Revisiting Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 Pan of “Fight Club”

When acclaimed filmmakers do not like the work of other acclaimed filmmakers

Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson speaks during the 2018 Texas Film Awards at AFS Cinema on March 8, 2018 in Austin, Texas.
Gary Miller/Getty Images

In 2021, both David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson have established reputations as critically acclaimed, ambitious filmmakers. While their work has taken them to very different places, they’ve also each made some of the best films of the century so far. A new film from either Fincher or Anderson is considered an event for cinephiles — a reason to celebrate a director who’s been able to maintain an ambitious vision in the face of commercial considerations.

In 1999, both Fincher and Anderson were up-and-coming filmmakers, each working on the early works that put them on the map. A new article by Zack Sharf at IndieWire revisits this moment in fim history — and revisits the enmity that developed between them. Why? Well, around the time of its release, Paul Thomas Anderson did not like Fight Club. Not by a long shot.

Anderson was — to put it mildly — not a fan of the early plot development in Fight Club in which the film’s protagonist feigns testicular cancer to attend a support group. “It’s just unbearable,” Anderson said in a 2000 Rolling Stone interview. “I wish David Fincher testicular cancer, for all of his jokes about it,” he added.

Rolling Stone interviewed Fincher this year about his latest film, Mank, and his career as a whole. The conversation turned to Anderson’s long-ago pan of Fight Club. “I didn’t think that we were making fun of cancer survivors or victims,” Fincher said, arguing that that section of the film was about “empathy vampirism.”

“As far as Paul’s quote, I get it,” Fincher added. “If you’re in a rough emotional state and you’ve just been through something major…”

It can certainly be entertaining to watch a beef play out between two acclaimed filmmakers. But it’s ultimately a lot more satisfying to see a more magnanimous approach play out — and for artists to stay focused on honing their craft rather than anything else.

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