Friday, 21 October 2011

The Retrospective: Fight Club.

Fight Club poster.

SPOILER ALERT: This film has been out since 1999 so if you don't want things to be ruined, watch first then read this.

A film which went from not only a box office flop but being highly criticised for its violent content and linking it to the Columbine atrocity; it's weird how this became a cult classic and managed to have a lasting effect on society. Its timing was all wrong in an enraged western civilisation where they needed a reason for the violence in the world and what better to blame than the media outlets? Instead of blaming the people, the bullying and the family, they wanted to blame something higher up the pyramid and went for violent films, violent games and internet usage. It only made $8m more than the $63m budget and that doesn't include the advertising budget. It's also one of the best book-to-film adaptations where Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel, said that it was actually an improvement on his book.

The book starts like the film: at the end. The Narrator (Edward Norton) has a gun in his mouth and on the other side of that gun is  Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) as he counts down the minutes to an unknown conclusion. "This is it: ground zero." We have a monologue of The Narrator telling us about explosives and he knows this because Tyler knows this. As we're taken back to find out more about our protagonist, we find out that he's an insomniac. "With insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is far away; everything's a copy of a copy of a copy." This is where we see the first flash of Tyler Durden to impose the idea of him on us and sub-consciously manifest him in our heads which is a representation of how he was slowly spilling out into The Narrator's life. We know him because he knows him.

In between finding this out we see a flowing CGI shot through corporate names as he talks about "the Microsoft galaxy" and "planet Starbucks" which gives us some information on capitalism. He, then, joins these support groups to sleep, to weep, to reap the benefits from those who suffer from terminal illnesses. Each night is a different name, a different disease. That's what it is in the end, a terminal illness wrapped in a different name. We see him explore himself through crying with strangers and finding his power animal - a penguin. As Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) enters the picture - the testicular cancer group at first to be more specific - he loses sleep because while that phony is there ruining his holiday, his getaway from himself, he can't cry and thus cannot sleep. "Marla... the big tourist. Her lie reflected my lie." In his sleep deprived state we see more of the commercialism he surrounds himself with in his Ikea catalogue of a condo. His power animal has now morphed into Marla and she does not heal him at all.

As he surrounds himself with ill people, he's confronting how society doesn't care about anyone or anything except themselves, their lives and the money that they have. "When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you instead of  - instead of just waiting for their turn to speak." He loathes society and everything it represents with its norms and social conventions. He's dictated by these rather than his own morals and his own ideas. The visits to these support groups is a sort of stepping stone to more nihilism and more individualism in an attempt to break free of the corporate stranglehold. The deal that Marla and him make could be construed as some sort of allegory to his view on the corruption between corporations but that could be over-analysing it. At the end, why over analyse something when "this is your life and it's ending one minute at a time."

With his constant jet-setting, it's no wonder he's an insomniac with his constant change in time zones and with what he sees and does. Praying for a crash so something exciting would happen because of his lacklustre for life - he may want it to end or just some adrenaline. Through analysing a crash and calculating ("Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.") a form of corporate murder via the pattern of greed because of the expenses of recalls. Sometimes the genocide is just too much but only if it's more than X. This is where we meet Tyler Durden officially and they talk about their jobs, random axioms and social dilemmas. Living out of a suitcase has its problems and we find that out when that suitcase is lost. Living in condo which went from the fifteenth floor to the bottom floor also has its problems where his condo, his perfect Ikea condo, is now unmanageable. "The things that you own end up owning you." "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything" and that's exactly what happens to the poor Narrator.

Tyler Durden teaches us a little something about how cinemas work as he's a projectionist but with his knowledge comes a little a bit of concern about how something that seems innocuous and nothing to us and how, well, they could fuck with us. Through splicing porn into reels of films where it flashes so quickly that we don't see it but only register it. In the bar, he finds solace and a home in Tyler Durden; this is how the actual Fight Club begins. "Hit me" and The Narrator wearily obliges by punching him in the ear. Originally, Brad Pitt agreed to being punched in the shoulder but David Fincher walked over and told Edward Norton to punch him in the ear instead so Tyler Durden's reaction ("Why the ear!?") is Brad Pitt’s real reaction. This is where Fight Club begins as they scrap outside a bar on Saturday nights, slowly growing a crowd of spectators.

In Tyler's house on Paper Street, there are stacks and stacks of Reader's Digest magazines stacked upon each other throughout the entire house. A hermit's last ode to the world, his only legacy. Another insignificant soul in this unremarkable world where history is for the special. This is where our insomniac's monologue continually flicks and uses articles about organs written in first person and how to describe his moods he'll be some organ or just something ("I am Jack's raging bile duct"). We confront more problems in their lives and that's daddy issues. They're a generation raised by women, a raging bunch of hormones and scarred minds which violently lash out in a controlled environment to get rid of their testosterone. As men are naturally hunters but our food is already hunted for us, it builds up and there needs to be some sort of release and that's what Fight Club is for. It's all about the manipulation that society strangles us with in this deluded image that we are not animals and these rules need to be broken. They're slowly bringing their nihilism and semi-realism into their anarchistic idea of utopia.

This scene is iconic to everyone that has seen this film and became something iterated by the "all-singing, all-dancing, crap of the world" and how Tyler Durden became a household name and an idol. This scene is the first iteration of the rules. As you probably know, I'm breaking rule one and two by writing this piece. It became a catchphrase, a slogan, which is irony in itself. Then there's the satire of having Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden and of him mocking a Gucci model's body ("Self-improvement is masturbation. Now self-destruction...") when he stands up in the next cut completely cut. It's also some form of irony that a movie star of Brad Pitt's fame is the one berating all of the movie stars with all of their money.

After an attempted suicide, Tyler and Marla become acquainted and as he feels as though Marla took the support groups away and is now going to take Tyler away ("She invaded my support groups and now she's invading my home"). It feels like some sort of homoeroticism and denial of homosexual or bicuriousity from the jealousy of their relationship to using him as a father figure or a hero. Then there's the camerawork during the sex scenes that doesn't try to make it classy or make it something special, instead it shows us how animal-like it can be. In a contradiction to the Hollywood's usual "love making" scenes it makes it disorientated and wild with it being totally uninhabited as we hear only the music and see the camera fly around the bodies in a blur. Then there's the very dodgy line that shows that they are the trash of the world but only because of their scarred past. It's the "I haven't been fucked like that since Grade School" which is primary school, in case you didn't know. David Fincher was told to change one line in the script and that was the "I want to have your abortion" line but he agreed to this only if he wrote another line that couldn't be contested and that was the infamous line. The producer said no to it but there was already a deal in place. It needed to be twisted and dark because that's Marla's character and the tone of the film. It's a twisted perception of reality that makes you realise that the trickling down effect of a corporate pyramid might not be so great because as it trickles down it gets watered and sullied until - in words that Tyler Durden would be proud of - all that's left is the shit that you're too starving to say no to.

"Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

"The condom is the glass slipper of our generation" is another one of Marla's perverse thoughts with this reject trio; the forgotten few of the forgotten many. With this advancement of the mood-swinging Narrator we get what's called "Tyler's kiss" which is a chemical burn on the hand. This is one more step to hitting bottom - you hit bottom, you've got nothing to lose; it's officially risk-free that way. This is the progression from fighting behind a bar and his cure to insomnia and way of feeling good to something that is becoming bigger and bigger. The Narrator bumps into Big Bob in the street and learns that Fight Club is growing and he has no idea of it. As it grows, Tyler becomes their leader and he's known as their leader.  The Narrator has gone from leaving a mask of tears in Big Bob's bitch tits to fighting each other.

"This was mine and Tyler's gift." With his speech about the middle-men of history, Tyler Durden has become the Shepard to the lost generation and the CEO of Fight Club. Knowing his influence to the fatherless, he gives them a homework assignment in an attempt to enlighten more people but it's more of a recruiting agency. Tyler Durden is their god and their religion is becoming anarchy. This is the birth of Project Mayhem. Something that's supposed to teach us to not shit where we eat. They may be the white collared nothings but they have more power than we think. They're the ones that hand us our food, make our clothing, protect us and we should not mess with the order of things. With Tyler Durden looking at the camera, breaking the fourth wall that's usually in films and TV programmes, he consults us directly and is talking to the lower ring of people and as he tells us that we're nothing, it looks as if the projector is broken with a shaky reel that represents the instability of Tyler Durden's mind.

The true power of this film is that it has a lot of themes and a lot to learn from. It's about politics, society, mental illness, nihilism, realism, anarchy and even love. That's right, love. In the Afterword of the Vintage Film publication of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk rattles off  a list of things that his book - and film - have been called and it's a long list, at least two pages and his criticism of this is that no one called it what it also was: a love story - or to quote The Narrator in the book a "like" story. In the hands of other directors or other authors and writers, this would be hard to pull off. David Fincher pieces this together so not everything takes centre stage but also makes it so nothing else suffers. It's perfectly balanced in dealing with everything. That's also down to Chuck Palahniuk and Jim Uhls (as well as the uncredited Fincher, Norton and Pitt who helped a bit) and their way of focusing on so many things yet making them all so brilliantly significant yet irrelevant at the same time. It takes multiple viewings/readings of Fight Club to understand everything and to get every single detail of the film. All of these themes made it the cult classic. It has something that a lot of people can relate to even if it's the depressing feeling of nothingness and insignificance.

"I'd like to thank the Academy" but unfortunately Edward Norton never got a chance to even be considered to thank the Academy. Neither did Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, David Fincher nor Jim Uhls. With only one Oscar nomination (a technical one for sound which it lost) it was robbed at the Academy as well. Not only did the trio of performances deserve a nomination for their skilled portrayal of their demented characters but they deserved to win. I'd be able to live if they didn't get a win but David Fincher is one of the most talented directors working today. Before this he made Se7en, The Game and Alien 3. Since those he's made Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network which have all deserved some recognition for his talent. An accolade is needed and with his next project, a Hollywood remake of the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which came out in 2009, no one knows if it'll be as good, better or a shot-for-shot remake. With his creativity it's highly unlikely that it'll be a shot-for-shot remake but his recognition by the Academy is needed.

The film is anarchistic, nihilistic, angry, violent but it's more real than any other fabrication of common people. With this came hatred and with the taboo of violence became the cult following. People changed their names to Tyler Durden. People started Fight Clubs. People quoted it. People came forward about tampering with things in the service industry. In the Afterword in the same publication mentioned earlier, a waiter admits to a massive political figure eating his cum at least five times and that political figure was Margaret Thatcher. Fight Club became contagious after its second inception into culture with people doing more of what you see in the film and now knowing that these things happen. Fight Club did change society but it also made us more aware of society and the power of everyone. It seems David Fincher was thinking "I felt like destroying something beautiful" and that's what he did with the Hollywood film industry, with the world and with everything we know and perceive as reality. We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world and everything we see might not be what we think.