There are few better respected filmmakers in Hollywood than David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac), and Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice). But while the two artists have drawn similar levels of praise for their artistic efforts, their personal relationship has been… troubled, to say the least, to the point where Anderson once said he wished Fincher would get testicular cancer.
The statement was not made in jest. Rather, Paul Thomas Anderson objected to the way Fight Club appeared to make light of cancer support groups, and people who suffer from testicular cancer. At the time of the release of the film, Anderson had publicly stated that he could only bear to sit through thirty minutes of the feature.
“I saw 30 minutes of [Fight Club] only because our trailer is playing in front of it. And I would love to go on railing about the movie, but I’m just going to pretend as if I haven’t seen it. It’s just unbearable. I wish David Fincher testicular cancer, for all of his jokes about it, I wish him testicular fucking cancer.”
At the start of Fight Club, the unnamed protagonist, played by Edward Norton, feels a lack of emotion in his life. In order to feel something, anything, the protagonist attends cancer support groups where he pretends to have cancer as well, in order to soak up the sympathy and finally feel something. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, David Fincher explained that his movie was not meant to make fun of cancer support groups.
“Look, I’ve been through cancer with somebody that I love, and I can understand if somebody thought… I didn’t think that we were making fun of cancer survivors or victims. I thought what Chuck [Palahniuk, on whose book the film was based] was doing was talking about a therapeutic environment that could be infiltrated or abused. We were talking about empathy vampirism.”
As far as Thomas Anderson’s quote is concerned, Fincher addressed the issue directly, and instead of taking offense, explained that he understood where his fellow filmmaker was coming from.
“Cancer’s rough. It’s a fucking horrible thing. As far as Paul’s quote, I get it. If you’re in a rough emotional state and you’ve just been through something major…My dad died, and it certainly made me feel different about death and suffering. And my dad probably liked Fight Club even less than Paul did.”
The legacy of Fight Club has been a troubled one. It has firmly staked a claim in the annals of Hollywood as a cult classic. But the messages it sends out about violence and consumerism are mixed, at best. Many fans forget that the movie is supposed to be dark satire, and the character of Tyler Durden is meant to be a misguided madman and a villain rather than the misunderstood hero. At least Fincher’s response shows he is aware of the criticisms his movie has garnered over time, and may even agree with some of them. This news arrives from Rolling Stone.