Chuck Palahniuk, author of the original novel on which David Fincher’s film Fight Club was based, responded Wednesday to news that China dramatically altered the ending of the movie to conform with local censorship rules.
The original 1999 film, which starred Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter, ends with the narrator (Norton) killing off his imaginary alter ego, Tyler Durden (Pitt), and then watching as buildings explode across the city skyline, suggesting that his anarchist crusade to take down consumerist society has begun.
A key tenet of China’s film censorship system is that criminals must always be punished for their crimes onscreen and societal harmony restored. So, before the 20th Century Fox film began airing on Chinese streamer Tencent Video, Fight Club’s ending was altered. The climactic scene was excised and replaced with a blank screen showing the message: “The police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to a lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.”
News of the alterations sparked outcry on Chinese social media among local film fans who had seen pirate copies of the original cut — not to mention among moviegoers elsewhere in the world where Fight Club is a cult classic.
Now, Palahniuk, originator of the characters and story, has weighed in with his own response. The author tweeted a link to his Substack newsletter where he discusses the episode, writing: “Have You Seen This Sh*t? This is SUPER wonderful! Everyone gets a happy ending in China!”
In his newsletter, Palahniuk wrote: “Tyler and the gang were all arrested. He was tried and sentenced to a mental asylum. How amazing. I’d have no idea! Justice always wins. Nothing ever exploded. End.”
The author later gave an interview to TMZ in which he pointed out that the altered Chinese ending is actually somewhat closer to how his book concluded. In Palahniuk’s novel, the narrator’s scheme also fails — not because of the wisdom and competence of the authorities, but simply due to his bomb malfunctioning. The narrator then shoots himself in the head and wakes up in a mental hospital, thinking that he’s made it to heaven.
“The irony is that the way the Chinese have changed it is they’ve aligned the ending almost exactly with the ending of the book, as opposed to Fincher’s ending, which was the most spectacular visual ending,” he said. “So in a way, the Chinese brought the movie back to the book a little bit.”
The author also said that he saw the irony in many Americans’ angry response to China’s actions, given that his books are banned in many locations across the US
“What I find really interesting is that my books are heavily banned throughout the US,” he said. “The Texas prison system refuses to carry my books in their libraries. A lot of public schools and most private schools refuse to carry my books. But it’s only an issue once China changes the end of a movie? I’ve been putting up with book banning for a long time.”
He also said that having his work revised in ways he can’t control is nothing new to him.
“A lot of my overseas publishers have edited the novel so the novel ends the way the movie ends,” he said. “So I’ve been dealing with this kind of revision for like 25 years.”