Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Movie Bitch: Fight Club

Sometimes whether or not you like a movie is determined by how you feel about it.

For example, the most disappointing movies I've seen are usually ones that I got kind of excited about. Star Wars prequels. Dolan's Cadillac. Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Why in the name of God did they have to shoehorn a religious plot into a movie that already had a fucking religious plot? Explain, movie! Explain!)

On the other hand, I went to see District 9 and expected a movie other than what I got. Generic Bruce Willis Movie without Bruce Willis was the gist of it. That was not what I got. Black Swan, I expected Single White Female meets Center Stage (I had a dance movie phase. Shoot me.) and got, well, Black Swan. A glorious, beautiful mind-fuck of a movie with ballet shoes on top.

Fight Club, I expected what I was marketed. Guy movie. Beat-em-up (this is there), fuck the establishment (this is there) guns and explosions and sex (there, there and there) and absolutely nothing that could appeal to anyone with two X chromasomes. Rocky, basically. Only illicit.

So after sitting through the completely rocking opening song, and the this-is-what-I-expected intro scene (Tyler Durden sticking a gun in the unnamed narrator's mouth) I find myself sitting, mouth wide open, eyes wide, mind completely blown, when the next scene chronicles a man's journey into support group tourism.

Trying to explain what watching this is like is roughly similar to trying to explain what Niagra Falls is like by bringing home part of the water in a teacup. The Narrator, whose name is never given, has insomnia complicated by narcolepsy (he falls asleep and wakes up in strange places) and his doctor refuses to give him sleeping pills.

I want to point one thing out: The whole movie could have been avoided if this doctor had pulled the stick out of his ass and given Narrator sleeping pills. It might still have happened, but further down the road and probably not in the same way. Instead Dr. Sarcastic Asshole tells Narrator to go drop by a support group for testicular cancer to see "real pain". During which Narrator discovers that if he goes to the support group and cries, he can sleep at night. So he starts going to a different support group every night: cancer, parasites, blood diseases.

I grew up in a world where AA and NA meetings were a daily occurrence and roughly as important as church. My mind. was. blown. Support group tourism.

One thing that the movie didn't seem to make entirely clear, that the book did (yes. I have bought and read the book already) is that Narrator is not having some kind of contact sorrow high. Rather he's allowing himself to realize that his life is pretty much a hopeless mess, and thus giving up hope and sobbing. Same thing everyone else is doing, except they're crying because they have testicular cancer and he's crying because he has a pulse.

Another faker upsets the applecart, a woman named Marla Singer, they split up the days, and ... this is never exactly resolved. The book explains why Marla's presence has such a deep effect on Narrator (and Tyler Durden) but the movie just kind of ... goes with it?

I realized at the "Punch me as hard as you can" scene that this movie was marketed as a testosterone-fuled violent beat-em-up because the marketers had no idea what else to do with it. Realize for just one second that actually selling a story is much harder than writing a story. When you tell a story, hell, you just tell the story and do whatever it takes to make it work. When you sell a story you have to summarize it in a way that is brief, interesting, and coherent. Sometimes, you can do this really well. Sometimes you have to forget what your story is really about, pick the two or three elements that can most easily summarize themselves and then attempt to wing it without actually lying. Selling a story and telling a good story have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and the resulting confusion is one reason why I have never seen this movie before.

After Narrator moves into Tyler Durden's world, things go from "Gee, this is a weird movie" to "What." really quickly. About the time they make soap (from liposuction leftovers, which they then sell back to the women who had lipo to begin with) I realized we were about to have a very strong shift in tone, and I was pretty much right. I also began to realize that this movie has pretty much created internet culture, and is probably the reason why Anon. and trolls are the lovable god-kill-it-with-fire-now-please creatures they are today.

The only "disappointing" thing is, I pretty much knew that Tyler Durden and the Narrator were one person with MPD really, really quickly. I think I must have read something about the movie and then forgotten all about it. That said, though, it almost made the movie more enjoyable, which IMHO is a sign of good writing. Anybody can pull a left-feild plot-line out of their ass. Half of "Anybody" can probably make it work. It takes a writer of incredible skill to make the movie just as good once the plot twist is known.

Also, this is usually the plot twist I most hate. But what made the "it's all in your head" plot work in Fight Club and fail in just about every other book and/or movie I've seen it in is, it wasn't a last-minute left-field twist. Like how in Vanilla Sky (Which, BTW, the Narrator should have watched to cure insomnia) you find out at the last minute that Tom Cruise is in cryo and this is all a dream? Imagine how it might have been if this happened twenty minutes away from the end, and in the last twenty minutes Tom Cruise had to deal with the consequences of choosing to wake up and live in an unknown future. It works in Fight Club because it sets up the finale, and sets up a nightmarish question that it doesn't (quite) answer. How do you fight part of yourself that you not only can't control or even access, but part that is much, much smarter and far more amoral? At this point I was already pretty wigged out. This created so many levels of untold creepyness that I probably would have screamed if I could have stopped watching for a couple of seconds.

The Narrator tries turning himself in to the cops (Which Tyler has already countered) shutting down the movement that grew out of Fight Club (Countered!) and finally shooting himself in the head. Which...kind of works. Except the Narrator survives by blowing out his own cheek. Honestly, the only reason this made any kind of sense to me is, one of my Dad's favorite movies is The Fisher King, and he once spent several hours explaining what abreaction is (the moment the fragments of personality become aware of each other and recombine. Usually a violent and uncomfortable moment) and how it applies to people with MPD. This is also why the many (many. Many) scenes of Narrator grousing about listening to Tyler and Marla have sex made sense, and why I had no trouble believing that Narrator thought he and Tyler were in two different rooms when he was not. Co-consciousness is not completely unheard of (I think), and if you're in deep denial about having MPD, well, you created a whole 'nother person in your head. Making a trip to the basement when you didn't really go isn't that hard.

So yes. I have finally seen one of the great classics of cinema. And read a great piece of literature (whose writing style drives me batty, but that's just me). And this post is little more than me gushing about discovering a new favorite movie for the first time.

So what? It was awesome.


  1. Fight Club: A story about emotionally repressed guys in grubby basements pounding each other in hot and hard man-on-man action that they can never ever tell anyone about.

    On a completely unrelated note, Chuck Palahniuk is gay.

  2. There was an interesting author's note in the end of the e-book stating that the concept of Fight Club was incidental to having the rules for Fight Club. And that it was a short story that got a little big.

    Also? Book is awesome, too.

  3. Good point about telling vs. selling a story. Fight Club definitely had success catering to the testosterone crowd, but clearly it's about more than that. I think some people were lured in by Brad Pitt shirtless, whatever sells the movie tickets I guess.

    I saw The Big Lebowski for the first time earlier this year. Now I can make references to The Dude.

  4. I need to see the Big Lebowski, desperately. My dad swears it is the inside of his head. This scares me.

    Fight Club is one of those movies that says something really profound every ten minutes and doesn't care if you notice or not. And (This might not make any sense) that's why it works. You can't pull off a "Fight Club" if you've gone out to say something profound. It only works if you start out trying to tell a story and discover something profound halfway through. Otherwise you've just shoehorned something into a story that doesn't really belong. See Terry Goodkind's work for a really good example (Also, chickens are chickens. Evil chickens are still chickens. Trying to convince me both that you have something PROFOUND! to say AND that the evil chicken has a chance against the super-powered mind-control quasi-queen only makes you look like an idiot.) (I don't like Terry Goodkind.)