Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Fight Club (1999, USA, David Fincher)
Well you can't help enjoying this picture even though its sheer existence vitiates most of what it has to say. All of the adolescent male, anarcho-punk, pre-fascist anti-mobilization mobilization nihilism is 100% sublimated, domesticated and commodified in obedience to the dictates of currently fashionable cinematic style and yet another helping of the ersatz critique that is postmodern irony. After all of the jumpy cuts and snappy dialogue - some of it really cool dude - the dull and disappointing fact remains that FC is an advertisement for Starbucks, Ikea and everything else it claims to attack. Gosh, the product placements alone, yeah yeah, they're ironic, uh-huh, see the sentence above. A little less offensive is Brad Pitt giving a speech about how we were all told that we would be movie stars, but this was a lie we were stupid to believe, so let's all make bombs. He's great in the role and I appreciate that he just wants to do good work like the next professional, but come on, the guy is on the cover of every fucking magazine all the time. I could cough up a hefty package of these example but I'll give just one more. Early on in Ed Norton's voice-over narration he mentions that after a mere month of living in the condemned building, he no longer craved television. Later, when the new model army is chilling in the living room, they are all tuned in to the news on television. Of course I can met the screenplay halfway and fill in the credibiliby blanks. That's not the point. The point is that television returns like the sunrise after the dark night. It is just there - naturally. The talk about not needing it, not wanting, not having it - just talk. Same for anything else the film is supposedly out to annihilate. It's all so much hot air for a teenage temper tantrum. And then it totally sucks out at the end, by making him mentally ill and even worse, sane enough to be sorry about everything and desperate to prevent the destruction. Unlike you, I was not chilled by the final scene of the buildings going down, even post 9-11. This was just giving the paying customers what they paid to see, wonderfully satarized on SCTV by those two dorks who are happy when whatever "blowed up real good." But like I said, it's actually quite an entertaining movie. I rather like it. It's too bad it couldn't have seriously explored the only genuine topic it considers, namely, male bonding through aggression. The film is very homoerotic and was afraid to enter into this. To close, I did very much like the abuse of self-help in our culture. Funny and true.
Before reading your review, I'll show you what I wrote for Apollo Guide back in 1999. The review's abridged, but I can't remember what got chopped out to make the edtorial limits of the mag. Something brilliant, I've no doubt. It's clear that I liked the film, but was having none of the hyperbolic praise being heaped upon it at the time.
"Society rewards compliance while encouraging consumerism as our central means of self-expression. But Fight Club is going to save us. Maybe.
Fight Club is an extremely well-made but rather muddle-headed film that delivers a solid blow to the belly, yet does not stand up to rigorous intellectual examination. The film is best when it skewers some of the odious aspects of our consumer society. When Jack (Ed Norton) and Tyler ( Brad Pitt) steal the fat from a liposuction clinic in order to make designer soap, which they then sell to fashionable boutiques at twenty dollars a bar so that the women who frequented the clinic can go home and wash themselves with their own fat is so richly layered in irony, that one cannot help but laugh. We are, they note, slaves in white collars working for companies where everything and everybody is a copy of a copy of a copy.
'Self improvement is masturbation. Now self destruction…' Tyler's words betray the fascist ethos of the Fight Club, a subterranean after hours club of brutal fisticuffs that injects meaning into the lives of the benumbed participants. There, they assert the masculinity that has been robbed from them in lives governed by routine. 'You weren't alive anywhere like you were there, notes Jack. Fighting is a religion, 'like being in a Pentecostal church where everybody is speaking in tongues,' which is an ironically appropriate analogy for the confused ideas at the centre of this film.
Fight Club is obsessed with man's emasculation at the hands of a culture that has made us soft. 'We are a generation raised by women,' notes Tyler. The film is punctuated with platitudes that would be amusing if they weren't meant to be taken seriously. Tyler shouts, 'Let's evolve! And let the chips fall where they may.' 'Things you own end up owning you.' 'We are God's unwanted children.' It is surprising that the filmmakers elected to go that extra step back into their Nietzchean cave and declare that God is dead, so everything is permitted. Where do we go with this knowledge? The film's final scenes show us. 'On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone is zero.'
Director David Fincher is clearly a talented filmmaker, and Norton and Pitt deliver knockout performances, but Fight Club is not the great film that Fincher's acolytes would have us believe."
I think we have similar feelings about FC, although as is our tendency, I am less tolerant.
I too enjoyed the line about self improvement being masturbation and I had planned to use it in my review but I ran out of time. Notice how my review finishes with my nod to the abuse of self-help. I liked all of that in particular and the revulsion with consumerism in general. But I maintain that neither the left-anarcho nor the right-fascist flirtations in the film are seriously developed, that in the end it is hollow entertainment. The raw energy on which it all burns might have been refined in interesting directions. The aberrant masculinity presented as a social critique is jive but the nonconformity of the behaviour does lend itself to a gender analysis of what "masculinity" means these days. In this regard and as I indicated already, as far as I can tell, FC is super-gay.
Well, I mark your pronounced intolerance, your naturally prickly (diss-)orientation, down to your American heritage. After all, we Canadians are the world's peacemakers, and blessed are the peacemakers, for we shall inherit all the messes.
I remember liking Fight Club's satire, while being wary of its contradictions, many of which you have capably pointed out. I agree that the attack on consumerism is ultimately suspicious, an Antoinettian attempt to have its cake and eat it too, with designer names dropped like Reese's Pieces to lure the jaded po-mo ET audience with its hipness, only to betray 'em when it came time to say something significant. Then there's the whole problem of the film itself being a product that is mass-marketed on the celebrity of Pitt and Norton, rather than on the film's potential subversiveness, in the hope of attracting the largest audience possible.
I like your description of the film as super-gay. It most certainly would have been more fun if Norton and Pitt had got it on, but then the whole third act would have revealed that as masturbatory, which, while probably a good description of the third act, might have lessened the film's effect even more.