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Fight Club


Ron Reed
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This one has seemingly entered the Turn Of The Millenium canon, and has been oft raved, so I was eager to see it. Having done so, now I'm eager to get some of your perspective on the darn thing.

To prime the pump, my initial response, emailed to a friend, yesterday. Then his response. Then mine, today.

*

RON

Just watched FIGHT CLUB. Yikes. Partly, I probably picked the wrong day to watch it - feeling a bit, I don't know, disoriented, and found the movie really exacerbated that. ...I may need another film to cleanse the palate at this point.

Didn't exactly dislike the movie - just having a hard time getting oriented. What's your angle on this one? ...

The movie is mad as hell - at consumerism and corporations, recovery groups, soul less jobs, you name it - and isn't going to take it. But apart from ranting, what does it do?

Seems to me it proposes an alternative to the McWorld it hates: a supposedly liberating violence, toward consenting individuals, toward self, toward women, toward people who aren't living their dream, toward people who eat in restaurants. Then it undercuts that by showing how it leads to another kind of conformity: fascism replaces capitalism. Then it seems to want to say that all that urge toward violence and destruction is basically a manifestation of a human's "dark side", and that it can be destroyed (um, by shooting oneself in the head, or something like that?) and you can stand on the verge of a new tomorrow, holding hands with a gorgeous self-destructive woman and watching capitalism fall before you.

Is the movie, or its philosophy, as much of a mess as it seems to me? Or is the mess inside my head, and a few words from my less addled friends might point me toward its deeper truths?

*

ANONYMOUS FRIEND

. . . unless you want to.

Actually, as it fits into what I'm doing right now, a

little thoughtful analysis appeals quite a bit.

. . . What's your angle on this one?

I keep having to reevaluate why the movie resounds

with me so much. One of the notions that I love love

love is the idea of 'hitting bottom.' Tyler speaks of

it as a sort of goal, meaning that people do well to

try to realize the bleakness of their lives rather

than fool themselves. It comes through especially in

my favorite scene where Tyler burns the hand of the

narrator. He says something like 'you are going to

have to consider the possibility that god does not

like you' while he is forcing the narrator to endure

the worst pain imaginable--and convincing him to take

the pain willfully. The idea of purification through

suffering isn't a new one--in fact I was just reading

about it in Dostoyevsky (aren't I erudite . . or

something).

. . . But apart from ranting, what does it do?

I guess I rather like the ranting, and find it

energizing. Maybe that's my still-relatively-naive

idealism or something.

Is the movie, or its philosophy, as much of a mess as

it seems to me?

I must admit that the movie is a bit of a mess. I

can't really identify a unified philosophy unless you

count cult anarchist nihilistic socialism. The more I

watched it, though, the more it seemed to me that,

while charismatic and mischievous, Tyler actually does

seem to have a design that's ultimately altruistic. I

guess the underlying thing that I think people miss is

that through the fighting and crazy stuff, there

really is a genuine desire to get past the layers of

fake and find what the true meaning of living is--even

if you have to pound the tobacco juice out of yourself

to get there. It's flawed, but pure. There might be

some of me in there wishing I had the guts to get in a

fight just to experience fighting; to crash my car

just to have a 'near life experience' . . . because

all I do to search for God always seems to fall short

because I'm too cowardly to put my life or health on

the line just for the sake of trying to discover

something existentially essential about life.

It's been awhile since I've thought about the movie;

that's all I can think of right now. Feel free to take

the discussion further. And thanks.

*

RON

Thanks, man. This helps me get my bearings here.

Yeah, sometimes a rant is exactly what's called for.

Tyler's altruism. I see what you mean. If the things he does are (or seem) evil, or even just damaging, "his intentions are good." The person in the car parked by the roadside into which the Tyler-driven car slammed, or the guy who got his brains blown out on Tyler's corporate-art-jamming mission, might have trouble seeing how his effect on their lives was "for their own good," and his effect on his closest followers doesn't seem to have been entirely what we might hope - have they really been "liberated" by changing from Starbucks-drinking corporate dupes into mindless slogan-chanting clones? Still, his completely-sold-out-to-his-cause-ness has an appeal. But, seeing where the film heads in its third act, doesn't it really make the point that his kind of messianic appeal is very comparable to that of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Ho Chi Mihn? Which I don't take to be a good thing. For all Adolph's good intentions toward "his people," there was a certain amount of collateral damage toward those who weren't, which I find a bit hard to justify.

At one level, the movie almost seems to point out the potential selfishness / destructiveness of the whole "Seize the day" - live life to its fullest - follow your dream philosophy that so predominates our culture. The link between self-actualization and fascism.

Okay, here's a thought. By the end of the film we find out that Tyler doesn't exist, as Tyler. He's an aspect of the main character's own personality, a wild / primal / free part of him that he has completely shut down until, at some point, that "shadow side" begins to re-assert itself. For a while that side gains ascendency, and indeed its unbalance begins to lead to completely different problems. But at the end, the Narrator (no wonder I can't think of his name - he ain't got one!), somehow asserts his power over his "shadow side" and, presumably, emerges an integrated, more balanced character. At the moment, I'm going to say that's the significance of the film's resolution: that the Narrator's mild impulses toward human concern are ultimately activated when he sees the ultimate consequences of letting his "other side" run free.

It's actually a few shows in one, then;

AMERICAN BEAUTY + PLEASANTVILLE + THE USUAL SUSPECTS + FEARLESS + SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER = FIGHT CLUB

Heh heh heh...

Can you point me to the Dostoevsky stuff that ties in? That would be fascinating.

Hitting bottom. Yes, that's near the core of it, as well. Ties in with the whole recovery group thing that the Narrator goes through before his "inner Tyler" is finally liberated. (Did you notice the little, single-frame flashes of Tyler that appear at least twice in the opening ten minutes of the movie? I'm sure you did. They are, of course, Tyler. Presumably, that red-clothed inner party animal beginning to rattle the bars of his cage....) As I think this through, I'm beginning to think my problem with the movie is that, while the shadow / Tyler / id side of the Narrator's personality is drawn with extreme clarity, we're not at all clear what there is in the Narrator that counterbalances this. What is it that ultimately asserts itself to "kill" Tyler (which I take to stand for bringing that aspect of himself into some sort of check) - what is the balance to Tyler's Primal Man? What does Ed Norton's character consist of besides Ikea Consumer Man (who has, surely, been shed like a snakeskin by the end of the film)? What's left? I guess, just some basic humanity which can recognize that turning people into slogan-droning zombies isn't good, that risking human lives by bombing buildings may pose some sort of problem?

Hmmmm..... Bemusing movie. But one that has to be reckoned with.

Further thoughts?

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Hmmm, seems this IS our first thread on this film since we moved to this board, but FWIW, there is also a short thread on author Chuck Palahniuk over on the 'Literature' board.

Ron wrote:

: The movie is mad as hell - at consumerism and corporations . . .

Ironic, isn't it, for a $63 million movie produced by a major studio and directed by a former creator of music videos.

: Then it seems to want to say that . . . you can stand on the verge of a

: new tomorrow, holding hands with a gorgeous self-destructive woman

: and watching capitalism fall before you.

Which is NOT how the book ends, BTW.

Chapter 29

Tyler's standing there, perfectly handsome and an angel in his everything-blond way. My will to live amazes me.

Me, I'm a bloody tissue sample dried on a bare mattress in my room at the Paper Street Soap Company.

Everything in my room is gone.

My mirror with a picture of my foot from when I had cancer for ten minutes. Worse than cancer. The mirror is gone. The closet door is open and my six white shirts, black pants, underwear, socks, and shoes are gone.

Tyler says, "Get up."

Under and behind and inside everything I took for granted, something horrible has been growing.

Everything has fallen apart.

The space monkeys are cleared out. Everything is relocated, the liposuction fat, the bunk beds, the money, especially the money. Only the garden is left behind, and the rented house.

Tyler says, "The last thing we have to do is your martyrdom thing. Your big death thing."

Not like death as a sad, downer thing, this was going to be death as a cheery, empowering thing.

Oh, Tyler, I hurt. Just kill me here.

"Get up."

Kill me, already. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me. Kill me.

"It has to be big," Tyler says. "Picture this: you on top of the world's tallest building, the whole building taken over by Project Mayhem. Smoke rolling out the windows. Desks falling into the crowds on the street. A real opera of a death, that's what you're going to get."

I say, no. You've used me enough.

"If you don't cooperate, we'll go after Marla."

I say, lead the way.

"Now get the fuck out of bed," Tyler said, "and get your ass into the fucking car."

So Tyler and I are up on top of the Parker-Morris Building with the gun stuck in my mouth.

We're down to our last ten minutes.

The Parker-Morris Building won't be here in ten minutes. I know this because Tyler knows this.

The barrel of the gun pressed against the back of my throat, Tyler says, "We won't really die."

I tongue the gun barrel into my surviving cheek [one of his cheeks was ripped open in a fight, earlier in the book] and say, Tyler, you're thinking of vampires.

We're down to our last eight minutes.

The gun is just in case the police helicopters get here sooner.

To God, this looks like one man alone, holding a gun in his own mouth, but it's Tyler holding the gun, and it's my life.

You take a 98-percent concentration of fuming nitric acid and add the acid to three times that amount of sulfuric acid.

You have nitroglycerin.

Seven minutes.

Mix the nitro with sawdust, and you have a nice plastic explosive. A lot of the space monkeys mix their nitro with cotton and add Epsom salts as a sulfate. This works, too. Some monkeys, they use paraffin mixed with nitro. Paraffin has never, ever worked for me.

Four minutes.

Tyler and me at the edge of the roof, the gun in my mouth, I'm wondering how clean this gun is.

Three minutes.

Then somebody yells.

"Wait," and it's Marla coming toward us across the roof.

Marla's coming toward me, just me because Tyler's gone. Poof. Tyler's my hallucination, not hers. Fast as a magic trick, Tyler's disappeared. And now I'm just one man holding a gun in my mouth.

"We followed you," Marla yells. "All the people from the support group. You don't have to do this. Put the gun down."

Behind Marla, all the bowel cancers, the brain parasites, the melanoma people, the tuberculosis people are walking, limping, wheelchairing toward me.

They're saying, "Wait."

Their voices come to me on the cold wind, saying, "Stop."

And, "We can help you."

"Let us help you."

Across the sky comes the
whop, whop, whop
of police helicopters.

I yell, go. Get out of here. This building is going to explode.

Marla yells, "We know."

This is like a total epiphany moment for me.

I'm not killing myself, I yell. I'm killing Tyler.

I am Joe's Hard Drive.

I remember everything.

"It's not love or anything," Marla shouts, "but I think I like you."

One minute.

Marla likes Tyler.

"No, I like you," Marla shouts. "I know the difference."

And nothing.

Nothing explodes.

The barrel of the gun tucked in my surviving cheek, I say, Tyler, you mixed the nitro with paraffin, didn't you.

Paraffin never works.

I have to do this.

The police helicopters.

And I pull the trigger.

Chapter 30

In my father's house are many mansions.

Of course, when I pulled the trigger, I died.

Liar.

And Tyler died.

With the police helicopters thundering toward us, and Marla and all the support group people who couldn't save themselves, with all of them trying to save me, I had to pull the trigger.

This was better than real life.

And your one perfect moment won't last forever.

Everything in heaven is white on white.

Faker.

Everything in heaven is quiet, rubber-soled shoes.

I can sleep in heaven.

People write to me in heaven and tell me I'm remembered. That I'm their hero. I'll get better.

The angels here are the Old Testament kind, legions and lieutenants, a heavenly host who works in shifts, days, swing, Graveyard. They bring you your meals on a tray with a paper cup of meds. The Valley of the Dolls playset.

I've met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, "Why?"

Why did I cause so much pain?

Didn't I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness?

Can't I see how we're all manifestations of love?

I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God's got this all wrong.

We are not special.

We are not crap or trash, either.

We just are.

We just are, and what happens just happens.

And God says, "No, that's not right."

Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can't teach God anything.

God asks me what I remember.

I remember everything.

The bullet out of Tyler's gun, it tore out my other cheek to give me a jagged smile from ear to ear. Yeah, just like an angry Halloween pumpkin. Japanese demon. Dragon of Avarice.

Marla's still on Earth, and she writes to me. Someday, she says, they'll bring me back.

And if there were a telephone in Heaven, I would call Marla from Heaven and the moment she says, "Hello," I wouldn't hang up. I'd say, "Hi. What's happening? Tell me every little thing."

But I don't want to go back. Not yet.

Just because.

Because every once in a while, somebody brings me my lunch tray and my meds and he has a black eye or his forehead is swollen with stitches, and he says:

"We miss you Mr. Durden."

Or somebody with a broken nose pushes a mop past me and whispers:

"Everything's going according to the plan."

Whispers:

"We're going to break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world."

Whispers:

"We look forward to getting you back."

And that's the last page.

Ron's friend wrote:

: One of the notions that I love love love is the idea of 'hitting bottom.'

: Tyler speaks of it as a sort of goal, meaning that people do well to try to

: realize the bleakness of their lives rather than fool themselves.

Keeping in minds that not EVERYone's life is bleak, I suppose. Unless of course you're a nihilist.

: It comes through especially in my favorite scene where Tyler burns the

: hand of the narrator. He says something like 'you are going to have to

: consider the possibility that god does not like you' while he is forcing the

: narrator to endure the worst pain imaginable--and convincing him to take

: the pain willfully. The idea of purification through suffering isn't a new

: one--in fact I was just reading about it in Dostoyevsky (aren't I erudite

: . . or something).

But is it really suffering when you're in control? I mean, is it really 'suffering' in the 'purifying' sense when it is something that you can choose to inflict on yourself, or when it is something that you invite others to inflict on you? And how does getting a bunch of people to beat each other up stack up next to, say, the not-so-sexy option of finding 'purification' through prayer and fasting and other disciplines? Faced with 'silence', is it really 'purifying' if we fill it with noise?

Ron wrote:

: Tyler's altruism. I see what you mean. If the things he does are (or

: seem) evil, or even just damaging, "his intentions are good."

To the extent that a nihilist can even believe in 'good' in the first place. I just started reading Thomas Hibbs's Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld, and it's got some interesting things to say about this. (Though surprisingly, there is not a single entry for Fight Club in the index at the back. Hmmm.)

: The link between self-actualization and fascism.

Yes, exactly -- the will to power is there in both.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I've had mixed feelings about it since I saw it, and for me it has not held up in subsequent viewings. I need to revise my online review.

Basically, I think the film suffers from similar flaws as American Beauty. It knows the truth. But it spends so much time ranting at what's bad, and reveling in the cinematic opportunities of its antihero's rebellion, that when it arrives at a conclusion that contradicts all that has come before, the conclusion doesn't resonate.

They can't convince me that I was supposed to be sadly shaking my head at the antics that propel the film... no, they wanted me to get off on that stuff. And audiences do. I believe that's why it's already a cult classic... people love the fights, the violence, the heavy impact of those brutal sequences. Like much of Tarantino's work, this film gives itself an excuse to bait the audience into indulging its baser appetites, giving itself an excuse by presenting it with astonishing craftsmanship. It spends two hours with cathartic lashing out at the system, but then quietly tucks its tail between its legs and mumbles something about love at the end.

Still, there is much that I admire about the film, especially its editing, cinematography, and performances.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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...They can't convince me that I was supposed to be sadly shaking my head at the antics that propel the film... no, they wanted me to get off on that stuff. ... this film gives itself an excuse to bait the audience into indulging its baser appetites, giving itself an excuse by presenting it with astonishing craftsmanship. It spends two hours with cathartic lashing out at the system, but then quietly tucks its tail between its legs and mumbles something about love at the end....

Somehow reminds me of Cecil B DeMille - give 'em all the sex and violence they want, but put it in a Bible story and call that stuff evil so everybody can feel good about watching it. Let them eat cake, and have it too.

And Peter, thanks for providing the ending of the book. Oh my. Just as hard to figure as the movie, isn't it? So many layers of irony and aesthetic distancing, I can't figure out where I'm supposed to land.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I must admit that the movie is a bit of a mess. I

can't really identify a unified philosophy unless you

count cult anarchist nihilistic socialism. The more I

watched it, though, the more it seemed to me that,

while charismatic and mischievous, Tyler actually does

seem to have a design that's ultimately altruistic. I

guess the underlying thing that I think people miss is

that through the fighting and crazy stuff, there

really is a genuine desire to get past the layers of

fake and find what the true meaning of living is--even

if you have to pound the tobacco juice out of yourself

to get there. It's flawed, but pure. There might be

some of me in there wishing I had the guts to get in a

fight just to experience fighting; to crash my car

just to have a 'near life experience' . . . because

all I do to search for God always seems to fall short

because I'm too cowardly to put my life or health on

the line just for the sake of trying to discover

something existentially essential about life.

It's been awhile since I've thought about the movie;

that's all I can think of right now. Feel free to take

the discussion further. And thanks.

This is a very Fincher-esque theme. Specifically I think of Se7en. The last line:

William Somerset: Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part.

The Game have this a bit too. It explores the depravity of man, and then in the face of all that dares to claim he still has value.

Jeffery- You've hit on a recent discovery of mine. Don't you hate when you find something new that irritates you and so you start seeing it EVERYWHERE. It's like buying a new car, you never notice how many of this model of car are on the road until you're driving in one.. but I digress. I wanted to address your idea about divising excuses for violence. I've noticed this trend in films quite a bit lately. The author comes up with a reason that its okay to mow down a race or beat the hell out of someone so we may cheer at the carrying out of this justified ass-kicking.

Examples: Independence Day - truly soulless aliens that want nothing more than to destroy us. Why not cheer when Will Smith blows them up?

Fight Club - Butt-kicking that's consensual and cathartic.

The Matrix- Well, if they're all just computer programs, its totally okay that we uzi the hell outta them.

I know there are more, and I'm not claiming it's a new thing. Just new to me.

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DanBuck wrote:

: The Matrix- Well, if they're all just computer programs, its totally okay

: that we uzi the hell outta them.

But it's not just computer programs! The 'heroes' of that film kill actual people, too!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Another friend weighed in by email;

I am a bit of a sucker for clever diatribes about the military industrial

complex...Bowling for Columbine territory, for example. Even though I am by inclination more of a passive conservative. So maybe this reveals the deep dark secret at the root of my psychology as it connects with this movie: perhaps it is tapping into a latent desire to "fight back" or at least live more consistently or prophetically that is currently not being very well

expressed in my life.

Another friend wrote extensively about having a very visceral, personal response to the film. Basically he found that the rage of the film gave expression to something inside himself. It may not offer any cogent answers, but as a kind of primal cry, it really evoked something he felt. I've asked if he'll let me post his musings at length, but for now here's part of what he wrote;

Some things must be destroyed and brought down completely before newness can begin... I applauded this film for the voice of truth, anger, and destruction. I didn't need to see redemption at the end, though some have said they see it amply in his holding hands with the chick and with facing honestly and killing his own psychotic delusion. (Seen in those terms, isn't it a movie at its most basic about liberation? A guy liberated from his psychotic self, debtors liberated from their credit records, etc?)

These thoughts are starting to make sense of the movie for me. Catharsis more than moderated, balanced statement. Art from the id, not the superego (to use a more-or-less outmoded Freudian shorthand): or, from Shakespeare, "Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: It spends two hours with cathartic lashing out at the system, but then

: quietly tucks its tail between its legs and mumbles something about love

: at the end.

And then it quickly undermines all that love stuff by flashing someone's dick at us. THAT is where the movie ends. In other words, just as the novel ends by raising the possibility of Tyler Durden's resurrection, so too the film suggests that the spirit of Tyler lives on -- and is, indeed, embodied in the film itself -- no matter what The Narrator might think.

Ron's friends wrote:

: I am a bit of a sucker for clever diatribes about the military industrial

: complex...Bowling for Columbine territory, for example.

I am somewhat of a sucker for blaming the problems of the world on other people, too -- especially if I can blame them not on people but on some vague, impersonal force, call it a "complex" or whatever. But as far as I can recall, I don't believe Fight Club has anything to do with the "military industrial complex", per se; rather, it is ranting against consumerism, which is to say, it is ranting against all of us consumers -- including those of us who buy the Fight Club movie tickets and the DVDs and so on. And I don't think it is remotely possible to critique consumerism without critiquing the consumers who make the consumer culture what it is.

: Some things must be destroyed and brought down completely before

: newness can begin . . . Seen in those terms, isn't it a movie at its most

: basic about liberation? A guy liberated from his psychotic self, debtors

: liberated from their credit records, etc?

Indeed, one thing I liked about the 'everybody's back to zero' theme was the way it evoked the Levitical call for Jubilee, whereby all debts, in theory at least, were to be cancelled every 50 years. I suspect the Bible has at least as much to say about the sin of, say, collecting interest as it does about the sin of, say, homosexual behaviour.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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My "anonymous friend," cited above, says it's okay for me to post an edited version of the rest of his email to me. It's really good stuff.

Primarily, upon first and subsequent viewings, I tapped into and identified with the honest expression of rage reverberating through these young men. And that was so liberating. Here was a film that gave me permission to be angry and helped me understand some of the reasons for it. More than any film I've seen it 'defined' me in a way not yet done, or perhaps 'named' parts of me I'd not yet had named. So it was powerfully energizing, it was a coming out of the closet for me, a closet of anger and feelings of futility held close to the chest and not readily expressed. ... It was authentic, giving voice to unvoiced things in me (very similar to what RAISIN IN THE SUN did for me in voicing my fears as a thirty-something male with seemingly no future).

Secondly, the more distance I had from the film, the more I felt the LAMENT of it. Part of this is expressed in the anger part above, but it was this powerful, truthful cry of young men in a society that has robbed them. Desperately seeking young men, looking for God, for meaning, etc. Young men who believe God has abandoned them. Especially with (the "branding" scene), there's a beautiful honesty and brokenness there. And a challenge not to try to escape our pain, not to explain or therapize it away but to feel it, deal with it. That's grieving for me, lament, the honest expression of it as a way of moving through it. Not denial. Not everything's peachy keen. Not 'all things work together for good to them that love God' as instant answer.

Thirdly, and this may be part of the above, I happened to be reading much of Jeremiah and Walter Brueggeman's writings on the 'prophetic imagination in exile'. And much of what I identified with in that was the necessary beat of 'destruction.' Some things must be destroyed and brought down completely before newness can begin. And prophets were commanded to destroy, pull down. Institutions, perhaps. Self-love, perhaps. The need to own things, perhaps. So I applauded this film for the voice of truth, anger, and destruction. I didn't need to see redemption at the end, though some have said they see it amply in his holding hands with the chick and with facing honestly and killing his own psychotic delusion. (Seen in those terms, isn't it a movie at its most basic about liberation? A guy liberated from his psychotic self, debtors liberated from their credit records, etc?) It was really enough for me that it gave voice to a hidden part of me, that it named for me the anger/despair/psychosis I've felt, that it personified externally my own battles with my self and God, and that it spoke a truth. We are not what we own. We need something else. We are angry for being let down and we have a right to be. Some things must be destroyed -- including my self, my pride, my love of possessions -- if God is to have a chance at regenerating me. Do I wish this film could have had beats of regeneration and redemption? Not really. I just make sure I have a copy of Moulin Rouge handy when I view Fight Club. It's not the whole truth, but it's part of the truth and in my evangelical, christian-college, American, church-life bubble, it seems a truth NOT being proclaimed. ...

But I totally understand your shock, discomfort and revulsion (if you felt any of those)... I think I did.

... for me primarily it was authenticity, truth, boldness in depicting a part of the Bible oft ignored and it had immediate personal connection to my life.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I am somewhat of a sucker for blaming the problems of the world on other people, too -- especially if I can blame them not on people but on some vague, impersonal force, call it a "complex" or whatever. ...

But that's part of the frustration - the sources of many of our ills are vague, impersonal forces, and they're pretty near impossible to define. Something's definitely wrong - but as soon as you try to pin it down to something or someone specific, you usually oversimplify. Some of our woes do come from "complexes" - the dread that FIGHT CLUB's fury evokes in me is that there seems to be no sane way to name or oppose it.

(By the way, I'm not clear who it is you think is "blaming the problems of the world on other people" - my friend who mentioned "clever diatribes against the military industrial complex", FIGHT CLUB or Michael Moore?)

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I just make sure I have a copy of Moulin Rouge handy when I view Fight Club.

Whoa! 8O Weirdly resonant. Both Moulin Rouge and Fight Club have been two of the most important movies to me in the last few years. Infact, I bought both DVDs on the same day!

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Stupid me, I just realized why Thomas Hibbs's book on nihilism in pop culture makes no reference to Fight Club -- my paperback edition was published in December 2000, but the original hardcover edition came out in December 1999, just a month or two after the film came out. So there was no time for the writer to see the show, think about it, analyze its impact on the culture, write about it, submit his draft to an editor, approve the edited version of his words, etc. I note the book also makes no reference to The Matrix, which came out in March or April of that year -- I guess there might not have been enough time to throw in a few comments about the nihilistic implications of that film, either.

Anyway, there's this interesting comment on page 50:

In many recent films, the evildoer displays his courage, independence, and power by setting himself in opposition to a homogenized, timid, and conformist society. He performs deeds intended to offend, shock, and repulse ordinary law-abiding citizens. Yet these same deeds also attract and inspire ordinary folk, since they too have begun to see through the ideals of the Enlightenment. In contemporary films, the Enlightenment disciplines of law enforcement and behaviorist psychology are subject to relentless and unqualified critique. In response to the reduction of evil to psychosomatic illness, contemporary films set out on a quest for evil, for deeds so heinous that all efforts at scientific explanation fall comically short.

The first three sentences got me thinking about Fight Club and Tyler Durden, big time. The next two sentences, not so much, though; but that is partly because Hibbs is moving into a discussion of films like The Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs and the remake of Cape Fear there. Still, it's interesting to see a description of the "evildoer" in a typical nihilist film that happens to match Tyler Durden. Are we supposed to think of him as "evil"? Are we supposed to be attracted to or repulsed by his will to power? And so on.

Ron's friend wrote:

: Primarily, upon first and subsequent viewings, I tapped into and

: identified with the honest expression of rage reverberating through these

: young men. And that was so liberating. Here was a film that gave me

: permission to be angry and helped me understand some of the reasons

: for it.

Hmmm. And yet I do not think I identified with the rage these men felt, nor did I understand what their "reasons" were for their belief that they were entitled to be angry.

: Do I wish this film could have had beats of regeneration and redemption?

: Not really. I just make sure I have a copy of Moulin Rouge handy when I

: view Fight Club.

[ blink ]

Ron wrote:

: But that's part of the frustration - the sources of many of our ills are

: vague, impersonal forces, and they're pretty near impossible to define.

I guess I'm just leery of the way that post-modern thinking can lead us to blame anything and everything for our problems except for our selves, except for actual souls.

As one person said on a post-evangelical listserv I subscribe to:

No really; it occurs to me that as POMOs decentre the self, they also decentre the locus of personal responsibility - hence sin comes to be seen predominantly in terms of the self's participation in transpersonal structures, whether these structures are one-one relationships or wholescale community affairs. POMOs could (and do occasionally) reconceptualise traditional Christian notions of sin in relational terms (with God or my neighbour as the other to whom we relate). However, this is a double-edged sword. It seems to me that in so doing they illustrate the all-pervading problem of human sin [as in the pervasiveness of the 'will to power'] whilst at the same time reducing its INDIVIDUAL and MORAL seriousness by locating it within the decentred STRUCTURE rather than within the individual 'crooked' will [which is arguably the true source of the 'will to power'].

[ snip ]

However, the engagement of Christianity with POMO notions of the self presents a different problem. Quite apart from the question of the role of supernatural evil in human affairs [i shall let this sleeping dog lie], it is my contention that a thoroughgoing decentring of the self would substantially alter the possibility of a balance between the other two pillars of 'traditional' hamartiology. One's notion of what sin is, formally depends upon one's notion of the self (ie. what or who is doing the sinning). If one decentres the self, as many POMOs in fact do, then one also subtly decentres the locus of responsibility for sin. Hence, there is a very real possibility that a decentred notion of the self will allow notions of sin as 'the world' [the systemic] to subsume notions of sin as 'the flesh' [the individual]. Hence, "God have mercy on ME, a sinner" would become meaningless, for the problem would be an "God have mercy on US sinners" or a "God have mercy on the sinful SYSTEM" issue. Speaking personally, I would have difficulty reconciling that with both my own moral experience and my PERSONAL experience of Christ's mercy!

[ snip ]

Here is an example; the repentant tax collector who stood far off muttering "God have mercy on ME - a sinner". A decentred tax-collector would have considered this not as a means by which he would go away justified - but as a big mistake. He would have said "God have mercy upon the sinful system of tax-collecting, oppression and Roman imperialism of which I am only a small part and which was foisted upon me by a combination of sociolectic, educational, anthropological, religious, relational, economic and social factors".

: (By the way, I'm not clear who it is you think is "blaming the problems of

: the world on other people" - my friend who mentioned "clever diatribes

: against the military industrial complex", FIGHT CLUB or Michael Moore?)

Definitely not Fight Club. Possibly not your friend. Definitely Michael Moore.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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In many recent films, the evildoer displays his courage, independence, and power by setting himself in opposition to a homogenized, timid, and conformist society. He performs deeds intended to offend, shock, and repulse ordinary law-abiding citizens. Yet these same deeds also attract and inspire ordinary folk, since they too have begun to see through the ideals of the Enlightenment.

Yeah, that sounds like FIGHT CLUB territory.

...In response to the reduction of evil to psychosomatic illness, contemporary films set out on a quest for evil, for deeds so heinous that all efforts at scientific explanation fall comically short.

...it's interesting to see a description of the "evildoer" in a typical nihilist film that happens to match Tyler Durden. Are we supposed to think of him as "evil"? Are we supposed to be attracted to or repulsed by his will to power?

I'd say we're definitely supposed to swing back and forth in whether or not we find him evil, that we're supposed to experience alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) attraction and repulsion. That's part of the mechanism of the film.

The question of where it means us to end up is probably trickier. I'd suggest that it wants us pretty much to end up thinking Tyler is "too much of a bad thing": that unchecked, those impulses lead to fascistic thought control and probably that they will spin out of control and cause serious damage to non-participants - was I the only one that was massively skeptical of Tyler's claim that no-one would get hurt in the explosions because everybody in all the buildings was "one of them"? Yeah, right.

I figure we're meant to see Tyler, in the final analysis, as "evil" - though I don't know that that's a word the filmmakers would intend. At least that he is a bad thing that the main character should rid himself, and the world, of. But that many of Tyler's instincts were, in fact, right - the correct response to the compromised, soul-destroying world around him - and that the Narrator would now be a better, more balanced, "whole" person for having lived out (and incorporated) some of his "inner Tyler."

But, being as savvy / hip / post-modern as it is, the film can't resist undercutting even that with another self-referential ironization - a couple frames of a penis, spliced in by... Tyler? The editor's "inner Tyler"? The projectionist at the theatre? Like "Tyler Lives" graffitti sprayed on the end of the movie.

Ron's friend wrote:

: Primarily, upon first and subsequent viewings, I tapped into and

: identified with the honest expression of rage reverberating through these

: young men. And that was so liberating. Here was a film that gave me

: permission to be angry and helped me understand some of the reasons

: for it.

Hmmm. And yet I do not think I identified with the rage these men felt, nor did I understand what their "reasons" were for their belief that they were entitled to be angry.

You didn't, he did. As long as that's a personal admission rather than a critique of the film, it's totally legitimate. If it's a general statement that the film failed in not providing a means for "the audience" to connect with or understand their rage, I think you're off the mark. Clearly many, many people do resonate with that element of the film, and have no difficulty seeing in the film abundant cause for such anger.

: Do I wish this film could have had beats of regeneration and redemption?

: Not really. I just make sure I have a copy of Moulin Rouge handy when I

: view Fight Club.

[ blink ]

I guess your emoticon indicates that you don't see the connection. I do. MOULIN ROUGE is all about headlong, naive, self-sacrificial love toward someone who's compromised and corrupted, but nevertheless beautiful. Lots of folks find that pretty deeply affirming, a sort of echo in human, romantic terms of the unconditional love of God toward us, "while we were yet sinners." Not a bad antidote to the predominant "it's all gonna burn" outrage of FIGHT CLUB.

Ron wrote:

: But that's part of the frustration - the sources of many of our ills are

: vague, impersonal forces, and they're pretty near impossible to define.

I guess I'm just leery of the way that post-modern thinking can lead us to blame anything and everything for our problems except for our selves, except for actual souls.

Good point - when we blame something as vague as "The System," and essentially define "The System" as as "everybody but me and people like me" - or "Everybody who has more power or stuff than me," or whatever - it's pretty fatuous. And that's what a lot of that kind of thinking boils down to.

But, while it's often naive (and even self-serving) to blame systems or complexes or ideologies for every evil under the sun, there may also be considerable truth in some of those assertions: either because they are popularized, poorly understood "street versions" of real, intellectual analysis and critique, or because they are a poorly verbalized, ineptly-thought-through expression of a very real perception that SOMETHING IS WRONG, AND IT HAS TO DO WITH.... (fill in the blank: kids coming home in body bags from Vietnam, or a Starbucks on every corner).

And lest we think it's a specifically post-modern tendency "to blame anything and everything for our problems except for our selves," may I suggest that's simply human nature, pretty much unchanged since, oh, I don't know, the Garden of Eden?

As one person said on a post-evangelical listserv I subscribe to:

...POMOs could (and do occasionally) reconceptualise traditional Christian notions of sin in relational terms (with God or my neighbour as the other to whom we relate).

I have a hard time seeing that as a distinctly post-modern view - or as a theologically problematic one. From the very beginnings of my Christian life - so we're talking 1972 here, for starters - I've believed, and heard / read from any number of teachers, preachers and theologians that the essence of sin is a violation of relationship - between us and our neighbours, between us and God. That every commandment, every prohibition, every moral imperative in scripture is centrally about doing unto the Other.

Maybe I'm not picking up on what your friend is saying. (I know this isn't the whole of his/her argument, but it does seem to be a part of it.)

Here is an example; the repentant tax collector who stood far off muttering "God have mercy on ME - a sinner". A decentred tax-collector would have considered this not as a means by which he would go away justified - but as a big mistake. He would have said "God have mercy upon the sinful system of tax-collecting, oppression and Roman imperialism of which I am only a small part and which was foisted upon me by a combination of sociolectic, educational, anthropological, religious, relational, economic and social factors".

Again, I question whether this is distinctly postmodern. At least since the end of World War Two it's been common to shift the locus of accountability from the individual sinner to the context that shapes him. (What's that song in WEST SIDE STORY that blames everybody but the juvenile delinquent for his juvenile delinquency? A mind-set that feeds right into the culture of victimhood that has become so prevalent in the last two or three decades.)

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Ron wrote:

: I'd say we're definitely supposed to swing back and forth in whether or

: not we find him evil, that we're supposed to experience alternately (and

: sometimes simultaneously) attraction and repulsion. That's part of the

: mechanism of the film.

Right.

: But, being as savvy / hip / post-modern as it is, the film can't resist

: undercutting even that with another self-referential ironization - a couple

: frames of a penis, spliced in by... Tyler? The editor's "inner Tyler"? The

: projectionist at the theatre?

Back when the film came out, I kept thinking that the real-life Tyler-ish projectionists would probably have to take that penis shot OUT of the film. smile.gif

: Like "Tyler Lives" graffitti sprayed on the end of the movie.

Exactly. In fact, it's a rather brilliant way of doing, cinematically, what the book does at the end in a more literary fashion -- suggesting that Tyler's spirit lives on, etc.

: : : Primarily, upon first and subsequent viewings, I tapped into and

: : : identified with the honest expression of rage reverberating through

: : : these young men. And that was so liberating. Here was a film that

: : : gave me permission to be angry and helped me understand some of

: : : the reasons for it.

: :

: : Hmmm. And yet I do not think I identified with the rage these men felt,

: : nor did I understand what their "reasons" were for their belief that they

: : were entitled to be angry.

:

: . . . If it's a general statement that the film failed in not providing a

: means for "the audience" to connect with or understand their rage, I

: think you're off the mark.

I dunno, there's a difference between "providing a means for the audience to connect with their rage" and "helping the audience to understand some of the reasons" for that rage. The latter term implies that there ARE reasons that somehow justify the rage.

But maybe I'm being too rational about this. And how modern would THAT be. Okay, fine, let the pomo's rage, reason or no reason.

: : [ blink ]

:

: I guess your emoticon indicates that you don't see the connection.

Without an icon, it can't really be an "icon". smile.gif

As for connections, I guess I can see that both Fight Club and Moulin Rouge are wildly stylish post-modern films that place feeling, feeling, feeling above all.

: But, while it's often naive (and even self-serving) to blame systems or

: complexes or ideologies for every evil under the sun, there may also be

: considerable truth in some of those assertions: either because they are

: popularized, poorly understood "street versions" of real, intellectual

: analysis and critique, or because they are a poorly verbalized, ineptly-

: thought-through expression of a very real perception that SOMETHING IS

: WRONG, AND IT HAS TO DO WITH.... (fill in the blank: kids coming home

: in body bags from Vietnam, or a Starbucks on every corner).

Well, first you'd have to convince me that there WAS something wrong with "a Starbucks on every corner". Which, of course, there isn't. In my neighbourhood, the corners alternate between Starbucks and Blenz. smile.gif

: And lest we think it's a specifically post-modern tendency "to blame

: anything and everything for our problems except for our selves," may I

: suggest that's simply human nature, pretty much unchanged since, oh, I

: don't know, the Garden of Eden?

There is a reason I put a space between "our" and "selves". At least Adam and Eve recognized that they (and the serpent) HAD selves.

: Maybe I'm not picking up on what your friend is saying.

Point of clarification: the person in question is not a friend of mine, but someone on an e-mail list that I mainly just lurk on. (Yes, it IS possible for me to just lurk! smile.gif )

: At least since the end of World War Two it's been common to shift the

: locus of accountability from the individual sinner to the context that

: shapes him. (What's that song in WEST SIDE STORY that blames

: everybody but the juvenile delinquent for his juvenile delinquency?

'Officer Krupke' -- and I think the song is not so much doing the blaming but mocking the various social theories that are used to excuse or to explain away the delinquents' behaviour.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Point of clarification: the person in question is not a friend of mine, but someone on an e-mail list that I mainly just lurk on. (Yes, it IS possible for me to just lurk! smile.gif )

Still trying to get my head around that one....

: At least since the end of World War Two it's been common to shift the

: locus of accountability from the individual sinner to the context that

: shapes him. (What's that song in WEST SIDE STORY that blames

: everybody but the juvenile delinquent for his juvenile delinquency?

'Officer Krupke' -- and I think the song is not so much doing the blaming but mocking the various social theories that are used to excuse or to explain away the delinquents' behaviour.

You're definitely right about that. I only meant that the song illustrates that the tendency to replace a sense of personal responsibility with sociological causes was a commonplace as long ago as that.

Well, enough of this. Think I'll go kick the crap out of somebody.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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  • 1 month later...

"Fight Club is a smart new twist on the most famous of the Greek tragedies. Jack is a modern-day Oedipus and Tyler Durden is his father, Laius."

The Fight Club Review by Chris Landis at Metaphilm makes the most sense of anything i've seen so far. Brilliant insight. I've tried in the version printed below to remove the dirty wordies.

A tale of three prophecies

In the tale of Oedipus, King Laius of Thebes sends his son away to be killed after an oracle tells Laius his son will someday kill him. The child is spared and given to the ruler of Corinth. The ruler and his wife are unable to have children, so they raise Oedipus as their own. Oedipus never knows of his real parents or the prophecy that marks him. Years later, Oedipus is told of a new prophecy that says he will kill his father and marry his mother. In fear, Oedipus leaves Corinth, the home of his adoptive family.

As far as Oedipus knows, these people who rule Corinth are his natural parents and going elsewhere will ensure his family

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

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  • 6 years later...
  • 3 years later...

I finally saw this today.

The film, in the end, is such a self-indulgent mess it's not worth my time to say much of anything about it.

I think Ebert pretty much nailed it, though.

The movie is visceral and hard-edged, with levels of irony and commentary above and below the action. If it had all continued in the vein explored in the first act, it might have become a great film. But the second act is pandering and the third is trickery, and whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that's not what most audience members will get. "Fight Club" is a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy--the kind of ride where some people puke and others can't wait to get on again.

Which is a shame, really. I loved the first act - there's brilliance there. And there's great direction, acting, and humor throughout. But the film goes from being absolutely brilliant to being absolutely atrocious in the course of its running time.

@Timzila

"It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind." (Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners).

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Tim, what's your opinion of Fincher's other films that you've seen?  Do you think any of his other work opens brilliantly then degenerates into a self-indulgent mess, or was Fight Club a disappointment based on your other experiences (if any) with Fincher?

 

I ask, because I've not seen Fight Club, but I've never admired Fincher's work as much as many other people I know.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

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Coincidentally, Jonathan Rosenbaum just re-posted his end-of-the-year round-up for 1995, in which he said of Fincher & Pitt's first collaboration, Se7en: "Younger viewers who want to consider themselves hip seem to cling to such movies as proof of their clear-eyed cynicism, but the glamorous nimbus encircling the alleged hopelessness of both movies gives the lie to their supposed realism." Perhaps a similar criticism can be made of Fight Club?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I finally saw this today.

The film, in the end, is such a self-indulgent mess it's not worth my time to say much of anything about it.

I think Ebert pretty much nailed it, though.

 

The movie is visceral and hard-edged, with levels of irony and commentary above and below the action. If it had all continued in the vein explored in the first act, it might have become a great film. But the second act is pandering and the third is trickery, and whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that's not what most audience members will get. "Fight Club" is a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy--the kind of ride where some people puke and others can't wait to get on again.

Which is a shame, really. I loved the first act - there's brilliance there. And there's great direction, acting, and humor throughout. But the film goes from being absolutely brilliant to being absolutely atrocious in the course of its running time.

 

I kinda don't think it's a shame. This has become one of my favorite films of all-time. It is one I go back to over and over and over again. The fact that it is a "thrill ride masquerading as philosophy" is its finest point. Who wants philosophy? There *are* no answers there. Might as well enjoy the questions, angry as they can sometimes make you. And while you're at it, you might as well enjoy the thrill of the ride.

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Do you think any of his other work opens brilliantly then degenerates into a self-indulgent mess, or was Fight Club a disappointment based on your other experiences (if any) with Fincher?

 

I ask, because I've not seen Fight Club, but I've never admired Fincher's work as much as many other people I know.

This wasn't directed at me, but I'll venture a response anyway.

As far as Fincher goes, my enthusiasm extends to THE GAME and THE SOCIAL NETWORK and not much else. FIGHT CLUB marks Fincher's low point, where everything problematic about his work comes together in one exceptionally repugnant film.

 

Coincidentally, Jonathan Rosenbaum just re-posted his end-of-the-year round-up for 1995, in which he said of Fincher & Pitt's first collaboration, Se7en: "Younger viewers who want to consider themselves hip seem to cling to such movies as proof of their clear-eyed cynicism, but the glamorous nimbus encircling the alleged hopelessness of both movies gives the lie to their supposed realism." Perhaps a similar criticism can be made of Fight Club?

Yes.

 

If the nihilism on display in SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB is not as punishing as that offered by Lars von Trier, it is nevertheless arguably more frustrating because it is so slick and commodified.

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I kinda don't think it's a shame. This has become one of my favorite films of all-time. It is one I go back to over and over and over again. The fact that it is a "thrill ride masquerading as philosophy" is its finest point. Who wants philosophy? There *are* no answers there. Might as well enjoy the questions, angry as they can sometimes make you. And while you're at it, you might as well enjoy the thrill of the ride.

If I may, as a fan of Fincher and an admirer of this film, offer a bit of a rebuttal lest we think we all agree on this film.

 

I might agree with and also invert Stef's observation and suggest that it is actually philosophy (of admittedly simplistic sort) masquerading as a "thrill ride."

 

Roger Ebert – on this particular occasion – was just plain wrong here when he called this the 'most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since "Death Wish"'. Though in a strange way, he wasn't far off the mark, since the film is definitely an exploration of that ideology. I can't think of another film that as effectively seduces its audience and shows how appealing fascism could be (see the legions of teenagers who wanted to start their own "fight clubs"). Ebert was right in noticing how strange a film this is. Utilizing its Hollywood star power and visual pleasure to subvert the very underpinnings of its own creation.

 

I taught this film in an introductory course called "Film and the Image," and its a perfect example of the way a film can be open to multiple, contradictory readings. It offers up a critique of consumer culture (ala AMERICAN BEAUTY, as suggested earlier), then offers a counter-cultural response, then pulls another switch on the audience again and again. It really is a great companion piece to THE GAME. My supervisor suggests that how convincing you find the idea that FIGHT CLUB is actually a critical film might have to do with how willing we are to "read against the grain," because this film is in many ways an example of the very thing it critiques - it offers up visual "pleasure" and stimuli and a "convincing" counter-cultural "hero," and then  pulls the rug out from under its own game. So, do we think a film can do that? Or must it put forward a final thesis?

 

"It's called a changeover. The movie goes on and nobody in the audience has any idea..."

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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