Soundtrack Studies: ‘Fight Club’

Tuesday, August 12 by
Thank God Fincher didn't choose Limp Bizkit for all that white male rage.  

Last week I spoke of my two reservations in choosing soundtracks for Soundtrack Studies: I didn’t want to do instrumentals (because they’re just harder to write about and far better experienced than read) and I didn’t want to pick soundtracks that were done by just one artist, because the curation of different artists is one of the most compelling aspects of soundtracks.

Nonetheless, I tossed those criteria out the window and did ‘The Social Network, which featured no words, and was done entirely by the team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Oh well.

I also wrote about how Trent Reznor and David Fincher seemed to be a natural fit for each other, which is presumably why Fincher had recruited Reznor to write his now defunct Fight Club musical. But before there were musicals, spinoffs, or variety hours, there was Fight Club the film which had its own soundtrack, which sounded a LOT like Trent Reznor, even though it was done in its entirety by the the Dust Brothers. And it’s all instrumental as well, save for the last scene, which I will talk about later and is why I’m writing about this soundtrack in the first place.

For those unfamiliar, Fight Club, more than it is about fighting, is about the insidiousness of white male rage. The protagonist (an unnamed narrator played by Edward Norton), gets convinced by a mischievous stranger to thwart the conventions he’s mired himself in, and live life on a more savage, animalistic level. As the film progresses, we see Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden evolve from “charming imp” to “nihilistic criminal,” which is likely the character’s M.O. all along.

And as we’re faced with and rejecting the Narrator’s very existence, we’re given a droning score that serves as a heart monitor for Edward Norton’s character. For the entire film, the score intentionally avoids crescendo, climax, or excitement, instead serving to ratchet up the tension of a man hitting rock bottom of his own free will (but not really of his own free will.) The exception to this being the opening credits, which, in hindsight, teaches you the only exciting thing in the Narrator’s life is how messed-up his mind is.

Through that lens, the Dust Brothers were a very inspired choice. But they were also a very subversive one. Having been auteurs of beat-driven music fro over ten years at that point, they had largely cut their teeth as producers prior to the film, having overseen the excellent Beck album Odelay, the Korn (naturally) song “Kick the P.A.” and Hanson’s “MMMBop.”

Yes. The Dust Brothers did Hanson’s “MMMBop.” They’re nothing if not diverse.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack listings on Spotify seem to be more what people THINK should have been on the Fight Club soundtrack more than what’s actually on the Fight Club soundtrack. What people think should be on it is fascinating, but not really germane to this discussion. However, if you’d like to get a glimpse of someone making their own, you can see it here. If you want the actual soundtrack, made by the people we’re talking about here, it’s in this lengthy, lengthy YouTube video:

It really does sound a lot (alotalotalot) like The Social Network soundtrack. So much so that many Internet denizens refer to Nine Inch Nails as the composer. Close, but wrong.

The score, like that of The Social Network, sets an eerily ambient tone that pairs as well with senseless vandalism and savagery as it does with a dinner party or filling out a spreadsheet. Instrumental music often affords itself that versatility in a manner that singers can’t. And the film sticks to that formula right until the very end, when the Narrator puts a bullet through his head, demonstrating his free will apart from Tyler Durden, killing him, then watching the world burn and getting the girl.

It’s a lot to take in on a narrative level, but the use of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” serves as one of the more iconic songs in film, serving as both heavy-handed wordplay (where IS Edward Norton’s mind), but mostly just cutting through the tension carried in the film with  a cathartic release. You know. Like a bullet to the head.

It’s what the film’s soundtrack is most known for, and it rewards the viewer for two hours and fifteen minutes of watching this man trudge through life, then take misguided pains to make it a little more interesting. There’s probably a moral there, but David Fincher’s not the type of person to tell you what it is.