Movies That Everyone Should See: “Fight Club”

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Does writing about Fight Club violate the first rule of Fight Club?

“Fight Club” is based on a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. To call Palahniuk’s works “disturbing” is an understatement. It was directed by David Fincher, director of Se7en, Zodiac, and the upcoming “The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo” (among others). To say he has a knack for “disturbing” is also an understatement.

It was a perfect match of material and movie maker. The end result was a roaring tornado of a movie about masculinity, society and sanity.

“Fight Club”.

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Fight Club begins as the story of a nameless narrator.

Did we all realize that? That Ed Norton’s character is never given a name?

Potentially that’s in support of the “twist”, but I think it’s more significant than that.

Not having a name is symbolic of his entire existence at the opening of the film. Living in a cube farm, complicit in inflicting unseen damage on innocent people for the sake of corporate profits, driven to insomnia by the demands of incessant business travel and soulless number crunching… this guy makes Bartleby the Scrivner look like Bluto from “Animal House” in comparison.

Yet he’s representative of the plight of countless Americans. Drones in a hive of networked computers and fabric covered, chest high dividing walls. Expected to be placated by catlaogue shopping and home furnishings whilst sitting subservient to nondescript men in cornflower blue ties. “Slaves to the Ikea nesting instinct.” “Consumers. Byproducts of a lifestyle obsession.”

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Thus he’s forced to go out to find solace. Respite from the sleeplessness (read: restlessness) of his existence. He seeks the answers in group meetings of various sorts, meeting an assortment of telling characters.

Chloe stands before us, dying, pleading for some final pleasure out of life, but no one can turn to hedonism for relief in modern society any longer. It kills. The dangerous pleasures in life have been stolen from us. Drugs and sex and cigarettes are bad. Taking risks in any regard, in fact.

Instead we’re expected to accept being smothered by the overbearing comfort provided by modern society. Hugging and crying and imagining power animals. Attending self help groups with names like “Positive Positivity”. Calm as Hindu cows.

“Bob had bitch tits…”, as do all men at the start of “Fight Club”. Feminized, fattened and weakened by being civilized and domesticated to the extreme. Coddled and comforted… but at what cost? Literally, at the cost of our balls. It’s no coincidence that Bob is a character who has had his testicles removed. Its also no coincidence that he eventually becomes the first casualty.

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It’s in this world of strangers desperately seeking connections and comfort that our protagonist meets Marla. Marginalized by society, stealing, slinking into the same meetings that he is… Her bs is making him self conscious of his own. She’s a “tourist”.

Yet Marla holds a strange attraction for him. Not simply on a physical level, either. Her lifestyle holds up a funhouse mirror to his own. Is it really necessary to be a eunuch just in order to own furniture? Marla doesn’t.

This chick, Marla Singer, did NOT have testicular cancer

Is that a clever way of saying he’s finally met someone with balls?

She’s a nuisance to him on multiple levels, but the one he’s conscious of is that she’s messing with his meetings. And his meetings have been helping him sleep. The reality though, isn’t that he needs help falling asleep. He needs help waking up.

Enter Tyler Durden.

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Durden is testosterone personified. Fighting and $&%#ing with zestful abandon. Eschewing comfort for combat. Quick witted and quick fisted and so handsome and cocksure he makes Salvation Army outfits look pimp.

Tyler makes and he sells soap. “The yardstick of civilization”. He also splices porn into children’s movies and pisses into soup at restaurants. He sees the bullshit of the modern lifestyle and calls it out. There’s no need for men to know what a duvet is. The things you own own you. We don’t need celebrity magazines or 500 channels of television. We don’t need sofa units.

What we need is someone to hit us as hard as they can.

Durden rings the bell to fight, and fight they do. In dank, dark basements after hours, the discontented, disenfranchised, disillusioned men of modern society line up to join in. To rediscover their hostility and aggression and strength. They fight, and bleed, and knock each others teeth out. Nothing gets solved. No one can put it on their resume. And yet, it’s exactly the thing they need.

“A guy came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks? He was carved out of wood.”

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“Self improvement is masturbation. Now, self destruction…”

But he’s also the mainfestation of the pent up rage at societal castration. The DVD stores and civic art and the pleasantries that coat the rot of our country with a thin layer of paint in hopes that no one will notice.

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Occupy Wall Street? Tyler Durden wants to burn it to the ground.

He rails against virtually all comforting illusions of life. Self importance, God, possessions, order. Disillusionment is a step on the road to enlightenment in the gospel of Tyler Durden. Don’t run from your pain, embrace it. Don’t delude yourself that you’re immortal, confront your eventual death head on, with open eyes. “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

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Cue Project Mayhem.

Project Mayhem channels the repressed anger, the pent up hostility, the resentment at decades of emasculation and sugar coated rationalizations, and directs it outwardly, targeting society. Vandalism, mischief, sabotage, anarchy. Mayhem.

Funded by blackmail and repurposed liposuction fat, Project Mayhem has no shortage of volunteers. In fact, they line up and submit themselves to abuse to be found worthy. The men who show up for Fight Club prove to be more than willing to escalate the issue and wake people up by shaking them violently. They confront their enemies with the threat of castration.

Use them or lose them.

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Once Tyler has his army, the “greater good” that he hopes to achieve is the obliteration of the debt record… The destruction of the skeletal subsystem that supports our capitalist, commercialized, consumer driven economy. The world would revert to barter. The return of the hunters and gatherers. Strips of venison, lining the highway.

The fact that our narrator “wakes up” too late is also telling. The soft, spoiled, somnambulist society he represents may not recognize the simmering anger beneath its surface before it’s too late. But the fact that he wakes up at all is also telling. While he carries untold anger and unbelievable resentment, he doesn’t want anyone hurt or killed for real.

But if he didn’t really want to see it all burn, I think he’d have woken himself up sooner.

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It’s easy to reduce “Fight Club” to an action movie wrapped around a modern spin on Jekyll and Hyde. But to do so is to miss so much of what it’s trying to say.

It’s an angry wake up call, not just to men (although especially to men), that our current trajectory cannot be maintained. When watching this movie this week and working on this piece, I literally had trouble believing that this movie was made over ten years ago. Pre “Great Recession”, pre 9/11, pre “Arab Spring”. Prior to so many events, either supportable, tragic, evil, regrettable or inspiring… But all of which are symptomatic of the simmering discontentment, the dark and dangerous dissatisfaction represented by Tyler Durden.

This movie speaks louder now than it did when it was released.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See.”

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33 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Fight Club”

  1. I have never seen this film and if you ask a woman all she’ll say about it is blush over Brad Pitt’s abs. My lover loves it as all men do. I tried to read the book once in a course when it was assigned but I hate the authors writing (I ended up writing a comparative piece on The Watchmen book and film). I had tried to read this books before and was not impressed by what I read. I can say that the story and message of the film was very interesting. I will have to cave in and watch it soon.

    • Well, cool. I hope you do.

      I dont think this is a movie to ogle Brad Pitt, though, maybe stick with Thelma and Louise for that? LOL

      Anyways, I think there’s a lot here to offer to any viewer, though, regardless of gender. Check it Out!

    • You should watch it – and not for Brad Pitt’s abs… the social commentry and story are much more interesting.

      And I suspect that I am not the only woman who would say that.

  2. “An angry wake up call”… I like this definition.
    Great review of a great movie, so unforgettable! There are some lines that just stick into your head and (if you’re lucky), never go out.

  3. This is indeed a great movie. I had a little obsession with Chuck Palahniuk’s books when I was younger and I still think it’s one of the most original writers.

    • Oh. He’s certainly original. I mean… TOTALLY unique. Lol. No one else like that I’ve ever read, for sure!

      I couldn’t get over how warped “Choke” was, so I never went back. Not that I’m a big reader, anyways. I’m such a movie person that typically the only times I read novels now are to deepen my understanding of the themes in a movie…

  4. Great write up, very insightful. The one word missing though is “Subversive”, Fight Club is without a doubt the most deliberately, literally “subversive” movie I can think of. It questions society in a way that actively espouses the violent overthrow of western civilization. The book is less obvious in it’s conclusions about that, because of how the narrator winds up, but in the movie the conclusion is inescapable. Burn it all down, indeed.

    For me the messages of anti-consumerism and anti-corporate culture are the places where Fight Club really shines. A truly important and thought provoking movie which also happens to be vastly entertaining.

    I dont know if everyone should see it though. I made my Father watch it with me and he hated every moment of it… and he’s very inclined to be favorable to an anti-consumer, anti-corporate, pro individualism type message…. he just couldn’t stand the movie.

    • DAMN you Gelfman!! Lol.

      That is a great word!!

      I may have to go back and edit it in someplace, then delete these comments…
      :D

      Naw. But yeah, totally a perfect word. Glad we see eye to eye. It’s not as if the themes are buried deep below the surface or anything, though, they’re pretty overt.

    • Oh, and I still think it’s a must see. I’ll have a lot of movies in this series that “aren’t for everyone”…

      Hell, look at the reception “2001” got last week, and I thought I was treading pretty safe ground with that one, lol

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  6. Great film, definitely agree with “Everyone must see.” The story translated into film exceptionally well, but in my opinion, to call Palahniuk a “sensationalist hack” would be the understatement.

  7. I think this movie works best if you see it at an age when you might feel more rebellious against the system (the “man”, the establishment, whatever you call it). Once you “grow up”, I think the movie sort of loses its luster.

  8. Not like but LOVE. Amazing review of a fantastic film. I love the beginning, when Tyler flickers on the screen. You’ve got really good connections to Norton’s nameless soul representing such a body of America as well – think that was a super technique to the story. In ‘Withnail and I’, Withnail’s friend has no name either, so quirky. (If you haven’t watched it then go for it, major cult film – so good!)

    • Well, first off, thanks, YANLYAH (LOL)! I appreciate the compliment!

      I HAVE heard of Withnail, I guess I just havent heard much ABOUT it. I’ll put it on my radar. Any chance its on Netflix? Always on the lookout for movies I can write up for my “Under the Radar” series.

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  11. Here’s a movie I was never able to grasp the hype surrounding it. Even after all these years, I still can’t find myself being immersed into this twisted tale. Simply a movie that got glorified for a cool looking Pitt and a violent subject matter.

    • Oh, no way man. “Fight Club” has a lot to say about society. It has much more to say than most movies do.

      Admittedly, Pitt was cool as hell, but that’s not all it has… Not by a long shot.

      Count me squarely amongst the proponents of this film. Big time.

  12. I hope this doesn’t put my personal safety in question but “Fight Club” is a movie that was mildly entertaining but otherwise forgettable for me. I know I’m in the minority here and I understand that many take a lot away from the film. It just never worked for me.

    • I dont know how it would jeopardize your personal safety, per se….

      LOL

      I MIGHT look at you with a questioning, raised eyebrow though. LOL. Great flick. I’d recommend a rewatch… it’s a great movie style-wise, and has great dialogue, and then to top it all off, its absolutely loaded with commentary about today’s modern society.

      A re-evaluation is highly recommended!

      • I’m certainly willing to give it a rewatch. I do remember being really impressed with the performances. Regardless, any movie that has as many loyal fans as “Fight Club” does deserves another viewing.

  13. I watched this movie because Chuck P is one of my favorite authors. His words always come across unlike anyone I’ve ever read. The movie did justice to his work. I think this movie is a movie that I’ll never get tired of watching.

    • He’s kind of a sick dude, LOL. I read choke (after I saw Fight Club) and I was like, wait. What? LOL 8O

      But between Fincher and the source material, yeah, Fight Club is an awesome film. I know I’ve watched it a ton of times, myself! Thanks for stopping by Gina! :D

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