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Fight Club


Ron Reed
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Wow. I haven't posted about this film since 2003? Ten-year anniversary! Time to revisit it.

 

The movie stays with me. I go on liking the film's exposure of most force-oriented protests as just another form of tyranny waiting to come to fruition.

 

I haven't seen it in a while, but I seem to remember enjoying its giddy visual inventiveness, and the totally committed performances from the three leads.

 

I appreciated that it didn't stage the violence for our enjoyment, but rather for our discomfort.

 

The only thing that soured me on it, IIRC, was the very end, which made an instinctive but sophomoric lurch toward "love is the answer" ... but the love it idealized was shallow. And the way it shrugged off the destruction of the corporate symbols was unnerving at the time... and pretty much unwatchable later (after 9/11).

 

I'm ready to revisit it sometime soon. Fincher's work is almost always a complicated mix of pros and cons for me. I found Fight Club more meaningful than most of his stuff... in that I'm interested in the questions it chooses to wrestle, and in the insights it does demonstrate. It's wiser than most movies about men, masculinity, and force. But still not wise enough.

 

This is Fincher's dilemma: He has an admirable distrust of American masculinity and the corrupting nature of power. But, lacking any evident understanding of grace, he ends up relying on swagger and hipness and violence to communicate that distrust. Catch-22.

 

I still like Ron's original post:

 

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. 

 

Edited by Overstreet

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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It really is a great companion piece to THE GAME.

I had never considered this, but I see your point. Both films feature perpetually-shifting narratives which culminate in a climactic reveal that radically redefines everything we have just witnessed, ultimately eschewing resolution for a sustained tension.

Given these similar mechanics, this leads me to further consider why I love THE GAME (I think it's a minor masterpiece, in fact) and loathe FIGHT CLUB. If I'm being honest, I suspect part of my preference for one over the other is aesthetic: Hitchcock and 1970s paranoid thrillers appeal to me much more than grunge rock. But this alone is not a sufficient explanation for my intense aversion to FIGHT CLUB. Perhaps it is this: I find the tensions staked out in THE GAME to reflect real life mysteries. I do not see much of real life in FIGHT CLUB.

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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.

More repugnant than Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Because you may have permanently talked me out of seeing Fight Club.  (And I disliked GWTDT not only because of the sick mess of a story but just as much because of the way Fincher filmed it.)

 

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.

I had heard enough good things about Se7en that I thought I might enjoy it, but you're causing me to second guess that as well.

"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."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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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.

More repugnant than Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

As far as I'm concerned, yeah.
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Both based on novels, interestingly. So Fincher's to blame.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Personalized the material how? I'm sure he made some artistic choices -- you can't fit everything in a book into a 2-hour movie -- but I'm skeptical, having read Dragon Tattoo (I've never read Fight Club).

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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It's also worth noting that the ending to Fight Club, which some people find particularly problematic, is very very different from the ending to the novel. (See my first post in this thread.) Whether the change was made by Fincher or the writers, I could not say, but there's only so much that the novelist can take credit/blame for.

"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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Personalized the material how?

If in nothing else, just by virtue of directing it: his stylistic stamp is all over FIGHT CLUB and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

 

Whatever one might say about the material to begin with, it's Fincher's job as the film's supervisor to focus how the material is adapted, to revise or challenge or recreate the material at will. He identified with the material and put his own stamp on it (even meticulously shaping the advertising campaigns of both films). He may have appropriated the work of Larsson and Palahniuk, but the end result is undeniably David Fincher's.

Edited by Ryan H.
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Oh. Well, if directing a script based on a novel is by definition personalizing the material, then yes, I agree.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Oh. Well, if directing a script based on a novel is by definition personalizing the material, then yes, I agree.

I think it is, though not to the same extent that is the case with FIGHT CLUB and DRAGON TATTOO, which were, by all accounts, passion projects for Fincher, over which he maintained meticulous control.

Of course, FIGHT CLUB contains aspects that are decidedly Fincher's contribution (the penis shot, for one thing) that have no precedent in the source material.

Edited by Ryan H.
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It's ironic that we should be discussing Fight Club now, because one of my local cinemas has been rereleasing "classic" films for two days each week.  And this week's film is Fight Club.

 

Even if I wanted to, the timing does not work out for me to see it.  But after this discussion, I don't feel like that's any great loss.  (I very much am looking forward to next week's film: Vertigo, which I will make time to see on the big screen.)

"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."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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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.

I'm not familiar enough with Fincher's work to make any sweeping claim, but I'm not bothered with it in general. Social Network is a fine film. I thought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a rather mediocre film that claimed to have access to some kind of significance that it doesn't actually have (much, in a very different way, like Fight Club).

Se7en, The Game, and Zodiac have been on my "To Watch" list for a while, but I haven't gotten around to them.

 

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

. . .

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..."

To clarify a little, I don't entirely agree with Ebert. For example, I find his claims regarding the film's level of violence a tad hyperbolic, to say the least.

Nothing about the film's violence really _bothered_ me. If anything, it seems a pretty tame movie compared to what, say, Tarantino tends to give us (and I love most of Tarantino's films).

I guess what I'll say is this: your analysis of the way the film sets up a counter-cultural hero and then pulls the rug out from under it is all fine and dandy, as things go. The thing is though, for me (and yeah, your mileage may vary), it just doesn't work. I also have a feeling that Fight Club is one of those films that starts to feel disingenuous after a while. How many twists can a two and a half hour film sustain before you stop trusting the director?

That, I guess, was my biggest problem with the film. As a bit of counter-culture, I thought the film had the potential to say something actually meaningful, or interesting, about society and social-control, and how something like a "Fight Club" might infuse our lives with some sense of meaning. I liked the fact that the film asks us to think about just what masculinity is (though, as Ebert notes, this notion of masculinity is rather adolescent).

So, to "pull the rug" under without offering any particularly meaningful critique of what has come before seems, to me, the very definition of artifice.

Also: as an aside, I certainly can't defend all of Lars von Trier, but he's made films I find exponentially more meaningful than Fight Club. Even when his work is repulsive, his work has an 'honesty' to it than Fincher,in Fight Club, just doesn't.

I know Jeffrey's described some of von Trier's work as "audience torture" (for which he is, doubtless, sometimes guilty), but it's at least audience torture of a more ANGUISHED sort than Fincher's commercialized vision. I mean, for goodness sake, this is what, a seventy million dollar movie?

Here, a Kierkegaard quote strikes me as being applicable: "Of course, a critic resembles a poet to a hair, except he has no anguish in his heart, no music on his lips." Who, between Fincher and Lars Von Trier is the critic? Who's the poet? The choice, to me, seems crystal clear.

Edited by Timothy Zila

@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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  • 4 months later...

"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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  • 8 months later...

"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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  • 5 months later...

"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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