Sunday, November 15, 2009

You Or Your Memory: Fight Club

The Matrix seemed to be the first DVD that a lot of people bought, something about its newness of visual style, CG effects, and fresh sci-fi story drawing people in to the new format. But Fight Club was the first DVD I ever bought, and I honestly don't remember why. I had never seen the movie before, though I do recall the trailers at the time of its release. Trailers that, like many film trailers for the past 15 years, emphasized the wrong elements and spirit of the movie. This is even starting to infect video games, sadly; all of the commercials and trailers for
Dragon Age: Origins make it look far more action oriented and fast paced than it really is.

At any rate, the 2 DVD special edition of Fight Club sold me on the new DVD format with its extensive features, commentaries, and behind-the-scenes looks. Moreover, the film itself was brilliant and still defies my attempts at categorization. It's a buddy movie. It's an action film. It's an art film. But ultimately, Fight Club is a love story. The ending to the movie is up there with the best of all time, from its perfect use of 'Where Is My Mind?' by the Pixies to the clever post-modern flash of an image (you know what I mean). It was note perfect, as the saying goes. I didn't bring up the ending to praise it, though, because it proves that the movie was a love story, suggesting that if the main character had just gone for Marla right away, none of these things would have happened.

Fight Club came out early in my high school days, and it was a work that informed my point of view and sensibilities as much as Radiohead and Kurt Vonnegut did. I didn't start or join any fight clubs, but I did develop an ironic, detached personality and distaste for consumerism and what the "mainstream" considered valuable and beautiful. This was all for good or ill because hardcore Fight Club fans, like hardcore fans of any work, can be insufferable. But I never really stuck to anything the movie argued for, or seemed to. I never adhere to anything dogmatically, especially a fictional work. Yet the DVD was something I'd pop in at least once a year for many years, which is a rarity because I almost never watch movies a second time.

It has probably been a couple years since I had watched Fight Club, so seeing it a few weeks ago on a whim was a relatively fresh experience. Full disclosure: I didn't go into it with the idea of writing about it, I merely wanted to test the DVD playback of my newly purchased Playstation 3. So while I wasn't mentally compiling a list of thoughts to tackle, to compare and contrast how I feel about the flick now versus in 2000, I did find it to absolutely hold up. If anything the movie is more tonally and socially daring now than it was in 1999, since it came out before September 11th and the re-entry of the word 'terrorist' into our vocabulary. But more than that, it's the movie's criticism of consumer culture and the numbing effects of modern life and post-industrial working life that gets more biting with time. Meanwhile, the film's visual style and plot are still talked about today. On top of its aforementioned brilliant ending sequence, Fight Club contains one of the best plot twists of any movie ever. I still don't want to spoil it, but suffice it to say that it alone makes the movie immediately re-watchable because it fundamentally changes something about how you perceive the characters.

It's always depressed me that people went out and started fight clubs or did acts of consumer/corporate terrorism inspired by the movie. As a semi-impressionable youth, they do seem kind of cool and the movie--intentionally or not--makes a good case for their seeming usefulness. But the older I get, the more I think the point of the movie is that fight clubs and blowing up display windows of computers aren't the answer to the emptiness felt by modern young adult men. The failing of both Fight Club the film and the novel its based on are that they provide no other alternative: giving in to consumer culture is bad, but the fight clubs and Project Mayhem aren't the answer either. Or anyway, not to the extremes their taken. I could possibly make case for the movie suggesting that love was the answer to the main character's existential crisis, but that is really a separate issue. Whatever the case, it's become increasingly clear to me that Fight Club was a case of the movie being better than the source material. The novel is much more needlessly extreme, its ending far less satisfying, its philosophy more heavy handed. If memory serves, even the author, Chuck Palahniuk, agrees that the film version is better, at least as a whole.

I don't have the extensive knowledge to back this up with examples, but Fight Club strikes me as either one of the last 20th century movies or one of the first of what the 21st century would bring us. I lean more toward the latter. Break it up chemically into its constituent parts--writing, acting, editing, cinematography, musical score, etc.--or take it as a whole, and it's still an amazing film.

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