I hesitate to call movies “profound” or “deep.” So often, in our pop culture-inundated world, movies that are supposedly “profound” and “deep” are not. Sure, they may have deep, philosophical undercurrents flowing between the frames or the characters may spout some ideology, but it’s lessened and cheapened by what actually goes on in the film. I find this same problem with Fight Club. Some people have called it one of the most invigorating (or dangerous, depending upon which side of the fence you’re one) films to emerge from Hollywood, and some have showered it with praise as being one of the defining films of a generation.
First off, let me say that the movie is nearly everything that people have made it out to be. It is disturbing, provocative, and violent. But it is also one of the few movies in recent memory where I was forced to look at the concepts and ideas behind the dialog and images. No one who watches Fight Club can ignore the impact that it makes. Whether or not that impact is the “voice of a generation” remains to be seen. But regardless of any deeper meaning one may find in the film, Fight Club is an imaginative and twisted ride through the underbelly of our society.
The movies revolves around a nameless narrator (Edward Norton) who refers to himself in the third-person as “Jack.” He’s a faceless cog in the corporate machine, working for an auto company doing recall estimates. Suffering from insomnia, he is unable to find any point to his life. However, that changes once he starts going to support groups for victims of testicular cancer, tuberculosis, brain parasites, and such. Through these groups, he is able to achieve a catharsis, to release the feelings that his “normal” life won’t allow him to. When people think he’s dying, he opens up, and he finds peace. Enter Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). Like Jack, she is a tourist, only she goes to these groups for more sadistic reasons. For Jack, her lie reflects his lie, and he’s back to square one.
Then he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), an anarchist who makes a living selling soap made from fat he steals from liposuction clinics. Durden is everything Jack wants to be, free from consumerism and materialism. After Jack discovers that his apartment has been blown up, he hangs out with Durden and they make a discovery. By fighting eachother, they can both achieve an emotional release, getting back in touch with violent urges that society has told them to ignore. Jack no longer feels placid and calm, but vital and strong. Soon, more disillusioned men are attracted to the fights, and Fight Club is born.
But Durden isn’t content. As it grows, he raises Fight Club to a new level, beginning “Project Mayhem.” The clubs become an army bent on subverting society and destroying its mindless materialism. But Jack grows disillusioned and detached from it all. Soon, he realizes that what began as an emotional response against a faceless society is becoming just that, another faceless society, only under Durden’s control. Struggling to escape and undo Project Mayhem’s damage, Jack begins to make a series of discoveries that threaten to unravel everything he’s believed.
If you’ve never seen the movie, I assure you that I’ve not spoiled anything for you. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing, all of which hold up with repeated viewings (if you feel so inclined). Directed by David Fincher (Seven, The Game), Fight Club is an innovative, stylish movie. It throws incredible special effects at you, and then breaks the traditional narrative as characters talk directly to the audience. But though it uses many MTV-esque tricks, this is not a neatly-wrapped film.
Many have labelled Fight Club perverse, brutal, even fascist. And after viewing the film several times, I can see where they’re coming from. But I think many of these people, however respected a film critic they may be, are missing many of the film’s points. The point of the film is not violence, be it against men or corporations. In fact, I was surprised how little I dwelt on the violence, but more so on the themes behind the film’s bloody façade (perhaps it’s a sign that I’m growing desensitized).
Men getting beaten to a bloody pulp is not the point of this movie. It is about violence, but not a glorification of it. This film is really no more violent than, say, Gladiator, but the violence is presented in a much more visceral, “in your face” manner, which is what makes it so unforgettable and disturbing to some. When one character gets beaten into a bloody pulp, the camera is right there in his face. You can feel bones and teeth breaking, you hear his blood splash onto the floor.
Fight Club looks at the violent urges that permeate our society. It’s about men who have never had strong father figures, who have grown up brainwashed into thinking that they will be wealthy and famous, only to find out that such promises were lies. Many of the traits associated with masculinity (aggression, strength, violence) have been instrumental in growing and shaping society. But society is now at the point where those characteristics are frowned upon and labelled “bad” and “criminal.” These traits have bubbled beneath the surface, until Fight Club comes along and acts as a pressure valve for those traits. As Jack says, “it was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. [We] just gave it a name.” Fight Club allows men to be who they want to be, strong, free, and unashamedly masculine, with the support and respect they never received from absent fathers or from a materialistic culture.
But therein lies the very problem I have with the film. It’s not the violence or the Anarchist Cookbook leanings that bother me, but rather the fact that no alternative is offered. Fight Club raises plenty of questions and Jack struggles to put things right, but even in the end, the movie seems hopeless. The movie ends on a somewhat positive note, though not in the way you’re thinking. But still, no questions have been answered, no problems really solved.
If I’m to label this movie (or any movie, for that matter) as “deep” or “profound,” I feel like some answer or alternative should’ve been offered. As Charles Colson pointed out, the movie goes a long way to pointing out what is wrong in society, but does very little in pointing out what needs to be done to set it right.
I do like the film, as do many of my friends. It is savagely funny, incredibly creative, and quite entertaining in places. In fact, when I told friends I had the DVD, immediately questions about a Fight Club party were raised (though no suggestion of pummeling eachother was made). In fact, if anyone watches this movie and gets the urge to start their own Fight Club, not only do they get what they deserve, but they’re a moron.
The movie does strike a chord with me; there is a certain amount of discontent within my gender and my generation. We all wanted to be rich and famous rockstars, but instead, dumb shmucks like Kid Rock waste away with the limelight. But I also hesitate to say this movie is a defining statement for my generation. If it is, then maybe there’s even less hope than I thought.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.