Archive for July 4th, 2019

tyler durden

I first saw fight club on its cinematic release 20 years ago, Like so many of my generation it spoke to me.  Tyler Durden’s speech above was at the heart of this; “We have no Great War. No Great Depression”.  I didn’t desire any great hardship, but could see the stupidity of the IKEA, Gap, Starbucks generation that I was a fully paid-up member of.  I had grown up in the 1980’s and had seen a generation of Hollywood filmmakers trying to understand and come to terms with the Vietnam war. Many movies of this time retold and re-fought the war, both visually and metaphorically. Films like First blood, and platoon showed us the true tragedy of Vietnam not just the futility of the war, but the treatment of those who came home.  fight club poster

I remember at the time people suggesting the film was misogynist, or at least anti-feminist.  At most it was a reaction to the political correctness and supposed caring shaming ideas of the 90’s.  I believe the Daily Mail even called it Monstrous!  I don’t think back in 1999 I had heard the expression toxic masculinity, but have since heard it used as a stick with which to beat Fight Club.  Before the introduction of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), Edward Norton’s character, the unnamed Narrator is suffering from insomnia.  When he tells his doctor that he is in pain, a plea for a magic drug to solve all his problems, he is told to visit a self help group for men with testicular cancer.  He is then able to feel better about himself by experiencing those who are worse off than him.  Is this any different to what we, the viewer get out of many movies?  This is the real starting point of the film, this is where we, and Norton first meet Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter).  Norton’s character is incapable of forming any form of relationship with Marla, either platonic or sexual.  He is not a man who hates woman, he is a man who doesn’t understand women, is possibly even a man who scared of woman.   Unlike the other members of the support group, he has his testicalls, physically at least!  Is it a film about men afraid of losing their balls, or trying to find them?  Or, is Fight Club actually a just romcom? More on that later?fight club marla singer

There is an argument that the things that Tyler Durden is fighting against are the things that emasculates me, and yet the final images of the film see his alter-ego The Narrator losing his identity.  He is stood with his back to us without trousers hand in hand with Marla Singer, the pair looking largely the same from behind.  All this just a few moments after he has “killed” Tyler Durden, his masculine ideal image of himself.  But Norton’s character hasn’t had these things taken away from him, he has given them up, potentially given them up for Marla.  This goes back to the idea that Fight Club is a romcom; the plot of every romcom. Act One: Boy meets girl.  Act Two: Boy does something stupid and loses girl. Act Three: Boy gives something up to get girls back.  It’s not a million miles from the plot of Fight Club!fight-club-ending

Be careful what you wish for!  Two years after the release of Fight Club the world changed and would never be the same again.  Following the events of September 11th 2001, our generation had its war.  And it was a war so complicated and controversial it made Vietnam look like simple and straightforward.   Suddenly the carefree 90’s looked kind of appealing.  When I watched Fight Club around this time, I still loved it, it is after all a supremely well made film representing a career high for its stars, and its director.  It is also devastatingly funny, far funnier than most comedies of the time.  But it didn’t have the same impact, the acts of terrorism, which Project Mayhem ultimately is,  suddenly doesn’t sit as comfortably.    But Fight Club is still a satire, it just doesn’t feel quite so relevant.  But then it has found new relevance in time.  Since the credit crisis and recession that followed, we have heard politicians talking about the “squeezed middle”, the middle classes that supposedly feel recent society has forgotten. fight club

Is there an ultimate and overriding meaning to the film?  The themes of crisis of masculinity, and a rejection of consumerist culture are clear.  A response to the feminization of America is less clear cut, but could be argued.  I have never quite got the exploration of the rise of European fascism, however there is an argument.  What happened after the film ended?  We know from the events of the film that Project Mayhem cells had formed in cities across the US.  Were other building destroyed that night, and was this the start or the conclusion of Project Mayhem?

So how do I feel about Fight Club twenty years on?  For a few years it was in my top three favourite films of all time.  It has slipped out of that place in the past ten years, but if I sat down to work it out, it would probably still find a place in my top ten.  I can understand the problem its critics have  with the themes of the film, or in some cases their perception of them.  But, I can’t see beyond how brilliant Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter are.  David Fincher’s direction is sublime, walking a fine line between unflinching brilliance and unacceptable.  Chan-wook Park is the only other director working today that I know of who could make such an uncompromising movie.  I have read Chuck Palahniuk’s source novel; while he can be credited for the story, Fincher and the cast bring so much more, not least the comedy.  It was the perfect movie for the end of the millennium, with age the cracks are starting to show, but like a great work of art, these cracks im some ways make it a richer experience than the perceived perfection of two decades ago.   

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