Classic Crunch: The Psychosis Of Fight Club

June 10, 2007

The first rule of Fight Club is: Do not dare criticise Fight Club.

Some films create such a skillful illusion of capturing the zeitgeist and/or raging against the machine that any shortcomings are easily forgiven for the sake of ‘artistic merit’. To explain this further, take the inexplicably interminable sitcom sewage that is ‘Two Pints Of Lager & A Packet Of Crisps’, a grossly misguided attempt to draw humour from the image of contemporary youth culture. And guess what? They got it right. Millions tuned in to ‘enjoy’ gags more predictable than Mother Teresa’s menstrual cycle, and it’s now been running for longer than Forrest Gump. Is it the sparkling intellectual dialogue? The ingeniously constructed plotlines? No, it’s because people are stupid. It’s something we’re far too PC to admit this side of the millenium, but the facts are inescapable- ‘Two Pints…’ is comedy BY the dumb, FOR the dumb. As a member of this alleged wild, fun-loving youth bracket, I for one refuse to be represented by the kind of lazy, uneducated sexist chavsters that populate this grotesque world- at least in comedy form anyway. Why not try playing ‘Insert your own drink/dole/genitalia-related punch-line before the end of the gag’ game next time you watch. I bet you’ll win. Sadly, however much I slander it, the monster will not go back to the swamp, or become any less popular with its unfathomable target audience.

 That said, we return to David Fincher’s ambitious 1999 adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s seemingly un-adaptable novel. A story hashed together from observations, conversations and themes that happened to occupy the minds of Chuck and his friends on a given day. Perhaps hindsight and 8 years of imitations and media history validates this argument more effectively than on its release, but the themes of unattainable lifestyle standards imposed by advertising and the ‘longing for fathers’ just scream pretentious, however smartly handled or visually enhanced they may be. And yes, there’s no denying that Fight Club is a masterpiece of filmmaking on aesthetic grounds- the set-pieces are works of logistical genius, the photography inspired (the Ikea pseudo-commercial and the office sequence are highlights in this respect)- but this only serves to guiltily wrap up the shameless moral force-feeding in shiny coloured paper. In the most simple terms, it takes itself far too seriously. It’s as much a work of provocative importance as Jade Goody is a celebrity. There’s no denying she is one, but no one is really able to explain why.

Tyler Durden offers us the dilemma: ‘self-improvement is masturbation’. Fair enough. And the foolproof solution to this human flaw? ‘Self-destruction might be the answer’. Great. That’s the equivalent of a rich little school-girl tearing strategically fashionable holes in her new uniform just to spite mummy and daddy. Nothing new. Just everyday, overwrought teenage rebellion. What’s more, the face of this attack on the perpetuation of media stereotypes and the idealistic body beautiful? Brad Pitt. Is it dirty and controversial or pointless and pretty they’re really trying to acheive? It’s the actual message of  Fight Club no one seems to be able to nail, as much as they may drool over its execution of such intentions.

“A witless mishmash of whiny, infantile philosophizing and bone-crunching violence that actually thinks it’s saying something of significance.” Kenneth Turan, L.A Times 

Cosidering the film’s universal success stories as well as in the US, what forbidden fruits did Fight Club serve up for youth culture that caused such a stir? Was the stir in fact simply a reaction to the gratuitious exploitation of sex, violence and general ‘bad’ behaviour through intense visual styles, rather than in response to a deep-rooted deconstruction of the modern male psyche? All we know for sure is that it looks damn cool. But we all love to love Pulp Fiction for this very reason, yet Tarantino doesn’t need to arse around with ‘infantile philosophising’ to impress- it’s all just a bit of fun. And that’s where Fight Club fundamentally fails, while still managing to earn itself a similar status in pop culture.

 The banality of the theories and questions raised don’t even begin to justify the grand scale on which the production is presented (not even mentioning the fact that the conclusion is to beat the living crap out of ourselves), but somehow the whole long-winded GCSE social studies discussion has made its mark on movie history all the same. At the time its methods were indeed shocking. The advanced film technology and acting mettle on display was undeniably stunning. But audiences were seemingly blinded by confusion, breakneck pace and a deft editing hand, and Fight Club harnessed such labels to drown out any doubts about its inner beauty with rapturous affection amongst students. What’s at the heart of this film? I don’t care, but it messed with my head so I MUST have enjoyed it… 

And so Edward Norton’s super-schizo Jack and Pitt’s eponymous soap-manufacturer take their place in almost all lists of ‘the public’s top films’, and voicing any doubts about Fight Club’s credentials as a disturbing, thought-provoking classic has become a cardinal sin. But for me, watching it always stirs up a feeling remniscent of my experiences with a certain popular British sitcom aimed at a very similar audience… talked down to, preached at, STUPID. Sub-conciously you know you shouldn’t like Fight Club because you know you don’t like the morons that do nothing but quote Tyler Durden’s smug mantras down the pub. You are not a beautiful and unique blah blah blah. Tell me something I don’t know.     

Harry Knowles, the gigantic ginger film buff of Aint-It-Cool-News suggests that Fight Club should scare us into action, terrified that we might end up a ‘space monkey… another mindless, thoughtless follower.’ Ironically and somewhat sadly, the years since this evaluation have taught us that to prevent such a dismal fate, it’s time to start raging against the rage itself.          

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One Response to “Classic Crunch: The Psychosis Of Fight Club”

  1. Adam said

    My sincerest compliments on this most merciless of reviews. I agree that the philosphical conclusion is dimally infantile. But I cant help but feel it is as revolutionary as any philosophy can be in its infancy. Philosophy is theory of life, it must be developed by experiencing life. And this, as most of us know-but-dont-care, takes time and perspective unconfinable to even a feature length film. But fight club leaps laughingly into the ring. big mistake. In its greed, it chronicles the (supposed) birth of a new philosophy from beginning…..to….end, allowing no room for any real revelations or developements. it therefore remains infantile. It would have done better to offer more of a glimpse, but it hasnt, which is perhaps why it is so immortal. As a result of FC hogging the limelight, no film since has truly approached the same neanderthalic philosophy. it never had much to say in the first place.

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