“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.”
When people learn about my love of movies they always ask the inevitable question “what’s your favourite film?”. The truth, I love films too much to narrow it down to one or even a few, but that isn’t good enough. People want to know what I love in order to agree and justify their own favourites, or disagree the way we all ridicule sporting pundits on TV. So what do I do? I give people two or three of my favourites; usually a few classics like Some Like it Hot and Casablanca coupled with something more recent, Fight Club. More recently I have added Oldboy and Pans Labyrinth to the rotation but the film I want to talk about is Fight Club.
As a motion picture it remains a masterpiece, but it has become something else. Where it could have become dated and irrelevant, but it has become something different, it has a marker point in history. It isn’t a social realist statement, it isn’t a historical document, it is more a satirical look at the lost and disillusioned feeling as the century drew to a close. The hope and dreams of the mid 90’s Britpop era was losing its lustre. It wasn’t like the Watergate, Altamont, Manson Family end to the 60’s. It was a time when the bubble of superficiality was about to burst. A time without direction or meaning.
But then things changed. Tyler Durden tells us that “we are the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place” he bemoans the lack of a great war or great depression. But two years later the event that defined our generation happened, the terrorist attacks and the wars that followed will forever overshadow the our generation. But the question lingers, has the unthinkable become so commonplace that it is the new norm? The once highly anticipated and Chilcot Inquiry seems to have been forgotten or at least overshadowed in the mess of Brexit and the leadership struggles within our main political parties. But then Fight Club wasn’t foreseeing the terrorist atrocities or the wars that will follow, it wasn’t even a call to arms to the disillusioned, it was just a mirror on society telling us that there was something wrong and something had to give. The financial crash/crisis of 2008 was the inevitable outcome of the generation described “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
So what followed? what are the movies that have defined the era that Fight Club? Kathryn Bigelow is responsible for the two most obvious films of the era, The Hurt Locker (2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). The best depictions of the financial crisis came from J. C. Chandor, Margin Call (2012) and Adam McKay, The Big Short (2015). But there is more to it than war and recession. Alfonso Cuarn asked us to explore what it is to be human in Children of Men (2006), Joel & Ethan Coen did something very similar but in a very different way in No Country for Old Men (2007). Park Chan-wook taught us about vengeance in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005). Christopher Nolan explored the despair of the time in The Dark Knight (2008) while Richard Linklater gave us hope in Before Sunset (2004) and Boyhood (2014), Sofia Coppola gave us both despair and hope with Lost in Translation (2003). As a body of work Clint Eastwood, despite a few missteps (Hereafter (2010), J. Edgar (2011), Jersey Boys 2014)) probably offers the best overview of the era with: Letters from Iwo Jima & Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Mystic River (2003), Changeling (2008), Gran Torino (2008) and American Sniper (2014).
So where does this leave Fight Club? If we are not already there, we will soon be at a place where we can enjoy David Fincher’s masterpiece as just a film without the weight or shadow of history to distract or detract. If you haven’t seen it recently take a look and remind yourself just how great it is.