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Fight Club (1999) 
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
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My job in life, so far as I see it, is to prevent people from their tendency of going to the extremes and ignoring the middle ground. Did you ever notice how few things in life actually are binary, with no in-between? Almost nothing. Black and white aren't discrete opposites -- they're just the furthest extremes of grey. So I will defend Titanic to the death simply because people can't say "It was flawed but had its moments," they must declare it the worst movie of all time. If people suddenly decided Titanic was the best movie ever, I would instantly change my tune and point out its numerous problems. Because Titanic isn't great or terrible. It's somewhere in between.


I don't have a problem with absolute love for a movie. The reason behind the love is what I care about. If Fight Club really grabs/enthralls/entertains/moves you, great. What I do have a problem with, however, is when love for a film becomes reverential. I detest nothing more than to see people in complete, blindsided awe of a movie. I hate to see people in awe of anything, actually. I dunno quite how to explain it, but I just see it as somehow a phony emotion. That's why I'm not a huge fan of the tone of moments in Jurassic Park. Spielberg's best movies are when he avoids that. Anyway, don't mean to derail the thread. Just wanted to respond to this point and throw in my 2 cents about responding to movie opinions.


Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:40 am
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
Ken wrote:
To boil your question down to a similar one asked by David Bordwell, "Yes, but what is the commentary?"


Ken wrote:
I'm not going to boil Fight Club's meaning down to a high school lit crit summation (e.g. "Fight Club is about recovering lost masculinity" or "Fight Club is a satire on men who try to be manly in a time when they're no longer required to be") because I don't think it can be. I think it would be a worse movie if it could be. I think that's what a lot of people expect, given that Tyler initially appears to be the protagonist's spirit guide out of his existential funk. The movie quickly subverts this idea. Maybe that's why it doesn't sit well with some viewers.


I think your final paragraph is a bit of a cop out, Ken. You can try to downplay what you call "a high school lit crit summation", but if the movie is a commentary on something, it's completely fair to ask what it's a commentary on. Calling it a "portrayal of masculine anxiety" doesn't really explain what that comment is any more than calling something like The Wild Bunch "a look at violence" explains what that movie is about. Neither of those is a stance, despite being what each movie is about, to an extent. The movie isn't simplistic by any means, and you're right in saying that it doesn't offer up easy solutions to the characters' problems, by the film's commentary lies in the existence of those problems in the first place.

JJoshay wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
Not to play the role of curmudgeon, but I don't think Fight Club is great or even very good. I love its first 20 minutes, but I find the social satire exceptionally muddled

Men are losing their identity to their possessions...so let's go join a faceless underground army?

and I've never seen the purpose of the main twist, other than the fact that twists are fun. The performances are indeed good, but you're kidding with Bonham-Carter cast "against type" as a hag, right? That's like saying Helen Mirren is cast against type as an aging sexpot...


Thank you for pointing out the Bonham-Carter not being cast against type, because I didn't understand where that comment came from.


You guys realize Jeremy qualified his statement by pointing out that in 1999 she wasn't known for those kinds of roles yet, right? I don't see how you can blatantly ignore his defense when, you know, he's right. She later went on to play many roles of similar ilk, but in 1999 she was more known as a British period piece actress, so Jeremy's statement is 100% accurate.

JJoshay wrote:
And the film is not about men losing their identity to consumerism. Palahniuk's initial inspiration that sparked the foundation for Fight Club (one of those fun details you can pick up word of mouth from living in his home town, most people around Portland have met of know someone who has met Palahniuk) was from watching a gay mens underground fighting match, perhaps the de facto end-all be-all of metaphors concerning men fighting against a culture consistently working against their base nature. Fight Club isn't about the consumerism as much as consumerism is a device to approach a generation of men fighting for the machismo and masculinity ever consistently being denied to them. Tyler is simultaneously everything you wanted to be, everything you were told you should be and, better yet, everything else you were told you shouldn't be. He's smooth, enigmatic and resourceful, he's hot, stylish and fuckable, and he's narcissistic, accomplished and has nothing to compensate for. Fight Club's first twenty minutes are brilliant satire, but the film remains a brilliant satire because follows its satire through to an end point where perhaps our problems with society should approached with a better understanding of what we have and where we've already ended up. We're stuck in a constant tug and pull of society/culture versus man and more specifically his base nature, and we should learn the value of not allowing or forcing society/culture to bow out of the fight.


As for this, I agree completely. The movie's about man's struggle for individuality in a culture that, for the most part, forces one to compromise (hey, a high school lit crit summation!). The movie shows the two opposite ends of the spectrum - Tyler Durden's fiercely independent, alluring persona that's basically all raging id, and The Narrator's compromised, Ikea furniture-loving, dull persona. The twist at the end is there to show us that this struggle is being waged within a single person.

Kunz made mention of finding a middle ground in an earlier post and I think that's pretty much what the movie advocates. Neither main character, or neither half of the single main character if you want to be more accurate, is really someone you want to be. Either way of life will drive you insane, as the film shows. My biggest beef with the movie is that it doesn't ever bother with showing the advantages of The Narrator's lifestyle. It satirizes it wonderfully, and it successfully glorifies Durden's lifestyle before subverting the idea and showing it's less becoming side, but it doesn't bother with showing why someone would want to live like The Narrator in the first place. There's value in becoming a contributing member of society, especially as you get older and take on more responsibilities (mainly, starting a family, which is something the movie only very slightly touches on with Bonham-Carter's character). Sacrificing some individuality is completely necessary in order to be able to take on those responsibilities. Instead, I think the movie focuses a little too much on being cool. Naturally, the movie is something that's going to appeal to a younger generation because of how Durden is initially portrayed, and by showing the two extremes of this struggle it's tough to fit it into any real world dichotomy, but it manages to pull of the Durden character much more effectively than The Narrator character.

I think it's a good, worthy, ambitious movie that falls a bit short of greatness. It's also something that, at 19 or 20, will likely make someone really appreciate film.


Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:52 am
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
I see your point about, Pete. but the narrator isn't anything like close to starting a family. And this is aknowledged as perhaps part of the issue. In one scene he actually expresses that he is a "30 year old boy". I think one theme of the film is the permanent adolecence forced on men through conformity.


Where they were once under the whip of their Mothers, or God; they now under the the whip of consumerism and the fear of "not being complete". Tyler also uses the term "the middle children of history", implying that a lack of higher-purpose has robbed them of their adulthood. And we all know that it is experience and not a mere accumilation of years that forces us to grow up.

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Wed Dec 12, 2012 11:23 am
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
NotHughGrant wrote:
I see your point about, Pete. but the narrator isn't anything like close to starting a family. And this is aknowledged as perhaps part of the issue. In one scene he actually expresses that he is a "30 year old boy". I think one theme of the film is the permanent adolecence forced on men through conformity.


Well yeah, I acknowledged that. It's one of the faults I see with the movie - it concentrates too much on glorifying Durden's unattainable ideal, then subsequently showing why it's unattainable, and not enough time giving The Narrator any kind of personality other than the cliche, dull conformist. I'm not saying the movie is interested in why Norton's character is the way he is, just that there's value in being that way. The movie seems to know this, despite not being able, or willing, to articulate it.

Basically the movie shows two poles, one complete with advantages and disadvantages, and the other only the disadvantages.


NotHughGrant wrote:
Where they were once under the whip of their Mothers, or God; they now under the the whip of consumerism and the fear of "not being complete". Tyler also uses the term "the middle children of history", implying that a lack of higher-purpose has robbed them of their adulthood. And we all know that it is experience and not a mere accumilation of years that forces us to grow up.


I think this is more part of showing the lure of Tyler Durden and his way of life than it is the film siding with what he's saying. He gets to look great, act as if he's free from the constraints of society, and spout off all these terrific little speeches, but in the end his way of life drives him just as insane as The Narrator's does him. You can't live and function in a society with either extreme. I think that's the overall point the film makes - the struggle for a sense of self is a give and take relationship. You have to subject yourself to society just as much as you have to remove yourself from it.


Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:12 pm
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
PeachyPete wrote:
I think your final paragraph is a bit of a cop out, Ken. You can try to downplay what you call "a high school lit crit summation", but if the movie is a commentary on something, it's completely fair to ask what it's a commentary on. Calling it a "portrayal of masculine anxiety" doesn't really explain what that comment is any more than calling something like The Wild Bunch "a look at violence" explains what that movie is about. Neither of those is a stance, despite being what each movie is about, to an extent. The movie isn't simplistic by any means, and you're right in saying that it doesn't offer up easy solutions to the characters' problems, by the film's commentary lies in the existence of those problems in the first place.

I'm not avoiding trying to elucidate what the film is about. I'm cautioning against the notion that a film has to be about one thing and that criticism is an exercise in figuring out that one thing.

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Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:45 pm
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
Ken wrote:
PeachyPete wrote:
I think your final paragraph is a bit of a cop out, Ken. You can try to downplay what you call "a high school lit crit summation", but if the movie is a commentary on something, it's completely fair to ask what it's a commentary on. Calling it a "portrayal of masculine anxiety" doesn't really explain what that comment is any more than calling something like The Wild Bunch "a look at violence" explains what that movie is about. Neither of those is a stance, despite being what each movie is about, to an extent. The movie isn't simplistic by any means, and you're right in saying that it doesn't offer up easy solutions to the characters' problems, by the film's commentary lies in the existence of those problems in the first place.

I'm not avoiding trying to elucidate what the film is about. I'm cautioning against the notion that a film has to be about one thing and that criticism is an exercise in figuring out that one thing.


I think Fight Club is pretty clear, in general terms, what it's a commentary on (the emasculation of masculine identity caused by modern society). Although this certainly could be expanded upon, this is in broad terms what the film is about. You can talk about how it's a critique of mindless consumerism or the dangers of conformity/fundamentalism as well. But the point is, there isn't really any debate or uncertainity or lack of clarity regarding *what* the film is commenting on.

It's conclusions, or what it's trying to say specifically *about* this issue is not so easily eluded to, mostly because the filmmakers and author never try and wrap the main themes up in a nice little bow and hand deliver them to the audience the way most films would. I think this is one of the films (and books) greatest strengths. A lot of people have problems with this because they like things spelled out to them in simplistic terms while chowing down on their popcorn. A lot of intelligent reviewers that I have lot of respect for (Ebert) didn't like this film, because as Ebert put it, he was afraid that people would come to the "wrong" conclusions about what the film was trying to say. This really isn't possible because the film does in fact leave itself open to interpretation.

Many typical filmgoers tend to reject films with ambiguous plots, but beware the wrath reserved for those filmmakers who dare to put forth ambiguous thematic material.
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Wed Dec 12, 2012 2:17 pm
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
PeachyPete wrote:
[
Well yeah, I acknowledged that. It's one of the faults I see with the movie - it concentrates too much on glorifying Durden's unattainable ideal, then subsequently showing why it's unattainable, and not enough time giving The Narrator any kind of personality other than the cliche, dull conformist. I'm not saying the movie is interested in why Norton's character is the way he is, just that there's value in being that way. The movie seems to know this, despite not being able, or willing, to articulate it.

Basically the movie shows two poles, one complete with advantages and disadvantages, and the other only the disadvantages.


It's a social satire though, Pete. It's never going to start celebrating the narrator's Ikea lifestyle. That defeats the general purpose of a film that is clearly an attack on the established wisdom that possessions maketh the man.


Quote:
I think this is more part of showing the lure of Tyler Durden and his way of life than it is the film siding with what he's saying. He gets to look great, act as if he's free from the constraints of society, and spout off all these terrific little speeches, but in the end his way of life drives him just as insane as The Narrator's does him. You can't live and function in a society with either extreme. I think that's the overall point the film makes - the struggle for a sense of self is a give and take relationship. You have to subject yourself to society just as much as you have to remove yourself from it.


Well this kind of does credit the narrator's old life by implication. Like you say, completely becoming Tyler would end in disaster. And his lifestyle is hardly glamourised once he's turned. If there is one message in Fight Club*, then perhaps it's "don't live like an anarchist, terrorist group; but at the same time don't ever be owned by sticks of furniture". Both the narrator's and Tyler's view on life are wrong when taken to their logical conclusion, but the narrator had to see Tyler's side of the argument to find a middle-ground.


*although I am loathed to turning this film into one trite message. Chill out, Ken :D

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Fri Dec 14, 2012 5:18 am
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
NotHughGrant wrote:
It's a social satire though, Pete. It's never going to start celebrating the narrator's Ikea lifestyle. That defeats the general purpose of a film that is clearly an attack on the established wisdom that possessions maketh the man.


I think that's a part of what the movie is about, but I also think it's quite a disservice to the film's ideas to say that's all it has to offer. You go on to essentially agree with my reading of the film (that it's about finding a middle ground in the stuggle of individual vs. society), so it's a bit unfair to also categorize the movie as just an anti-consumerism piece. Again, that's a part of the picture, but I definitely wouldn't call it the film's general purpose. The film clearly doesn't come down on Durden's side, so we shouldn't be treating his rantings, however captivating they are, as gospel.

NotHughGrant wrote:
Well this kind of does credit the narrator's old life by implication. Like you say, completely becoming Tyler would end in disaster. And his lifestyle is hardly glamourised once he's turned. If there is one message in Fight Club*, then perhaps it's "don't live like an anarchist, terrorist group; but at the same time don't ever be owned by sticks of furniture". Both the narrator's and Tyler's view on life are wrong when taken to their logical conclusion, but the narrator had to see Tyler's side of the argument to find a middle-ground.


I'm not so sure it does. What middle ground is there to find if The Narrator is nothing but a dull conformist and Tyler Durden is a psychopath? There's nothing good about not wanting to be two awful things. There's just un-awfulness.


Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:33 am
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
Pete -

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I think that's a part of what the movie is about, but I also think it's quite a disservice to the film's ideas to say that's all it has to offer. You go on to essentially agree with my reading of the film (that it's about finding a middle ground in the stuggle of individual vs. society), so it's a bit unfair to also categorize the movie as just an anti-consumerism piece. Again, that's a part of the picture, but I definitely wouldn't call it the film's general purpose. The film clearly doesn't come down on Durden's side, so we shouldn't be treating his rantings, however captivating they are, as gospel.


What I'm saying is that the default position of the narrator is the consumer living his bland, meaningless consumer life. Although this is down to his inner lonliness and lack of companionship too. The first 25 minutes of the film methodically tells us this. His journey is his journey away from the default position. I don't see where a quiet nod to the better elements of the consumerist life would fit in the film.


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I'm not so sure it does. What middle ground is there to find if The Narrator is nothing but a dull conformist and Tyler Durden is a psychopath? There's nothing good about not wanting to be two awful things. There's just un-awfulness.


It's a fair question, I'd say the middlegound (or as close as damned to it this film comes) is perhaps in Tyler's early days when he, as a producer and retailer of his own product, is still a member of society on some level. Perhaps this is where the brakes could have been put on. Involved in society enough to benefit, but distanced enough to not take all the shit. But the narrator, like all depressed people, recognises only extremes.

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Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:42 am
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
NotHughGrant wrote:
What I'm saying is that the default position of the narrator is the consumer living his bland, meaningless consumer life. Although this is down to his inner lonliness and lack of companionship too. The first 25 minutes of the film methodically tells us this. His journey is his journey away from the default position. I don't see where a quiet nod to the better elements of the consumerist life would fit in the film.


Well, The Narrator is already living an extreme, and the movie does a great job of showing the negatives associated with both extremes. That's really all the film is interested in, and it makes this point well. I don't mean that the movie should show the advantages of living life as The Narrator lives it, because there's as much value in that as living the way Durden is currently living. I just don't like that Norton's character is nothing but a walking cliche.

I guess you can say that by showing the lure of Durden's lifestyle, then condemning the extremeness of it, and contrasting that with The Narrator's initial extreme ways, the movie implies that he's off the find that middle ground. In that way, the movie is a lot like a coming of age story where The Narrator graduates into adulthood and realizes how the world actually works. Maybe coming of age is a poor term, but there's definitely a maturation process taking place within the main character. Angry, cynical youth collides with disillusioned adulthood to produce a more well-adjusted person.


Fri Dec 14, 2012 10:40 am
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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
Agreed.

Hence the happy ending. Perhaps the narrator lived through what is essentially an extreme version of merely growing up. But growing up in the proper, individual, enlightened sense.

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Post Re: Fight Club (1999)
I remember disliking the last act the first time I saw it, but it's now one of my favorite films.

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