Friday, October 12, 2012
Fight Club (1999) Drama Psycho
Fight Club (1999) - Well I don't really know what to say about this film? A little personal history first, I had never seen this movie before this weekend. In fact I avoided it because so many male friends have said what a great movie it was. My thinking went like this: If it is really a guys movie than it is the macho testosterone filled bullshit of jocks and assholes and hey I don't need that. Never being either a jock or an asshole (mostly) I just didn't want to bother and then have to say to those guys that their favorite film sucked. Just the name kept me away, "Fight Club" the idea that grown men would get together to punch each others lights out was not something I wanted to see. Since I have seen and been in some real fights, strictly as a youth there was nothing noble or redeeming about it. It is an anxiety producing experience where if you come out the winner you hope you didn't kill the poor bastard and if you didn't win you wish the other guy stops before you are seriously damaged. There are no rules nor should there be, it is a last resort that (hopefully) ends a conflict you were too lazy or dumb to work out without violence. Of course this is the 48 year old me talking and not the 23 year old. I doubt without years of hindsight I would be smart enough to understand that violence only accomplishes pain, and the pride of success in a fight can be achieved just as simply by excelling in any other competition.
So sitting down with my obviously warped attitude about this film I was surprised that it was not just a fight club. Instead I saw a work of fiction about a man with mental illness who soured on the American Dream or lack there of, finding a way out of his hum drum life through his fight club. He also left all connection to reality behind ending up in a warped paramilitary of his own creation, with a crazy plan to strike back at the consumer society he sees as evil. The film is stylized and funny with moments of exhilaration and dread and really worth seeing.
The plot is about The Narrator (Ed Norton) an insomniac office worker for a major car company. He drones through life in a blur from day to week to month without any variation in his routine. The corporate world he works in is a routinized white collar sweat shop void of personality or hope of variation. The Narrator is a man without a life outside this sterile work environment which in the context of the film forces the viewer to buy into this film as a surreal fantasy or to be annoyed that it is not realistic. I recognized my opportunity and chose to treat the film like a fantasy, suspending disbelief for the remainder. If I didn't the fact that this man has no family, no friends or love interest prior to the start of the adventure would have annoyed the shit out of me. Even the most isolated functioning adult, has a coworker or two that they chat up. The biggest shut in still goes to the movies, reads books or plays video games has some interests that break up the days. In this case we have someone who doesn't and have to except this really hard to accept fact.
At the end of his rope he goes to the doctor for help sleeping and the doctor is not really willing to put him on medication. He says he needs healthy sleep not a drug induced stupor. As they talk about how tough the life the Narrator has, the doctor suggests some perspective. He encourages him to visit a support group for guys dealing with testicular cancer. Years before Lance Armstrong recovered from this disease and won the Tour de France bring hope to this group, we had support groups. Where guys can get together and mourn the loss of their manly parts in the company of others who have the same issues. Okay there still are support groups and testicular cancer and bike racers don't make it easier to deal with this life changing condition.
Spoiler!!!!!!! Can you spoil a 13 year old movie?
This scene with he doctor has an obvious flaw, intentional as it is; it is a mistake on director David Fincher's part. He slides in a single frame of the character Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) standing behind the doctor during the conversation. It is quick but noticeable and by doing so lets us all know that the character is not real but a figment of The Narrator's imagination. I get what he was doing, leaving clues, in this case the character of Tyler is a projectionist who splices single frames of pornography into the family films he shows. So the single frame reveal I am sure seemed very clever and people in the movie theaters probably went right by this without realizing it, but in today's age DVD you can't help but rewind and freeze frame on such a quirk. So a major plot point later revealed was ruined for me still though letting the story play out, it was not a real detriment to the film.
The support groups really help The Narrator and soon he gets to cry and feel better and is getting great sleep. He is also attending a bunch of different groups and life gives our anti hero a reprieve. Of course it would not be a movie if everything turned out well, besides it is early in the film so lets continue with the basic setup. While at one of his testicular cancer group, the Narrator notices a new member, a woman named Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). Obviously not a survivor of testicular cancer she is very much like The Narrator a "tourist" using the groups for some psychological mending. They eventually get together and decide to split days that they will attend the meeting. Why the Narrator can't accept the two of them at the same meetings is lost on me. He has this need to see himself as different than Marla even though they are both tourists at these meetings. There was this wonderful scene where Marla and the Narrator are arguing and she turns and walks right out into traffic, nothing hits her even though she fails to notice it exists. It is wonderfully done. It got me thinking that she may not be a real character but instead a figment of his imagination and that carried through for most of the film.
" This is your life and you're losing it one minute at a time."
The basic theme still hold through for our main character The Narrator, and his life of travel and routine again drives his soul into a dark place. We finally meet Tyler Durden on a late night flight and the Narrator is struck by his personality and takes his number at the end of the flight. When he returns to his perfectly manicured condo he sees it blown up. This after the foreshadowing of Durden talking about how easy it is to make napalm at home. It plays into my belief that Tyler is a fictional imaginary character that all this is the narrators mental break down. What the movie actually shows though is that after losing his condo, the Narrator moves in with Durden in a totally dilapidated building but not before having the fight outside the bar that starts the fight club. Ah the fight club, surprisingly not really what Fight Club is about. Sure it is how The Narrator finds his footing and then builds his network of support, but really not the main theme, but more a means to an end.
There are a couple themes that should be noted. First the idea that the corporate world is draining the life out of its employees. Sterile environments equal sterile lives, people who seek meaning in consumerism but don't really live. Now I don't know how true that is, even though I have been in the white collar world for more than a decade. It certainly is a first world problem when compared to the fight for survival in some third world countries. Also where the story focuses on a really damaged individual it is hard to see if everyone is experiencing his profound depression with the environment. Certainly the United States is a consumer society, but when it really comes down to it, this story is about a "have" instead of a "have not". His disengagement is possibly more his fault than that of society. His mental lapse comes from his failure to change his life; a choice we all have when we don't like how things are going. The Narrator is a man who is profoundly disturbed by the path in life he took and unfortunately for him his mental break although empowering to him is a failure and harmful to society as a whole. Like William "D-Fens" Foster in 1993's Falling Down, The Narrator is much more disturbed than we first think and because of it we see a more compelling story of his downfall.
A second less successful component to the story is the idea that the generation of men who grew up in the 70's did so fatherless. It is presented as a factor in why we of this age group can't cope with the societal pressures. The theme was not clearly connected in the film and although mentioned a couple times it. In the end I did not buy into that idea, but of course I grew up fatherless in the seventies so I may be biased.
As the popularity of Fight Club grows The Narrator seems to find his footing. His hygiene may not have improved but he did find his footing in letting go of the social structures. A pain in the ass at work he now shows a real disrespect to his boss and basically threatens him with exposure about the safety issues the car company ignores. He maneuvers his work so he does not even have to be in the office anymore. Instead he focuses most of his work on the road flying from city to city.
His friend Tyler and he are building something special with the fight club. Sometimes things seem to The Narrator to be getting out of hand. No longer does he think Tyler is doing it exactly how he wants it done. In fact it seems that Tyler is building an army of anarchists. Now not just the fight club but many as The Narrator meets guys he has never seen before who are in the club in another city. He also feels a bit out of control in that Tyler is seeing and having sex with Marla. He envisioned that for himself and is a bit jealous.
The army of soldiers grows with many moving into the house and developing weapons and explosives. It is project mayhem and The Narrator is not sure he wants his fight club to become this bigger thing. Of course when he asks about it he is told the first rule is Never ask about project Mayhem. He is flustered and has to confront Tyler about this giant expansion.
Now the big turn in the film is when The Narrator realizes that Tyler is not real or that he actually is Tyler and has been setting up Fight clubs across the country. He has been blacking out or as I like to calling having a complete psychological dis-associative episode. When he is asleep the Tyler personality come out and takes over. Flying around the country creating his secret society. Planning to strike at the heart of the consumer world by blowing up buildings that house credit card records. (I guess in 1999 the idea of off site backup was new?) Marla is real and he has been happily banging her for months without ever being aware of it. He really is powerless to stop his own plans by the time he is confronted by his mental illness. So the final scenes are riviting and fantastic at the same time.
Now I liked this movie, I am not into the machismo of it but get what the writer Jim Uhls from a book by Chuck Palahniuk is trying to do. The movie is a lot of fun where the nobody comes up in his dirge of a life and add a new rhythm. Even though he is totally off his rocker he creates something to break from the societal rules we all have to burden. Certainly with this review I break the first and second rules of fight club. I just hope no project Mayhem members are reading this blog. Or actually I should break that first rule too, What is project Mayhem? Who is in it? Buying plane ticket out of the country now.
Rating (7.5) 5.0 and up are recommended some more recommended than others.