The Role of Cinematography and Editing in Fight Club by David Fincher
Both the cinematography and editing often have an important role in portraying to the viewer the underlying themes and ideas being communicated by a particular films plot. David Finchers film Fight Club is an excellent example of how various editorial and cinematic effects can greatly reinforce the themes of a film as well as create the an appropriate atmosphere in order to further enthrall the viewer into its plot.
In Fight Club the protagonist unknowingly has a severe split personality disorder and is portrayed by two characters, the narrator played by Edward Norton and Tyler Durden played by Brad Pitt. While the fact that these two are actually the same person is not made known to the viewer until the end of the film, the majority of the film is spent creating a dichotomy between the behaviors and ideals of these two characters in order to shock the unsuspecting viewer upon discovering the truth about the protagonist.
In a larger sense the differences between the protagonists conflicting personalities reflect differences inherent in the entire social structure of modern America. In making Fight Club David Fincher, as well as the films entire production team use a great deal of editing effects and cinematography in order to illustrate the dichotomy between, not just Tyler and the narrator, but also their conflicting ways of life.
One of the most important methods used in showing the differences between the narrators stereotypical yuppie lifestyle and Tylers self destructive, anti-establishment driven compulsion is the lighting and color used in various scenes throughout the film. Places such as the narrators condo and workplace are always well lit and seem to be in perfect order. The color schemes of such places, as well as the outfits worn by the narrators coworkers and neighbors usually consist of neutral, non- flashy colors such as whites and gray and seem generic and typical. Also these places appear clear and crisp as though they were shot as fine grain images.
Conversely, the dwellings associated with Tyler such as, the Paper Street house and the various bars in which fight club takes place seem to be much more grainy and dimly lit. The Paper Street house where Tyler lives is a fine example of this contrast, while like the office and condo its color scheme is consistent, instead of being consistently clean and orderly everything appears to be the same shade of dingy yellowish brown. In addition to this the Paper Street house is constantly dimly lit and seems to be in a state of perpetual disorder. The basement of Lous Tavern, the bar in which fight club first takes place, is by far the most dimly lit setting in the entire film. During the fight club scenes everything in the basement appears to be gray and deeply shrouded in shadow, interestingly the only prominent color that is focused on in the basement is the dark red blood that is spilled in large quantities by competitors.
Another important vehicle for showing the differences between Tyler and the narrator was the use of digital cinematography and special effects. One of the first occurrences of digitally added effects in the film comes when the narrator is describing the over priced, catalog bought furniture in his condo and as he speaks captions of white text, describing and pricing his property begin to appear next to their respective products. This effect illustrates to the viewer how the narrator is hopelessly engrained with both consumerism and materialism. Furthermore, when the narrator is on an airplane he imagines a midair collision in which the plane bursts open and plummets to the ground.
The fact that Fincher chose to actually show the viewer this fantasy rather than just have it recounted by the narrator helps to further illustrate just how disillusioned the narrator is becoming with his life before meeting Tyler. Another important visual effect takes place when Tyler gives the narrator a chemical burn in order to somehow enlighten him. While being burned the narrator desperately pictures a serene forest and a frozen cave, trying to avoid thinking of words like searing and burning which are flashed across the screen in the form of a close of their dictionary definition. This conflict truly shows the difference between Tyler and the narrator, while Tyler is trying to force the narrator to embrace the pain and thereby accept the worlds imperfections, the narrator reacts by trying to mentally escape from it thus characterizing him as afraid and non-confrontational.
Finally, the differences between the protagonists two personalities are also reinforced by the various camera angles used throughout the film. One of the most important camera techniques used throughout Fight Club is the close up of various people or objects. The first time the narrator sees Marla there is a close up of her French inhaling a cigarette which gives her the effect of being menacing and problematic and suggests that he has no sexual interest in her. Also, later in the film there is a close up of Raymond K Hassell, a connivance store clerk whose head Tyler is holding a gun to. While Tyler seems unaffected by his sobs and pleas for his life, the narrator is utterly shocked and appalled, showing once again that while the narrator is instilled with a moral compass and compassion, Tyler seems to lack both of those.
Another important camera angle used in the film was the point of view shot when Tyler purposefully got into the car accident, this shot allowed the viewer to experience the intensity of the given situation and perhaps sympathize with the narrator who was
hysterical at the time. Lastly, one of the most crucial instances of this is the sex scene. When Marla and the protagonist first have sex Tyler experiences it in reality but the narrator also experiences it through the guise of a dream. This not only shows the viewer that Tylers proactive personality is obviously much more confident and suitable to seduce women than the narrator who never shows interest in Marla but also gives the viewer an initial hint that perhaps Tyler and the narrator are linked in someway
While Fight Club was an excellent book before it was made into a film there are a number of items used in the film to make watching it an emotion and realistic experience for the viewer. The above discussed added editing effects and cinematography allowed Fincher to very accurately put to film the atmosphere and ideas that were apparent in Palahniuks novel.