Fight Club

With Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Exene Cervenka (actually, Helena Bonham Carter, but Exene would have been cooler.)

My Rating:

A disturbing, anarchic take on society, wrapped in a story about a nut job.

Bitable Bytes:
"Seethes with Discontent!"
"Not Desensitized!"
"Hate and Conflict Are Learned by Growing Up in This Harsh World!"

What to do while watching:
You can feel the electricity in this production. The energy is palpable.

What to eat while watching:
The plot twist, tasty, but very hard to swallow.

This was a strange impulse. I'd seen this film at the cinema not so long ago, but felt the need to see it again: I thought I might be able to relate the recent violence and feelings of frustration now rampant in our country to some of the feelings I had while watching Fight Club. Was it all my projection or were there positive messages in the movie?

Far-fetched as this movie is, both in its tale and in its expectation that viewers will buy said tale, it did give me a sense of comfort. Mainly, it's the story of a lonely guy, droning along with mainstream consumer culture. Nameless Protagonist's (Edward Norton's) identity is a big fat nil once you remove the standard cultural trappings, themselves totally hollow. His core, though, seethes with discontent, and a merciless insomnia drives him into desperation.

In this "pitt," he finds solace in going to support groups, pretending to have testicular cancer, tuberculosis, etc. At one of these, he meets Marla (H.B. Carter) and begins a terrible rivalry with her, for she is also a faker, attending these meetings for purely personal reasons. As his insomnia returns and he sinks further into the hot bath of psychosis, Nameless meets a wiseacre eco-radical anarchist (or the Hollywood equivalent) named Tyler Derden (Pitt). From there, the tales starts getting wiggy.

The two men form a bond by beating the crap out of one another. Some find this violence off-putting, but I found it refreshing because there were no guns, no faceless victims of bombs, no extras blowing up. Furthermore, these mano-a-mano bouts cast neither combatant as good or evil. The fights are for fighting's sake, to work out pain in the most experiential sense of the term, to process frustration through physical means. I really like that unlike most movie violence, this is not excused or bandied. It's not expressed in a desensitized way.

Now as we stand on the brink of war - or amid the first weeks of a new world war, depending on when you read this - it seems very difficult to remember that people are all just people. We place a mask on the faces of our enemies. We call them evil, say that their intentions are purely bad, that we have every right to kill them. But we don't know who they are. We don't ask their names or why they want to fight. We don't look into their histories or their desires. All we think about is that they are they and we are we. We desensitize ourselves to human death by pretending that this is a struggle of terror vs. freedom, when really it's just people killing people. The media feeds into our misconceptions, allowing us to typecast ourselves as paladins and our enemies as scum, when, really, all humans are really just humans. At our core, we all want basically the same things: to laugh and to cry and to live a little before it's time to day (to paraphrase singer Greg Brown).

No one spontaneously goes insane. No baby is born with hate in its soul (except in the movies). All hate and conflict is learned by growing up in this harsh world. If you live in the Western world, you get food, rest, money, opportunity. It's hard to imagine ever hating anyone, except maybe the person who takes your parking space. If, on the other hand, you are born into a war-torn nation, a third-world country where food is scarce; if you see family members killed; if you have to suck on leather to combat hunger pangs; if your church is a crater and your hospital a ruins; if your school is a shack and your home a hovel--and if you look across the world through its media to see people elsewhere owning multiple cars, eating more than their share of the world's food, supplying your neighboring countries with weapons that they use on you: then you learn hatred. You place a mask on your enemies so you can brainwash yourself into believing that killing is holy. You open yourself up to programming by people with personal vendettas and insane ideas of holy wars. But none of this happens when people's basic needs are met. Bombing Afghanistan with butter and bread is the best idea I've heard so far for combating terrorism. With a good meal in the belly, going on a suicide mission in order to get to those seventy heavenly virgins won't seem like such a good idea. With clothing and shelter and some stability in this life, people aren't as interested in getting themselves into the next one.

On both sides of this war, the combatants dehumanize the other, refusing to see faces, refusing to think about histories. This dehumanization is what causes violence to perpetuate more violence.

The violence in Fight Club is not this way at all. It's seeing the results of force, it's knowing the name of your sparring partner. It's forging a bond. It's practically love. Twisted though the film is; hard as it is to reconcile the huge central plot twist with the details of the story, this film gave me something I needed, a reiteration of a message that I agree with even though Hollywood does a shoddy job of walking the walk.

Fight Club is, of course, hypocritically Hollywoodian, dressing Pitt in thousand-dollar getups so he can rant against commodity culture. Worst is the incessant placement of Phillip Morris products. The logo appears, the name appears, and every character smokes and looks cool doing it. Apart from being a statement of disenfranchisement with our repressed, consumerist nation, Fight Club is also one big, fat, annoying tobacco ad. That's my biggest smoke-flavored beef with this film.

I can't tell if it's worth seeing. My experience was enjoyable enough to rate 9-1/2 stars. It might take your mind off of the world's problems. At any rate, there's definitely worse. And if you are deaf to cultural criticism, if you are a lumpen consumer drone, then getting the message in this medium may gently open a door for you. But you still have to go through: heightened awareness doesn't happen on this side. You won't get it from Hollywood or any mainstream media. Meanwhile, Peace. Gooden out.

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For your collection: Fight Club (DVD), Fight Club (VHS), Fight Club Soundtrack (Featuring Dust Brothers)

Gooden's listening to: X: Live at the Whiskey a Go-Go (with the fabulous Exene Cervenka)

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