The ‘Fight Club’ Debate: Just What Is the Message Here?

Neil Jurgensen is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles

When people say that Hollywood film producers are less than 100% sincere, I think this is what they mean:

In Claudia Eller’s article (“Controversy Could KO or Punch Up ‘Fight Club,’ ” Oct. 15), Laura Ziskin, the Fox executive who bought and developed the book into the film “Fight Club,” is quoted: “I think the movie is very, very intense in its ideas and the way they’re presented, and people mistake that for violence.”

I saw the movie on opening day on the big screen, and I guess I “mistook” those savage, blood-soaked scenes of men pummeling each others’ faces into pulp with bare fists, and the slow-motion scenes of bullets going through people’s heads as violent. I guess I’m not intellectual enough to grasp the greater meaning.


The studio chairman, Bill Mechanic, responds to criticism by citing boxing and war movies as being more violent. He doesn’t see “Fight Club” as a violent film.

As the article states, controversy is the one sure thing “Fight Club” has going for it. The only other sure thing is that the studio executives quoted are either in denial or are too hypocritical (or cowardly) to acknowledge that the film, regardless of merit, is a violent film.

Here is a sampling of various critics’ reviews:

”. . . [S]ome of the most brutal, unremitting, nonstop violence ever filmed.” --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

”. . . [A]n arresting, eventually appalling excursion into social satire by way of punishing violence . . . a theater of cruelty that Artaud couldn’t have foreseen: not just frenzied fist-fighting but mutilation, torture and exultant demolition.” --Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal.

“ ‘Fight Club’s’ level of visceral violence, its stomach-turning string of bloody and protracted bare-knuckles brawls, make it more than worthy of an NC-17.” --Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times.

Some critics have loved the movie. Some have hated it. Fair enough. This is not a review. But do these studio executives actually believe this is not a violent movie? Or are they simply saying what they’re saying because of the current anti-violence climate in Washington?


If you want to stand by your film, then do so. Stand by your film. Stand by your right to make a violent film. If you believe it has no impact on society, then make that argument. But at least call a spade a spade. Say, “Yeah, it’s a violent film. It’s a violent world. But we think it’s a damn good film, and we stand by it.”

But don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by saying with a straight face it’s not a violent film.

The movie has its appeal, no doubt. The audience in the theater where I saw it cheered at the end. But who’s kidding whom? If Ziskin and Mechanic truly don’t believe “Fight Club” is a violent film, I’d hate to see what would qualify as violent in their judgment.