15 years ago from today, a film came out and changed my life.
While it was released on October 15, 1999, I didn’t watch it until 2000. We had an illegal satellite dish in our house to get American TV stations and all of the movie channels. At some point, Fight Club came on. I watched it close to every day. Since it was on several movie stations for the first few weeks, it didn’t matter what chunks of it I last saw. I could always get back to around the same point. It soon dwindled down to one station and then none of the movie channels. That’s when I went ahead and purchased it. It was the second DVD I ever purchased. Nine Inch Nails: And All That Could Have Been was purchased when the only DVD player in the house was my dad’s DVD-ROM in the computer he built. Eventually, David Fincher films and Trent Reznor music became synonymous.
I used to call it my favourite film. Then it became one of my favourite films. Now it still sits in my top five of all time with great importance, but not the value it used to have.
“This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
I’m not going to spend my time running it down, which seems to be a common reaction of many cinephiles when they grow out of the nihilism messages. I’m not going to say I always saw more in the movie than most, but I will say that the movie missing in my collection compared to a lot of friends of mine who loved the same movies was Boondock Saints. Boondock Saints was that alarm for me that the person who loved Fight Club might not love it for the same reasons I did.
But as a teenager? The messages from the narrator made sense. The destruction of capitalism is still attractive to me today. The abandonment of commercial idealism and structure. When Tyler Durden demands the narrator explain to him what he’s done wrong in his life, it’s hard to come to a response. Was his life better? Absolutely. He was a god now. He wasn’t stuck in a lifestyle he was committed to but didn’t truly love. He was finding freedom in Fight Club. In Project Mayhem. Was it really so far? Did he have to shoot his mouth to kill the voice in his head that led him to power?
I ate that shit up. But I also recognized the failure of it all.
Brad Pitt was perfect as Tyler Durden because he presented perfection in a leader. A beautiful, statuesque man of charisma and ideals perfectly orchestrating the fall of the consumer and the rise of man (despite the fact that Brad Pitt is exactly the man consumer, mainstream society wants as their spokesperson). But most of the plans are completely stupid. It’s why Bob got shot. Their targets of commercial justice in the beginning are car dealerships and Blockbusters. Coffee shops and banquet halls. It’s petty crime. It isn’t going to change anything. And the plan to destroy credit card towers? It’s nice in theory but by 1999, computer networks were plentiful. It was clear the narrator only understood his computer enough to file his reports in. Tear down a couple of buildings and you might lose some printed information, but the debt in the country would stay exactly where it was. They were just terrorists. Petty ones at that.
I empathized with the narrator when he was finally realizing his mistakes, and the failure of the Fight Club initiative. Even as a high schooler mesmerized by Pitt’s charisma and Norton’s acting, I noticed how fucking silly it was that this guy was running in the middle of the street in his underwear with a housecoat and a gun. This was not a revolution.
The commentary had Pitt and Norton laughing at the recruits. I didn’t catch how them shaving their heads to become “space monkeys” was pretty much the ultimate transformation to skinhead Neo-Nazism, but my brain did. I didn’t want to be a space monkey or a member of a Fight Club, no matter how many times I watched. I did, however, want to always be introspective of my life. I never wanted the things I owned to own me. I always tried to take the good in the messages with the bad.
“Ah, flashback humour.”
Today, I watch Fight Club with a whole new perspective from when I watched it as a 15 year old. And like some of David Fincher’s finest films, it’s not so much about the message the director wants you to read but the message that’s open for you to read. This is why some feel that Fight Club has inspired a lot of ugliness in men. The heterosexual men who ask if a woman is really what they need. The men who feel they are 30 year old boys. The men who destroy because they fail at creating. The people unsatisfied with their office jobs and their flaming piles of shit. It leads to questions about whether or not the material in Fight Club is dangerous.
The material in Fight Club isn’t dangerous, but it can be dangerous. Like any good art, whether it be a movie, a song, a game or a sport, it’s the human interaction with the material that can be dangerous or beautiful. Fight Club in the hands of someone not ready to understand the material can lead to the warping of an unprepared mind. Fight Club in the hands of someone of everyone else is just a movie based on a book.
Back to Fincher. Fincher just directed a film called Gone Girl (skip if you do not want to be spoiled by major plotpoints) that released this year and is still in theatres as I type this. Gone Girl shares a lot in common with Fight Club in that perspective matters. If you go into the film with terrible pre-conceived notions about women, the real title of Gone Girl is going to be the reversal of the original title of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Women Who Hate Men. You’re going to see it as proof of “psycho women” holding men down with the threat of a newborn child, ready to put a man in jail and have him receive a lethal injection just for cheating on you and scrambling your life up a bit. This is a perspective a lot of people noticed and didn’t like the film, or feared for the reaction on the film. Not because they saw that, but because they feared others would. The perspective I saw, which I think a lot of people even with this theory missed, is that Ben Affleck’s character was more fucked up than Amy. Here’s a man who knows his wife just tried to frame him for murder and yet he still holds her in front of the cameras. He still showers with her covered in the blood of another man. The most he can muster is pushing her against a wall. He grumbles to his sister about what he has to do since she’s going to have his baby. That isn’t a simple flip on, “I can’t leave the one who hurts me” but right to the level of, “I can’t sleep because my wife might kill me, but hey! I’m going to assume I have no other choice because of THE MEDIA”. It’s a film that discusses the mental instability of people, especially when celebrity is involved, without beating it over your head. Fincher pulls it off because not only do we not see Affleck’s character as unstable, we have trouble ever seeing mental instability without It being spelled out.
Most people miss the mental instabilities in Fight Club.
“Okay, you are now firing a gun at your imaginary friend…”
I’ve read a lot of people discuss Fight Club and too often they ignore the fact that many of the characters involved are likely dealing with a cornucopia of mental disorders. Even when recognizing it’s a movie about a guy who talks to himself, they still talk about the character (and even the figment of his imagination!) like they are rational, mentally stable people making mentally stable decisions with merely broken rhetoric. Marla has severe issues. Bob has severe issues. The narrator is a complete basketcase and yet people discuss him and Tyler Durden like they were just you and I. It doesn’t surprise me since mental health awareness in North America is absolutely abysmal and we’re quicker to call someone stupid before we call them sick. The narrator throughout the entire film is in denial of his own mental instability. He goes to support groups for cancers and not psychological issues. Doing this he realizes that people actually listen to you instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. It’s with this he internally recognizes that if nobody is going to diagnose his mental schizophrenia he’s going to just run with it. His doctor doesn’t recognize his lack of sleep comes from mental issues? That’s fine. People want to start a club over him wrestling himself? That’s fine. People are ready to move into his house and make soap with him before pursuing acts of vandalism? It’s all fine. Why? Because nobody is noticing this guy has a serious psychological problem.
They just notice the power.
“I’m going to my cave and I’m going to find my power animal.”
David Fincher is very good at reminding folks of this. Notice the power. In The Social Network, even if Eduardo Saverin was positioned as a good guy though the Aaron Sorkin script and source material, we notice his lack of power throughout. He doesn’t crave it. He doesn’t desire it. Zuckerberg does. In Gone Girl, Amy has the power, even when she doesn’t, because her husband is weak to the media. In Fight Club, for all of the horrible rhetoric and mental imbalances throughout, that isn’t what attracts us to Tyler Durden. It’s his power.
It’s the only theme that is truly universal, regardless of who watches the film. Whether you still enjoy it, are embarrassed to say you once did or never liked it in the first place, it’s the power that drives this film. In the end, the narrator watches those credit card buildings fall with Marla Singer. He got everything he wanted, even if it took shooting himself in the face. Why? Because nobody noticed his problem. They only notice that in a movie about wasted potential and human sacrifice, it’s the men who think for themselves that end with the power to change the world.
Fight Club is pretty attractive to beginning objectivists.
Even recognizing how ugly it is and how many people miss the point, I still love Fight Club. I might love its themes more now than ever. It’s relevancy is striking in today’s era. What’s most interesting to me is that in 2014, this film couldn’t exist. Tyler Durden couldn’t exist. At least not in a bar he couldn’t. He’d have to be on 4chan and Reddit, explaining to disenfranchised men that society has failed them and it’s time to take down society. Instead of Project Mayhem taking baseball bats to dishes or threatening to snip the balls of their oppressors, it’s doxxing personal information from detractors and sending hashtags around Twitter to get people into their cause. All of the punches would be pulled in 2014 Fight Club. Project Mayhem wouldn’t be about dropping the debt to zero. It’d be about being noticed in a world that doesn’t notice them as much anymore. It’d be about standing out 99% of the time instead of the 93% today they deal with now.
In other words, the movie might be dated, but the space monkeys are real. Just as we recognized the weakness in our early perspective’s on Fight Club, so can we recognize the weakness in those who use the Internet as their personal Project Mayhem. Maybe it’s time that we recognize their mental problem before they do get power.