all but inevitable.

The central character in Fight Club is a disenchanted yuppie, played by Edward Norton, numbed by the sterile materialism of modern life.

[ image: Anarchist: Streetfighter Pitt rages against the system]
Anarchist: Streetfighter Pitt rages against the system
He becomes inspired after he meets a dishevelled street philosopher, portrayed by Brad Pitt.

He shows him that life can have meaning if you engage in ruthless, no holds barred, bare-knuckled, fist-fighting with other willing men.

Pretty soon a fight club has been created made up of emasculated males who just want to pummel the living daylights out of one another.

This leads to highly questionable acts. At one point Norton's character beats another man into a bloody pulp only to say: "I wanted to destroy something beautiful."

The fight club snowballs into a national movement that ends up as subversive anarchist terrorist force trying to strike lethal blows at corporate American capitalism.

The Hollywood Reporte has condemned the violence in the film and its editor Anita M Busch says Fight Club is "morally repulsive".

She also notes that the film "has drawn more gut anger from the industry than I've ever heard". The reason why the film has provoked outrage isn't just down to its bloody and gruesome content, but because it presents violence as a seductive "lifestyle choice" for young males.

[ image: Rose-turned-rebel: Helena transforms her image in the film]
Rose-turned-rebel: Helena transforms her image in the film
At Fight Club's Los Angeles premi_ the cast members were reluctant to discuss the film knowing that in wake of the Colorado school shootings their picture has become an easy target for critics of violent Hollywood entertainment aimed at teens.

Edward Norton and Brad Pitt have been eager to point out that Fight Club does not suggest that violence against people is a legitimate means to an end. In fact, Edward Norton claims the movie examines the roots of violence.

All this may be true, but Fox, the studio producing the film, has been marketing Fight Club at impressionable young males knowing they will respond viscerally to the bloody imagery, not because they want to learn about the roots of violence.

[ image: Critics fear copycat violence]
Critics fear copycat violence
Critics fear acts of copycat violence will quickly ensue, and that real-life fight clubs will be sprouting up across America.

In fact the strongest reaction to Fight Club may come not from outraged conservatives, but from liberals who have hinted they view the film as a reactionary rant from males who feel they've become emasculated by feminism and political correctness.

The film's subtext does indeed suggest that men have failed, because modern society has become "testosterone intolerant" and won't let them enjoy being the primitive physical animals that they are.

The genesis of the film is revealing, because it comes from a book written by Chuck Palahniuk, a one-time diesel mechanic, who has experienced extreme violence close to home.

His father Fred was found murdered last May in Idaho, and when Fred was four years old, he hid under a bed while his own father killed his mother and then shot himself .

Although Palahniuk may have witnessed, in the most cruel and vivid terms, the horrors of human evil, it doesn't follow that he is a man with great insight into the root causes of violence.

[ image: Edward Norton gives Meatloaf a hug in Fight Club]
Edward Norton gives Meatloaf a hug in Fight Club
I was left in no doubt that Fight Club is extremely clever, well written, well acted, well-directed, and at times a funny and intelligently provocative film.

It is just its murky morality and confusing message that is troublesome.

More than anything else Fight Club suffers because it is a movie that is in denial in that it fails to frame its central character as a man who is mentally ill and deeply psychotic.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the insights provided by such a disturbed character should end up being sporadically illuminating but lacking overall coherence.

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