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 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”