Fight Club – BLUE’S BEATS #19
Blue’s Beats is a blog series where we break down various feature screenplays by identifying and discussing their important beats.
This week, we break both the first and second rules as I examine the beats in David Fincher‘s film, Fight Club, starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter, which opened in 1999 to modest success, but has since gone on to achieve cult status.
An average Joe office worker seeks a cure for his insomnia, but finds Tyler Durden instead, a smooth talking soap maker who sets the pair down a dangerous path after starting a for-men-only fight club in a dive bar basement.
The film opens in a flash forward sequence, introducing the two primary characters, the narrator (Norton), named Jack in the script, and Tyler Durden (Pitt). Through voice over narration, Jack sets the scene. The two are in a high rise building, looking out over several other skyscrapers. Tyler is in control, holding a gun in Jack’s mouth. Jack explains to the audience that the buildings outside are rigged to blow, introducing Project Mayhem. The film’s stakes are set, and it is now a matter of recounting the events that lead to the ultimate destruction that is Project Mayhem.
“Somehow I realize all of this — the gun, the bombs, the revolution — is really about Marla Singer.” – Page 4
Flashback to Jack at a support group meeting for men with testicular cancer. Why is Jack at such a meeting? He suffers from insomnia, and his doctor refuses to prescribe him medication. Jack’s life is a dull one. He works in an office and lives in a boring apartment, which he has obsessively furnished with cheap, but trendy furniture. Jack finds that, by pouring out his emotions in the support group, he is able to sleep again, and he quickly becomes addicted, attending whatever random and obscure meeting he can find. This is how he meets Marla (Bonham Carter) on page 12. Marla is also a habitual support group abuser. However, Jack finds that, as long as she is present, he cannot cry, and thus cannot sleep. He must find an alternative cure for his insomnia.
On page 25, Jack is introduced to Tyler. The two are seated next to one another on an airplane, where they make small talk (if you consider how to make napalm small talk) and exchange contact information. Upon returning home, Jack finds that his fabulously furnished apartment has been destroyed in an explosion. He has nothing left but what he carries with him. He takes out Tyler’s card and gives him a call. They meet, and, outside of Lou’s Tavern, Tyler makes an odd request. “I want you to hit me as hard as you can,” he says. So, Jack hits him, and Fight Club is born on page 35.
PLOT POINT ONE
Fight Club grows, gaining followers in the parking lot of Lou’s Tavern, eventually moving into the grungy, dimly lit basement. Jack’s problems begin to seem inconsequential.
On page 51, Marla calls Jack, seemingly suicidal, but he doesn’t seem to care, leaving the phone off the hook as she continues to talk. The next morning, Jack wakes suddenly, having “dreamed” that he slept with Marla the night before. During his breakfast, she makes her presence known, page 53. He interrogates her, asking her why she is there, though he surely already knows. There is now tension between Jack and Tyler, and Jack’s tumultuous relationship with Marla takes a turn for the worst. Confused and upset, she storms out.
On page 78, during a Fight Club gathering, Lou, the owner of Lou’s Tavern, demands that they leave immediately. Refusing and instigating a fight, Tyler is beaten by Lou. Bloodied and battered, Tyler attacks Lou, coercing him into allowing them to stay. Tyler then issues the Fight Club members their first assignment: start a fight with a complete stranger. This is the transition from a seemingly, relatively harmless Fight Club to the more sinister Project Mayhem.
PLOT POINT TWO
Jack begins to fear what Fight Club has become. Members begin living in the house, producing massive quantities of soap and nitroglycerin. Project Mayhem is now a full fledged terrorist organization, prompting Jack to seek answers. He finds a stash of Tyler’s boarding passes and flies to every city that Tyler has visited, discovering that he has been to these places himself. On page 112, and after calling Marla, Jack realizes that he is actually Tyler Durden. The man that he has experienced as Tyler Durden is a manifestation of his own subconscious desires.
CRISIS AND CLIMAX
Jack returns and attempts to turn himself over to the police with the hope that he can stop Project Mayhem’s planned terrorist attack. But, several of the detectives are part of the organization, and he must flee on page 128. Jack makes his way to a high rise office building, where he is confronted by Tyler. After defusing one of the bombs, the two make their way up to one of the building’s top floors. We are now where the film began, but the tables have turned, as Jack now knows that he and Tyler are one. Jack turns the gun on himself and pulls the trigger, killing Tyler, page 140.
Jack survives, and Marla is brought to him. The film ends as the other bombs go off, and the buildings collapse in ruin. Jack and Marla watch in awe, The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” playing in the background.
Founded in 1998, the BlueCat Screenplay Competition seeks to develop and discover unknown screenwriters. For 2016 BlueCat Screenplay Competition submission information, click here.