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Fight Club: hail to the Space Monkeys

posted by Paul on 4/09/01

Any movie which features grown men beating the snot out of each other is bound to provoke controversy. "Fight Club" is no different. Its levels of unflinching violence aren't gratuitous, though. And the movie isn't so much about physical fighting as the fight within man - that raging battle between the public self and the private hell. By now, most of you will have seen the movie. While it never lived up to commercial expectations, it's still considered an expertly crafted work and a visual treat. Directed by "Seven" hero, David Fincher, it featured pin-up, Brad Pitt, and acting man-god, Edward Norton. On paper, the prospect of these three movie giants collaborating on a bleak social satire sounded irresistible. And, in my opinion, they exceeded expectations.



"Fight Club" follows in the footsteps of provocative masterpieces like "Taxi Driver ". It features a lonely protagonist, occasionally referred to as "Jack" - a man unsure of his place in the world, and losing direction in his life. Battling against unremitting insomnia, succumbing to commercialism and working a banal job all present major problems in his life. He finds solace in group therapy sessions, and although he doesn't belong there, he becomes addicted to attending them. At the testicular cancer support group, he meets Bob. Bob is an effeminate man with large breasts, with a strong propensity to cry, who literally represents emasculated man.

It's most odd to see men try to talk about their problems in contemporary American cinema, but this seems to be a fair reflection of a shift in society. There are less taboos now, and people are advised to open up and talk about their feelings...However, "Fight Club" is a strange cross-breed of outlooks, because while it initially promotes masculine interaction, it later becomes an exhibition of knuckle dusting and Nazi-like agendas.

"DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB!" - Tyler Durden

To describe " Fight Club " in by the numbers terms does not do justice to its purpose. The plot is irrelevant and the twists are too absurd to explain. It's one of those movies that need to be savored, enjoyed for the stunning visuals and the hidden themes.

There are three principle characters in the movie, and each is a symbolic statement about society. "Jack" starts out as the traditional good guy, the person to whom the mainstream audience can relate most easily. But he grows fascinated by the therapeutic value of senseless violence, and other unconventional means of self-discovery. Tyler Durden is the charismatic leader of "Fight Club", a cultish ritual where repressed, emasculated men unload all their frustrations with clenched fists. Marla is the wedge between them, an emotionally disturbed woman who is hated by "Jack"and used as a sex-toy by Tyler. In a perverse way, she serves as an exaggeration of man's relationship with woman. That indefinable love-hate dynamic.

Narrator: "Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I've ever met. I have this thing, everything you get on a plane is single-serving..."
Tyler: "Oh, I get it. It's very clever. How's that working out for you?"
Narrator: "What?"
Tyler: "Being clever"


Tyler

Purpose in movie: David Koresh to socially frustated business types.
Memorable moments: Nearly getting killed by an angry fat man, whilst spitting streams of blood in his face.
Distinguishing traits: Sexiest man in the world. Also, he seems to enjoy wearing rubber gloves during sex. OOOKKK.
Most likely to say: "Do not talk about Fight Club."
Least likely to say: "Let's discuss Fight Club over a nice hot cup of cocoa. Just let me finish these dishes."

Jack

Purpose in movie: Initially, the good guy and lamb to the slaughter. Later, we discover there's something more sinister behind those baggy eyelids.
Memorable moments: Having his hand burned with Acid; kicking the shit out of himself whilst pretending it was the work of his hyper-critical boss; getting compensation based on his self-beating.
Distinguishing traits: Split personality; loves to torture his fragile psyche.
Most likely to say: "Who's Tyler Durden?"
Least likely to say: "I'm Tyler Durden."

Marla

Purpose in movie: Sex-toy. Representative of female "evil".
Memorable moments: Having floorboard-breaking sex with Tyler Durden.
Distinguishing traits: A fearless woman with a shaking dildo.
Most likely to say: "I haven't been fucked like that since kindergarten."
Least likely to say: "I just want to be cuddled. Let's watch "Bambi" and eat candy."



An analysis of the "Fight Club" Rules

"1. 1st rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club."

Fight Club is a unique underground movement, which attracts great interest due to its unique but simplified premise. It enables men to unleash their anxieties and return to their primitive roots, living up to the "real man" stereotype. Basically, the movie deals in one way or another with what it is to be a man. Now that we're living through postmodernism, many men feel emasculated and uncertain of their role. There are more and more unisex job descriptions, and very few jobs are distinguished by their sexual exclusivity. Women are even starting to venture into construction work, while an increasing number of men are pursuing careers in hairdressing and airlines (cough). On "Ally Mc Beal", they depict unisex bathrooms and liberal men discussing feminine issues. That notion might seem absurd now, but it could be a reality in the not so distant future. A rise in so-called "new age sensitive men" - men who are capable of sharing their emotions and relating to their female counterparts - is evidence of a shift in masculine identity. That's in stark contrast to the strong, silent type of previous eras. The so-called dominant male. "Fight Club" is, in many ways, a parable about becoming a man again. Of course, the film-makers would seem to think that man has to possess a physically dominant presence. That's reflected in the barbaric fighting, which makes the once indifferent "Jack" feel alive; and while he's actually getting physically crucified, his psyche is taking a positive kicking.

But that raises more questions than it answers. Can men only feel alive when they're engaged in bouts of brutality? What is it to be a man in this modern world of commercialism and vanity?


2nd RULE: "You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.".

Fight Club must remain top secret, if it is to succeed in its goals - perpetuating societal unrest whilst refusing to conform. Quite naturally, senseless displays of violence aren't very well received in U.S society, although we've all seen a proliferation in "gang culture". Looking deeper, gangs are just a representation of cultural dissatisfaction - a backlash against society's norms and mawkish values. As humans, we all must belong (that's a fact). Even if you think you're individualistic, opposing the dominant ideology, you can actually be categorized quite easily. There's a broad range of cliques. People who enjoy independent music usually dress accordingly. Wearing the colors, as it were. You have swingers, trekkies, hooligans and trainspotters. They all deviate from the norm, but they're by no means unique.

You think having pink hair and worshipping Satan makes you an individual? You're unique because you cause unrest?

Be sure to think again. Having said that, most cliques prefer to keep their activities disclosed. These sub-cultures are quite exclusive within themselves, but they are vital to society. The presentation of normalcy is often only a facade. There's really no such thing as "normal". It's a myth, invented by those wishing to impose control. Those who don't even follow their own rules.


3rd RULE: If someone says "stop" or goes limp, taps out the fight is over.

The popular view is that traditional masculinity is dying out. The physical torture evidenced in "Fight Club" is indicative of the mental torture many men endure. This movie reflects the male angst so widespread these days. Again, it raises some intriguing points. Is "Jack" better off as an inoffensive businessman, or is he a better man for contradicting the middle class style of living? Most men live happily working "regular" jobs, never waivering to primitive displays of violence and occasionally enjoying the company of the so-called fairer sex. But are they victims of society?


4th RULE: Only two guys to a fight.

Life is a competition. Survival of the fittest. We're all competing on some level - even a minimalist one. All trying to be number one. In this day and age, competition has only intensified. You have to have: the best car, the best job, and the best women. That is, if you want to feel "valuable". It's a commercial world, and so many people are biting the hook. "Fight Club", however, shows both ends of the spectrum; the man giving in to mindless consumerism, and the man sticking two fists up at society itself. It's difficult to ascertain which lifestyle is most beneficial to him. With one approach, you have an insecure, insomniac businessman. With the other, a raging split personality. Obviously, this is just an exaggeration of the consequences of adhering to both approaches, but the deeper points are there if you look for them. But this movie doesn't provide the answers, just the stimuli.

The Other rules

5th RULE: One fight at a time.

We must try to overcome our fellow man one at a time. When you look at millionaires like Bill Gates, you can appreciate the point here. Dominance takes a while to inititate, but the best dictators have started small.


6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.

This harks back to the primitive man point. Stripping the consumerist wares.


7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.
8th RULE: If this is your first night at FIGHT CLUB, you HAVE to fight.



Memorable scenes

Opening Scene: Fincher, throughout his body of work, has had a tendency to do strange things with his characters' heads. In "Alien 3", he shaved Sigourney Weaver's; in "Seven", he boxed Gwyneth Paltrow's; and in "The Game", he screwed with Michael Douglas'. It was only natural, then, that he'd have to take it on to the other level. Yes, "Fight Club" actually takes place solely in the narrator's head. To capture that nuance, Fincher began the movie with a CGI tour through the human cranium. Despite sounding like a juiced up biology video, it actually plays very well. There's something striking about an MTV-like spin through the mind followed by a scroll up the barrel of a gun. It's moments like that which make "Fight Club" great. So much style backed up by a sizeable amount of substance.

Entertainment Value: 3 broken noses out of 5.

"Jack" 's self-beating: If "Me, Myself and Irene" proved nothing else, it was that beating yourself into a bloody pulp is sure to raise the laugh track. In this hilarious scene, our humble narrator pounds himself repeatedly in the face and even resorts to launching himself backwards through a glass cabinet. This was, as you might presume, an act of a desperate man. But it also acted as a pretense to funding the Fight Club/Project Mayhem, because "Jack" received compensation for his beating (since it looked like the injuries were inflicted by his boss).

Entertainment Value: 5 black eyes out of 5.

The Fight Club "assignment" In an attempt to spread general chaos, the shadowy members of Fight Club are asked to start a fight with a random stranger. There follows a couple of hilarious moments where "Space Monkeys" are kept at bay by unwilling citizens. These scenes are as funny as they are true, since it's clear that in reality very few people enjoy conflict. Sure, people can talk about wanting to fight, but when faced with confrontation, they turn into jelly.

Entertainment Value: 4 cauliflower ears out of 5.



Above all, even if "Fight Club" does conclude rather abruptly and incomprehensibly, the sum of its parts make it a keeper. The direction is grittily fantastic, the acting is top-notch and there are deeper points at the core.

Are we nearing anarchy? Are our lives ending one minute at a time?

It is unquestionably dark, definitely brutal, but Fincher's flourishes don't revel in the violence. He simply presents it in his own idiosyncratic style. Some would say his flashy camera work borders on self-indulgence, but watching this movie you'll realize that there's a method at work. And that, as well as fantastical story, makes this movie every bit as relevant and controversial as "A Clockwork Orange".

And when you watch this movie more than once, you'll realize that many of the more anal critics were missing the point.

Paul
paul@whatever-dude.com

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