Gentlemen, Welcome to Fight Club

 – for the wuc, working for the Man.

Fight Club, or a metaphor for cinema at century’s end.

Ok, I’ll admit it. I was wrong about Fight Club. It’s a better movie than I remember. It is at least as good and entertaining as David Fincher’s other good work, Se7en. It holds together. Like The Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects, the second watching has to hold against the knowledge of the revelation towards the end, which changes everything in the first watching. And for Fightclub, it does.

But this is not where I tell you about Fightclub itself. This is more a proposition of interpretation. (The stuff Susan Sontag said never to do. Yeah, whatever.) Others are possible, but this reading is mine now, so indulge me for argument’s sake.

I was struck how self-referential the film was. Ed Norton is not just the main character(s), he is also the narrator of the film. He tells us that the scene the film begins with has a story, and then goes back to not one, but two different points in time to tell it. The entire film is in fact that story, the lead up to the opening scene. This and other points of narration kept giving me the impression that the film knew it was being watched, that it is a film.

And then there are those moments at the beginning where the narrator stops the action, looks straight at the audience, breaking the fourth wall, and says “Let me tell you a little bit about Tyler Durden.” Naturally, Tyler, at this point only Brad Pitt, joins in, and faces the camera/audience himself. And what do they talk about? They tell you something about movies, cinemas, editing, the susceptible audience, and the sneaky way movies function.

That’s just the thing (here). The sneaky movies. Not that Fightclub lacks anxiety about the modern world, or that it’s suspicious of mainstream success (i.e. white collar jobs and middle class life), or that it’s worried about contemporary (American) masculinity. But on top of all of that, there is the anxiety of cinema.

Fightclub came out in 1999. Cinema had been around for about a century and by then had gone through a few phases. (The biggest changing points are perhaps sound and color?) There had been a few new waves and dark moments, but by the mid nineties, its own history had (blissfuly, as in Francis Fukuyama’s wet dream) ended. Not that there wouldn’t be new filmmakers, but they would rise through the cookie cutter mold of the big Hollywood studios, and produce predictable, bland, formulaic stuff.

Enter Tyler Durden. He is going to save Ed Norton’s nameless, lame, starched stiff character from the Man. This is the perfect subversion from the inside. Just like Tyler Durden never physically hurts anyone (but himself), and all his actions are designed to open eyes, reveal a true(r) nature, force people to look at themselves, show the world to itself (its constituents) – so the film is not a real destructive force against cinema, but only a fierce reminder that we have fallen asleep as audiences.

Tyler Durden is the independent filmmaker who will blow up his life, destroy his body, sacrifice his sanity for the sake of opening up some space for new expression, and wresting artistic cinema from the Man. Nowhere is this more evident than when he threatens the Korean store clerk with death unless he follows his own dream of becoming a vet: violently he forces the man to confront his own dreams, to find a way to be what he really wants to be (instead of a cog in a machine). When the store clerk is released and running away, Tyler yells after him “run Forrest, run!” Oh American cinema, you could have been so much more than Forrest Gump.

The thing is, along with (say) Kevin Smith, Kevin Nolan and the Wachowski brothers (whose Matrix also came out in 1999), at least for a time, it might have worked.

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2 Comments to “Gentlemen, Welcome to Fight Club”

  1. Very interesting take on the film. I never really considered that the film could be a commentary about modern filmmaking and not just about living in the real world. Thanks for the fresh perspective!

    • Thanks.
      It occurred to me after I had already posted that the soap can be interpreted in this vein as well. If you think of Fight Club as having a bunch of “typical Hollywood” themes, like undetected madness, middle class existential anxiety, freedom of the individual vs. obedience, etc., then the film is a recycling of these tropes and selling them back to us, much as they do with soap in the film. Soap of course also has the subversive connotation of clearing, washing away…
      At what point am I taking this too far, though?

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