Playing The Game: Transcendance Through Chaos

Our latest analytical article looks at two films by David Fincher and compares and contrasts themes and characters that connect the movies.

“The game is tailored specifically to each participant. Think of it as a great vacation, except you don’t go to it, it comes to you.”

In the 1997 psychological thriller The Game Michael Douglas stars as Nicholas Van Orton a millionaire book publisher that has all but lost his lust for life he leads a extremely dull existance. Van Orton has everything he could want but at the same time he is an empty, lost soul who has grown distant from everyone. He has turned into a bitter man, that doesn’t care about anyone. Nicholas’ estranged brother Conrad (Sean Penn) is a wild child, someone that has caused him alot of grief due to his living on the edge. When he gets a call from “Connie” he meets him for dinner and gets a special gift, a “game” which will make his life exciting again. Van Orton decides to take a chance on it and heads to CRS (Consumer Recreational Services) the company that runs these games. He is required to take several tests, both physical and psychological so CRS can learn all about him and how he reacts to different exterior circumstances. After completing the program, Van Orton is immediately thrown into his own private game which tests his endurance and mental strength using different methods which shock, enrage and entice him.

Nicholas Van Orton and The Narrator

“When the fight was over, nothing was solved, but nothing mattered. We all felt saved.”

In Fight Club (1999) based on the best selling novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Edward Norton plays “The Narrator” (no real name is given) an insurance investigator who is becoming distraught with his mundane existance. As he narrates the film he examines his life’s banality and describes his outlook on the conditioning society has forced upon him. This softening of the inner masculinity he feels is needed in life has crippled him. His life suddenly changes when meets a strange character named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on one of his business trips. Durden is a soap salesman and the kind of friend he really needs, someone that lives like he wishes he could, a true male rebel that doesn’t play by societies rules. After some beers at a local watering hole, Tyler asks The Narrator to hit him and he does: “Right in the ear!”. This violent act sets off a daily ritual in which which the two use the fights to relieve their stress and anger. For some reason the physical pain causes them to feel alive and rejuvenated. After his condo explodes due to a gas leak, The Narrator moves into Durden’s dilapidated house in a dreary part of town. The two new pals then decide to create a secret club where guys like them can celebrate their male urge to destroy things. They meet in a bar’s basement where they unleash their aggression and beat each other to bloody pulps. The more they fight, the better they feel about themselves as human beings.

Conrad Van Orton and Tyler Durden

Both films have characters that are awoken or liberated through chaotic means. Nicholas Van Orton’s younger brother Conrad helps set in motion the game that will pull him out of his deepening depression towards life. The Narrator’s new best friend Tyler does this as well by creating his own type of game called “fight club” that becomes an underground phenomenon and systematically inspires others from around the world to start their own. CRS and Fight Club begin with a structure but slowly descend into anarchy where the main players completely lose control of what they agreed to enter into.


Christine and Marla Singer

Throughout the destruction and mayhem they experience, Nicholas and The Narrator find lovers that appear in the form of sexy, “dangerous” women. Nicholas falls in love with “Christine” (Debra Kara Unger) an employee of CRS who he meets during his life affirming adventure. Her provocative personality makes him feel like a man again. The Narrator finds love with Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) a grungy goth chick who shows up at the meetings he attends in a local clinic for people with true physical problems like cancer. His time wallowing in self pity with his truly ill friends is threatened when Marla who he calls a “tourist” and a “big faker” appears. The Narrator has a stormy relationship with Marla, while Tyler has a steamy sexual relationship with her.

The final cathartic moments for Nicholas and The Narrator both arise in equally painful and shocking ways. Nicholas accidentally shoots Conrad at the end of his “game”, while The Narrator shoots himself (and Tyler). After these acts occur, the two characters face their own separate dilemnas but each have finally transcended their previous conditions and it looks like they, along with their new found loves, will live on together and find some kind of peace of mind and happiness.



Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database and Furious Cinema. Pete is an avid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation and cult films to popular mainstream classics.

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