Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Fight Club and the Doors of Perception




These are the all singing, all dancing SPOILERS of the world
 


Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to watch Fight Club once every six months for the next five years. Each time, keep a written record of how you felt about it – where your sympathies lay with the characters, what you felt their real motivations were, what the message of the film was. Do not read your previous entries until you’ve finished the last one. Do not read criticism or watch documentaries regarding it. Do not do anything that could fix your opinion of it moreso than it is already fixed. Do not talk about Fight Club.

I can’t think of any other film that I have interpreted so differently each time I’ve watched it. I will of course admit that how I watch it is always affected by what’s going on in my life at the time. In my opinion that’s a major part of its brilliance – and on one occasion, its downfall.


Of course, there are some themes, plot-points and nuances of characterisation that are central to the film and sometimes made quite obvious for us. Sometimes it annoys me that the third act of the film goes to such lengths to explain that Pitt’s Durden is one and the same as Norton’s unnamed character -  who I will refer to as ‘Jack’ after the subject of the first-person bodily organ narratives he finds. We could figure that for ourselves- but it leaves the question of whether or not test audiences could. I guess not, if it was necessary to include such explication.

Casting my mind back, I remember seeing a very different film for the first time when I was sixteen or seventeen. Yes, it was on VHS so it looked like crap, but that’s not what I mean. As I prejudicially believe teenagers are wont to do, I found it to be a very ‘cool’ film. It had a stylish protagonist in Durden, a twist and an intellectual, establishment-defying message to it. Naturally, I really enjoyed the anti-Capitalist idea. Now I realise of course that Durden is a cult of personality and simply cannot tolerate anything as being perceived as more important than him.


The biggest difference between my perception of the film then as opposed to now is Marla Singer. Casting my mind back, I am certain that my younger self despised Marla as a moody, fickle attention-seeker. The film does an excellent job of aligning us with Jack though his narration and his placement in the foreground of scenes involving himself, Durden and Marla. It seems that Jack constantly takes the flak from Marla for her relationship problems with Durden. His politeness is stretched to its limit and the only indication of suppressed rage is the frantic scrubbing of his toothbrush on a shirt-stain. Her flirtation and groping seem to mock him, giving a glimpse of what she has with Durden, rubbing in her prior sexual rejection of him. When she speaks of the bridesmaid’s dress she is wearing and how special it was to someone, she seems to be building a self-absorbed adolescent tragedy around herself …

… until you realise that she is of course talking to Durden and alluding to the way he actually treats her – throwing himself into other tasks to avoid any kind of post-coitus bonding and eventually ejecting her from his home as if she no longer means anything. While it is true that Marla does nothing to help herself whatever way the film is watched, on second viewing she becomes an intensely sad, sympathetic figure.


Knowing that Durden and Jack are one and the same throws many other points into sharp relief. Suddenly Durden’s revelations about being “a generation of men raised by women,” and wondering “if another woman is really what we need” become elaborate rationalisations for ignoring Marla when he isn’t boning her. An enlightened visionary becomes a selfish asshole long before the third act.

It’s not to say that Fight Club is without failings. There is some painful exposition, but at least it is brief. Where the film fails, some of the blame can be laid on the audience. Watch Fight Club disengaged after the first viewing, suffering under the assumption that all its mysteries are unravelled, and you might find it tedious. The journalist knows this, because the viewer knows this. Time and space can vastly improve this film – after being bored by it once, I left it almost two years, and then found it revelatory when I came back to it.

There is so much to discuss, but I don’t see much reason for any more glib assertions about my interpretations.

What are your experiences of Fight Club?

-          David ‘Piler Turden’ Jackson


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
You can feed his despicable lust for gold buying his first novel by clicking here. It’s called ‘Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity’ and sees cybernetically enhanced super-cop Jennifer Carter uncover a terrible plot to overthrow the British government while on the run from the very institution she is trying to save. It’s very violent, which he knows you’ll love because you’re a sadist. It’s mainly racists that get hurt, so it’s OK. He recommends waiting a while for the improved second edition, because the formatting didn’t transfer properly to all devices, goddammit!
More from David M. Jackson at I Love That Film:
 
Second-Hand Stories, Second-Hand Opinions

Face It - 'The Dark Knight' is Actually Shit

Are James Cameron’s Movies Misandrist, and What Would he Hope to Gain if They Were?

Why I Love That Film: Aliens 

More on Fight Club:

Lots more Fight Club links
Using Critical Approaches to Study Fight Club