(There is a serious David Fincher theme going on here)
The Middle Children of History
This scene comes around about 70 minutes into the feature. The club is established and we are past the insomnia and therapy session character introductions. It is a turning point of the film, as from here the film begins to spiral into the franchise narrative.
It opens with a low angle shot looking up at Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in the basement of the bar where they hold the club, and immediately we know who the king of this room is. He’s dressed in his usual casual attire and is smoking a cigarette. The camera pans up. He turns and says “I see a lot of new faces”. The other men are revealed in the background out of focus, and they laugh at this. It then cuts to close-ups of a couple of the guys and it goes silent when Tyler says: “Shut up”. There is no doubt who is in control here. The camera stays behind him for a few moments, with only up from his shoulders visible. Still the men are out focus listening intently. More cuts to close ups then back to Tyler as he starts pacing the room. The lighting, like most of the film is dark, yet Tyler is illuminated over the others by his white T-shirt.
He walks around, the camera following, as he spiels his ‘Middle Children of History’ speech. Pitt is ferocious in his delivery as he discusses squandered potential and a loss of a male generation. The camera stays still as he’s still and moves when he moves. His relationship with the lens is kinetic and extremely intense. Fincher is forcing you to pay attention. The quotable lines are endless; “our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression, is our lives” is a personal favourite of mine. As the last line of rhetoric comes the camera slowly moves into Pitt’s face, to emphasise the climax to the speech. Fincher is closing on his message, and suddenly the other men are vocal as the camera cuts above Tyler. He begins to repeat the Fight Club rules when the sound of the basement door is heard.
From here it cuts to a lovely focus pull from Tyler to the Narrator (Edward Norton) as they turn to look at who is entering the basement. We see two large men stumbling down the stairs, both dressed stereo-typically like Italian mobsters. When they reach the bottom of the stairs one of the men is revealed to have a gun, and on this everyone in the room backs off, except for Tyler. There is a great bit of dialogue where Lou states him self as a player in the scene by saying “There’s a sign above the bar that says Lou’s tavern, I’m fucking Lou, who the fuck are you?”. It cuts between Lou and Tyler as they posture their Alpha male status. Tyler is hanging, with some of his physique on show, and this is just one of many instances where Fincher (quite possible on purpose) sexualises his character. Lou is speaking heavily but the camera does not move with him like it did with Tyler, simply because this is not his domain. Tyler has all the respect here. Lou punches him in the stomach and the Narrator flinches in the background, which if you know the film, is a subtle plot clue.
Quickly the camera is looking up at Lou and down on Tyler, showing that violence breeds power in the scene. Our first bit of blood comes as Tyler taunts Lou to hit him more. Then, another lovely focus pull comes as the men approach in the background after one of the hits. The gun then comes into play in an almost point of view shot pointing at the men. They veer backwards and make the gun the most important object in the scene. Will it be Checkov’s gun? Will it be fired by the end of the scene? The tightness and tension of the scene is exaggerated by Fincher’s close ups of the men and the weapon. No-one moves. Tyler’s cackling laugh is incongruous and echoing as he jesters to the Narrator to trust him. More taunting from Tyler and more aggression from Lou as he beats Tyler to a pulp. Then the Dust Brother’s soundtrack begins, with the camera cutting erratically from Tyler to Lou. Tyler joking, Lou beating. More blood is apparent as Lou steps up to leave Tyler and the music quietens with him. Then out of nowhere, Tyler leaps on top of Lou spraying blood all over him. The sounds and visuals are repulsive as Tyler rubs his face in Lou’s repeating “You don’t know where I’ve been Lou!”. It is both disgusting and humorous, a line that Fincher often stands on. Men are being sick in the background as the cuts get quicker and quicker, Lou is squirming. He finally gives in to Tyler’s onslaught and leaves him riling on the floor.
I love this scene because it’s balanced so well. We go from deep philosophical thought to an all out visceral attack on the senses. This to and fro and fluttering between genres is one of the many reasons this is one of my favourite films of all time. Fincher’s attention to detail is unmatched and this scene highlights that. Everything is perfect from the lighting to the costumes and every shot is just so dense with flavour. The homework scene follows and that is brilliant in a totally different way. Fincher really is the master, but also I believe this is Brad Pitt’s finest moment. He is breathtaking in this scene and shows a real sense of intensity and range. I encourage anyone to take a closer look at this scene, and the entire film, because there is so much to find.