I am Jack's appalled disbelief
Just finished watching Fight Club again. It's like, I don't know, my sixth time, I guess.
I first saw Fight Club in the theater. I have no idea what I expected; whatever it was, I didn't get it. Yet you wouldn't own a movie, first on videotape, then on DVD, and watch it five more times after your first theater viewing if it didn't do something for you, and I must admit, there's a lot of meat on Fight Club's bones. Interestingly nuanced performances by Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, and, of all people, Brad Pitt. David Fincher's always bizarre, visually garish, near hallucinatory direction. A lot of memorable dialogue. Cool fight scenes. Last, and very much least, a buttload of completely insane sociological commentary that is always as intriguing as it is deeply, deeply sick... when it isn't just stupid, shallow, overly obvious to the point of mental retardation.
FIGHT CLUB has a great many flaws, not least of which is the fact that the central presumption of the film -- that modern males are so disenchanted with contemporary culture that, given a chance to join a secret society in which they beat the shit out of each other in basement bare knuckle brawls several times a week, legions will swarm to the Fight Club banner -- simply doesn't work on any level.
First, it just wouldn't happen; modern males are, as a gender and a class, no more disgruntled by our social matrix than anyone else (we do, after all, have cable TV with several dedicated sports channels and literally hundreds of different kinds of beer to choose from) and second, it won't work even within the weird context of this film, because as we discover towards the end (major spoilers, sports fans) there is no Tyler Durden. No oddly interested male passers-by ever saw Tyler and Jack beating the crap out of each other in a diner parking lot and decided that would be fun, which is the essential seed that inevitably leads to Project: Mayhem.
What passers-by (oddly interested or not) actually saw was Jack beating the living crap out of himself. If we go on to presume that in this bizarrely surreal fictional reality, such a sight could galvanize the formation of a vast secret society of miserable, frustrated males seeking violent outlets for their pent up rage, still, it wouldn't be a Fight Club as the film presents it.
Such an organization would, rather, be a place where dozens of crazed, dick-bedecked idiots got together several times a week and beat their own heads against the walls, floors, and concrete support pillars. If the first and second rules of Fight Club are, indeed, that you do not talk about Fight Club, well, this may be the only rational aspect of the entire enterprise. Tell anyone you go hang out in a basement several times a week hitting yourself in the face over and over again, and you're liable to end up committed.
Moving on past that essential plot flaw, this movie still has a lot to it that I enjoy. But what I'm mostly writing about now is not what I enjoy about this movie, but is, rather, the appalled disbelief I still feel when I reflect that there are many people out there who take FIGHT CLUB, or, rather, the deranged crypto-Nietzschean philosophical bibble babble of Tyler Durden, Jack's psychotic split personality, seriously. Like, for example, this guy. Or the two people whose comments to a previous blog post I am refuting here.
Tyler's anti-consumerism, "fight the system" rantings form a strong subtext for the film, and admittedly, there are points where the toxic nonsense Tyler constantly spews seems to contain raw nuggets of actual wisdom. These are, usually, the bits where he's simply repackaging those same old hoary pop psychology cliches you can get by the barreful every afternoon from Oprah or Dr. Phil -- things like "We don't own our possessions, our possessions own us" and "Just LET GO". Yet context is all important, and even as we recognize some tiny twinkle of truth emitting from the TV speaker while Brad Pitt moves his lips in unison, it's important to place it against its correct backdrop. When Tyler screams "Just LET GO" to Jack, he is referring to the wheel of a car speeding through a rainstorm on a trafficked road with two utterly dependent thralls in the back seat -- and the immediate result of Jack "just LETting GO" is disaster, when the car smashes into another and both wrecks hurtle off the road, nearly killing everyone involved.
Similarly, when Tyler tells us that "Advertisements have us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need", it tastes like bitter truth to us. In point of fact, though, truth is merely an additive to that sentence, and most of it is deeply dumbass bullshit. Advertisements have no more power over us than we give them; I can watch a million car commercials a week and still not be budged from my lifelong notion that if I ever get to own the car I really want to own, it will be a Lambourghini. (I probably had that idea planted long ago in childhood by some fucking James Bond movie, but my point is, all the Toyota ads in the world aren't going to budge me off it.) But the most important bit of nonsense is that final phrase, "shit we don't need". Need is beside the point; what we mostly buy is shit that we want. Maybe movies and TV make us want things we really don't need, but if so, the problem is not with culture or society, but simply with our own fucked up inability to make meaningful choices in our life.
The kernel of truth in that Durdenism that resonates so well in all of us? It's the phrase "working jobs we hate". Nearly all of us find ourselves trapped within a reality largely defined by 'working' a 'job we hate'. And because we hear that and we enthusiastically agree with it, we tend to swallow the rest of it without further thought. But it's nonsense, and society, for all its flaws and inadequacies and admitted sicknesses and corruptions, is not to blame. If we're slaves to ads that force us to work jobs we hate so we can buy things we don't need -- and I reject nearly all of that statement categorically -- but even if it were true, you don't need to blow anything up to fix any of that. You just need to stop watching so much TV, and make better choices as regards how you spend your disposable income.
It shouldn't be hard for anyone watching Fight Club to figure out that you're not supposed to take the philosophy of Tyler Durden seriously, much less pattern your entire life around it. In the first place, the stuff is literally the product of a diseased mind, given that Tyler is, in fact, just a schizoid sub-persona of the movie's deeply disturbed protagonist/narrator. Fincher isn't exactly subtle in getting across the fact that Jack/Tyler is a profoundly emotionally unhealthy human being; from the start of the film, where Jack is infiltrating support groups to get an emotional release necessary for him to sleep, through to the end, where Jack finally cures his psychosis by shooting himself in the head (!), Jack, and therefore, Tyler, is never portrayed as being remotely sane or rational. Fincher sets Jack/Tyler's's entire existence in a rotting, moldering, abandoned hulk of a house in a near perfect externalization of the psychic decay going on inside Jack's head.
Beyond all that, any time anyone in the film tries to pragmatically apply any of Tyler's wisdom in any way, shape, or form, the results are immediate and disastrous. Every member of Project: Mayhem is a mindless, zombified tool, apparently finding 'freedom' through surrendering their volition to an imaginary person who tortures them with caustic chemicals. Tyler's followers rebel against conformity by pissing and ejaculating into prepared foods and conning dumbasses into spreading used motor oil on their lawns... until they graduate to actual criminal mischief, at which point, Bitch Titted Bob takes a bullet to the head and ends up buried in the garden.
So crazy are Tyler's lackeys that when 'Tyler' himself turns against them, they are fully prepared to cut their leader's nuts off in a police interrogation room.
Tyler is violently psychotic; his followers are even more so, plus, mindless and willfully stupid. That any rational person could find anything to venerate in the ravings of such oan obvious lunatic is a source of amazement to me... and yet, as my previous blog post clearly indicates, such people are out there.
Probably the clearest indicator of just how dangerously deranged Tyler's 'philosophy' is comes when Jack, infuriated and exasperated with how his entire life seems to have been hijacked by Tyler's mysterious machinations, vents his wrath during a Fight Club session on the face of an almost angelically good looking member of Project: Mayhem. Jack's viciousness is so pronounced even 'Tyler' is taken aback by it; after Jack finishes pounding his hapless victim's face into unrecognizable scrapple, 'Tyler' whispers to him in shocked disbelief "Where'd you go psycho, boy?"
Jack's response: "I wanted to destroy something beautiful".
Like the movie's other central image, the rendering of human fat down into designer soap, this particular sequence is the distillation of all Tyler's insane psychobabble down to its most essential element. Beyond the anti-IKEA rantings, the "you are not a beautiful snowflake" bullshit, the nonsensical ravings about "wearing leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life while climbing the inch-thick vines wrapped around the Sears Tower" and the endless self-pitying wail as regards the great depression that is contemporary men's lives and how we've been raised believing we are going to become movie stars and rock gods and we're slowly realizing it won't happen and we're really pissed off about it, there is only this -- "I wanted to destroy something beautiful".
Ultimately, this is the poisoned gift of Tyler Durden -- validation of the childish, empty, entirely anti-social impulse in every single one of us to vent our rage at a lifetime of serial disappointments by wrecking everything around us.
There is nothing sane for anyone sane to embrace in this movie. To the extent that this film has a bad guy, it is clearly Tyler Durden. Good looking, totally ripped, spectacular in the sack, irresistibly charismatic, and utterly toxic, Tyler offers nothing of positive value whatsoever. He's a complete psychic vacuum with a crowbar in one hand and a hand grenade in the other. He creates nothing to replace what he destroys, he offers no solutions beyond "blow it up! blow it all up!" He is cackling nihilism with no redeeming values whatsoever, and what is most attractive about him is that he says that it's okay to be that way.
Grown ups shouldn't have to be told that this is wrong; anyone who's mommas raised them even remotely right should understand implicitly that it's NOT okay to be that way. However blackly enticing Durden's imprecations are, ultimately, they lead only to self destruction on a grand scale. Few enough of Tyler's followers will live to see the reborn Paleolithic that seems to be their ultimate goal, and those few that do will find it a stunning disappointment. It's one thing to talk the talk about resetting everything to zero and starting over; it's quite another to have condemned yourself, your family, and your friends to existence in a world where very few people will be able to outlive their teeth.