Fight Club is a work of fiction by Chuck Palahniuk, a famous author who once described his life as "very blue-collar." Fight Club is also a (fantastic) movie, directed by David Fincher, that hit theaters exactly 15 years ago today. Watch it again tonight, but with an extra little piece of knowledge: Fight Club is not a true story, but it is based on real people.
First things first, fight clubs were not a thing when Palahniuk wrote his novel. Or at least they weren't a thing Palahniuk knew about. Fight Club was inspired by an actual fight, however, one that left the author more than a little tuned up. Palahniuk explained the background to The Guardian back in 2000:
The other people who were camping near us wanted to drink and party all night long, and I tried to get them to shut up one night, and they literally beat the crap out of me. I went back to work just so bashed, and horrible looking. People didn't ask me what had happened. I think they were afraid of the answer. I realised that if you looked bad enough, people would not want to know what you did in your spare time. They don't want to know the bad things about you. And the key was to look so bad that no one would ever, ever ask. And that was the idea behind Fight Club.
The connection between the book and Palahniuk's real life hardly stops there. Many of the, well, strange little details about Jack's friends and Tyler Durden's hobbies are based on true facts about Palahniuk's friends and their hobbies. The author tells the truth in a must read column for The Los Angeles Times a month before the movie's release:
Parts of "Fight Club" have always been true. It's less a novel than an anthology of my friends' lives. I do have insomnia and wander with no sleep for weeks, like Jack. Angry waiters I know mess with food. They shave their heads. My friend Alice makes soap. My friend Mike cuts single frames of smut into family features.
He continues with a bit about his German friend Carston, whose broken English inspired some of the book's dialogue—and Brad Pitt's lines:
Now Carston's clumsy pigeon words are coming out of Pitt's mouth, 40 feet high, in front of millions of people. My friend Jeff's trashed ghetto kitchen is re-created in a Hollywood sound stage. The night I went to save my friend Kevin from a Xanax overdose is now Brad rushing to save Helena.
When you take a step back and process that, it's a little bit alarming. The violence that drives Fight Club's plot is rooted in real violence. The awful pranks that would become Project Mayhem were inspired by actual pranks. Even that horrifically gross house that becomes the gang's headquarters is based on an actual horrifically gross house.
Today is a great day to watch Fight Club again, even if you've already seen it a million times. Read Palahniuk's excellent essay reflecting on the reality of it all and see if you can separate fact from fiction. In the 15 years since the movie made it world famous, the story of Fight Club has become part of our pop culture vernacular. And it's still as good a watch as the day it was released. [Amazon, iTunes]