The first rule of Bathroom Fight Club is that I get to talk about it.
When you fight in the bathroom, there is so much at stake. The amount of porcelain alone is a threat to anyone’s well being, and no one wants an Elvis-esque death in such proximity to a toilet. But I want to see it – how are people going to have an altercation in a small space? No room for error, it’s just you and some fists and a lot of tile.
This is an ode to the commode fight. Bathrooms are a kind of cathedral. Often marble-y, with different kinds of founts, for holy water or regular water – you get doused all the same, ritualized cleansings occur. So why not fight it out in there, too? Ashes to ashes, bust to bust.
You’d think the genre is restricted, but no, like a stained glass window, the possibilities tessellate. Movies with bathroom fights are inherently creative, as you have to put a lot of action in a smaller space, and my god, the camera placement alone is a logistical puzzle I love to contemplate. There should be an Oscar category for this. I’m calling the Academy right now. In the meantime, here are three of my favorite dust-ups in water closets that have informed my cinematic universe. [Contains spoilers, duh.]
Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)
The fight scene: I’ve mentioned an element of this particular bathroom fight on this here platform before, but the full tableau is too good to not discuss. (On YouTube this scene is titled “bathroom brawl” or “toilet fight.”) Plot points aside, all you need to know is that Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill parachute into the Grand Palais in Paris and go in search of their target. They follow him into an impossibly clean bathroom. Tom has a fun secret knife-needle thing he’s ready to deploy, but this being a public restroom, he and Henry run into issues trying not to bust their target apart in front of any witnesses. It’s almost physical comedy. Henry does the shortest, fakest hand washing. Finally, Tom goes in for a hit. The target sees him coming from a French bathroom mile away, but luckily Henry clocks him with his briefcase. More physical comedy ensues as the pair has to hide their hit from more plebs, and eventually the target regains consciousness. This is where stall doors get busted, Henry gets punched in the throat, and the target gets thrown through a mirror.
He somehow survives this relatively unscathed, and grabs a sink pipe to wreak more havoc (a tip I’ll have to remember). Henry recovers from having his windpipe smashed, winds up his fists, and goes in for the body punches. He still gets owned, and Tom gets backwards kicked in the stomach. There’s some more wall smashing and the target gets hold of an errant gun, then Rebecca Ferguson comes in and saves the day.
Why it’s the right scene: The gauntlet for the genre has been thrown. Henry Cavill and his Tom Cruise-mandated moustache Wind It Up, throwing themselves around the lavatory like teenage boys at a middle school dance, but a woman gets the last word/bullet. She brings a dose of efficiency to the drag-out fight, and probably could have saved the guys some work and internal bleeding. But then we wouldn’t have had this magnificent scene, so she gets to be their deus ex machina. I like this setup because the target is a worthy adversary, and cannot be dispatched with a quick one-two. If he hadn’t had to die in a bathroom, it would have been fun to see him and Rebecca team up and start their own international spy ring. Another call I need to go make.
Casino Royale (2006)
The fight scene: The fact that this movie opens with a bathroom fight is spectacular. It further proves the strength of this set piece while showing you that James Bond can dispatch a dude in any space imaginable. We open on Prague in black and white, and it’s almost like a film noir – a guy in a furry hat goes through a glassy building, gets to his office, takes off the furry hat, and then a hard-boiled Bond is suddenly sitting there in the dark. The formerly hatted guy is doing something Moneypenny doesn’t like, so I automatically hate him. They trade barbs, and then the bathroom fight scene comes on suddenly in a flashback. It’s hat man’s contact, and Bond is smashing him through the stall walls (apparently they are made of styrofoam), elbowing him in the face, and bursting through saloon-seeming doors to messily drown him in the sink.
It is a drawn-out death, nothing of the smooth Bond dispatches of the past. A mirror smashes, the con man gargles helplessly. You don’t like seeing Bond like this, sweating from the effort of holding a man’s head in three inches of water. He pants while he looks at the fresh corpse. “Made you feel it, did he?” says hat man. That’s when Bond shoots him, the second death in about that many seconds. But wait – back in the flashback, commode con man didn’t drown after all, and grabs a gun to shoot Bond! Not fast enough, our guy gets him first. This Bond movie has loudly announced it will not be like the others. Nasty, brutish, drawn out. We have a bathroom to thank for that.
Why it’s the right scene: Casino Royale was Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond, and he had a bathroom fight as his introductory fisticuffs – I think that speaks volumes. A fight in the porcelain palace is no wimpy way to open a film, let alone introduce a new Bond. The bathroom fight serves as a contrast to the stealthy office sneaking – this Bond will do whatever it takes to win, however he’s got to do it. There might be a lot of smashed lavatory surfaces along the way, and that’s fine with him. He knows things might not always be pretty.
See also: The bathroom consolation
How many times has something weird happened and then you go cry in the shower, and Daniel Craig comes to comfort you? Yeah, all the time, I know. So that’s what makes this so poignant and real. You’ve been the one in a couture gown and diamond jewelry in a five-star hotel bathroom shower, when your tuxedo’d James Bond comes to find you, and cradles your shivering self so you can momentarily forget about the brutality you just witnessed. He even turns the water warmer, so you know he’s a true gentleman.
Charlie’s Angels (2000)
The fight scene: The less said about this movie as a whole, the better, except that former angel Lucy Liu just got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – only the second Asian American woman, after Anna May Wong. Again, for this scene, all you need to know is that people are out to thwart Charlie’s Angels. Lucy starts things off strong, spidering up to the ceiling to avoid a troop of gunmen shooting up the trailer she’s in. Not a bathroom, but a similar space perhaps. Elsewhere, Cameron Diaz is in front of a mirror in an actual bathroom, a fancy one. A bad man attacks her with a chain, but she’s ready for him. As Lucy displays mad upper body and core strength draped across the trailer ceiling, Cameron pokes her attacker in the eyes, and uses the wall to vault backwards over him. Strangulation avoided, she kicks him into a mirror. She holds a stiletto to his throat to find out who sent him. (I choose to think of this move as a reference to Sara Grimke’s “I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright…” – thanks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) Once Cameron gets the info, the hitman says a nasty thing, and she roundhouse kicks him in the face.
Why it’s the right scene: So many self-defense tips. Though both are initially caught off-guard, Lucy and Cameron keep calm under pressure, and perfectly execute just the right moves. Men try to dissuade them from their duty and are speedily proven inept. Did I mention the roundhouse kick to the face?
Honorable mention: Home Alone (1990)
Macaulay Culkin unwittingly performs violence on himself with a vigorous application of aftershave. It’s iconic, and it counts.