The Dark Overtone of the Film Fight Club Directed by David Fincher in 1999

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In Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) the director, Fincher, presents the elements that are essential in a Neo-Noir film. The most obvious of the characteristics is the dark overtone of the film. Fight Club is mostly set in night or in shadows as are most noir films. The other obvious characteristic of Neo-Noir is the voice over narration. Voice over narration is when a voice off screen is doing a narration of what is happening on screen. This narration is provided by the protagonist of Fight Club, Jack. Edward Norton plays the ambivalent protagonist, who only refers to himself as Jack. An ambivalent protagonist, usually the main character, is someone the audience likes, but who possesses character flaws. This brings us to the use of doubles and splits in noir and neo-noir films. Jack (Edward Norton) unknowingly develops an alter ego by the name of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt).

However, this turns out to be only one of Jack s flaws as Fight Clubs ambivalent protagonist. For every protagonist in Neo-Noir films there is a femme fatale, which is the leading lady who eventually leads the protagonist to his doom. Jack s femme fatale is Marla Singer (Helena Bonham-Carter). These are the characteristics of Neo-Noir expressed in Fight Club; shadows or dark lighting, voice over narration, the ambivalent protagonist, double and split imagery, and the femme fatale, while implementing an underlying theme of crime and violence. Fight Club is also almost completely a flashback up until the very last scene. Although not a typical noir film, Fight Club does fit in best under the genre of neo-noir due to these stylistic elements.

One of the main reasons that Fight Club could be considered neo-noir is because of the dark lighting and the use of shadows. Noir films are often considered dark or gloomy. Low-key lighting is characterized in this way:

Low-key lighting features a relatively bright key light compared with little fill light. This produces lots of shadows. In low-key lighting, most of the picture is under-lit while other portions of the image area are adequately exposed. Typically, low-key lighting employs hard light in a high contrast, fast fall-off image. (Prince 56)

Fincher uses low-key lighting efficiently. Virtually every scene has a dark feel to it; especially the scenes in which Jack is at Fight Club or the personal help seminars. This lighting not only shows a reflection on the mood of the scene, but the mood of the characters as well. It creates a mind set in which right or wrong, good or bad are not always clearly defined. The use of shadows and low-key lighting give Fight Club a genuine neo-noir feel.

The ambivalent protagonist, Jack played by Edward Norton is a character the audience will feel sympathy for and even come to like. However, it is obvious he has serious problems. Jack s main problem, what the audience comes to find out, is his alter ego, Tyler Durden. Jack struggles to take control as he sees that Tyler s acts of vandalism are wrong. However, he cannot stop himself until the very end (more on that later). However, even before the character of Tyler Durden is introduced it is clear that Jack has personal problems; insomnia, discontent for his job, and a dependency on support groups. Jack is also faced with a moral dilemma as well as constantly being put into danger, another characteristic of the ambivalent protagonist. Jack fits the criteria, A hard-boiled, cynical, disillusioned character nevertheless usually likable (Flippo). Edward Norton plays the quintessential ambivalent protagonist in the role of Jack.

In every noir film with an ambivalent protagonist comes along a femme fatale. Marla Singer is Jack s femme fatale. However, she is not the typical femme fatale, she is not strikingly beautiful or independent. According to Flippo a femme fatale is, An alluring, sassy, independent and usually dangerous woman (Flippo). Marla is actually dependent in the sense that she needs the support groups and she even tries to commit suicide. These are not regular actions for a femme fatale. However, everything that Jack goes through has some relation to Marla. Jack even admits it; And suddenly I realized that all of this, the gun, the bombs, the revolution has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer. Marla Singer is not the flashy, independent femme fatale; but she did have a great effect on what happened to Jack. Although she was not the typical version of a femme fatale she still seemed to have the same effect.

The scene that shows the most characteristics of neo-noir film is the opening scene. Fight Club basically starts at the end and flashes back to see how Jack and Tyler Durden got into this situation, which is a technique often used in noir films. The scene opens looking directly into the eyes of Jack, who is starring down the barrel of a gun that has been put into his mouth.

Instantly the underlying theme of violence and crime are implemented. The use of shadows and dark lighting also is a key element in the scene, which establishes mood. The audience never gets a clear shot at either Jack s or Tyler Durden s face, without at least part of it being in shadows. There are no flashy colors, very dark and sullen, it is almost virtually black and white, except for streetlights and the time on the bomb, which is appropriately red. Before Jack even says his first on screen words, the voice over narration comes in.

This voice over narration basically tells what is happening right as the movie picks up and will soon dive back into the recent past to bring the audience up to date on the events that led to this situation. The voice-over narration also brings in another characteristic of film noir even before she has appeared on screen, the femme fatale, Marla Singer. The audience now knows that Marla Singer had something to do with Jack s current state. In the first minutes of the film, Fincher established five key elements of a neo- noir film: flashbacks, the themes of violence and crime, the use of low lighting and shadows, voice over narration, and the femme fatale.

Even though Marla Singer could be interpreted differently as a femme fatale, Fight Club still best fits the characteristic style of a neo-noir film. Most, if not all, the elements of a neo- noir are presented in Fight Club. However, the element that secured Fight Club as a neo-noir film is the ambiguous ending. Although things may appear to be on the up swing, which would lead some to classify Fight Club as a film gris (a film done in noir style but spoiled by a happy ending), the true ending is still unseen. The audience does not truly know what is next and what is to come:

The truth shall set you free, but it also can be painful. One of the essential ingredients of genuine film noir as opposed to the watered down diluted version that has the look but not the toughness is the brutal truth. And ambiguity. No pat answers. Life isn t so simple in a good noir. At the fadeout it s not obvious how things might continue. We just saw an interesting tale, but the true ending is up in the air. It is the human struggle against Fate. (Flippo)

Characteristic elements of neo-noir films such as shadows/dark lighting, voice over narration, the themes of violence and crime, and flashbacks are all present in Fight Club. Although there may be some discrepancies in Fight Club in some areas of neo-noir criteria, the ambiguity of the ending best lands Fight Club into the genre of neo-noir film.

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The Dark Overtone of the Film Fight Club Directed by David Fincher in 1999. (2023, May 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-dark-overtone-of-the-film-fight-club-directed-by-david-fincher-in-1999/

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