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The First Rule Of ‘Fight Club’ Is That It’s Dumb

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Fight Club

When I moved into my freshman year dorm in August 2001, there was one college accessory that everyone but me seemed to have. No, it wasn’t a tiny fridge or a printer/scanner combo. It was a Fight Club poster. The images of Ed Norton, Brad Pitt, and the movie logo carved into soap adorned the cinderblock walls of countless common rooms, offering a warning to all who entered: “Boring people live here.”

I hated Fight Club. I hated it when I saw it 15 years ago and, after watching it again this week, I still hate it. It’s a dumb movie.

Now, it’s a well made movie. David Fincher, as we all know, is an incredibly accomplished director, and Fight Club is a well directed movie. I won’t dispute that! The camera work, the editing, the Dust Brothers soundtrack (nothing says “This movie was made in 1999” quite like the phrase “Music by The Dust Brothers”): these all work in Fight Club‘s favor. Plus, there’s Helena Bonham Carter, who shines (and smokes a lot) in a role that takes the backseat to the oppressed dudes who deal with their feelings by beating the shit out of each other.

So, yeah, let’s talk about what this movie is about. Edward Norton plays the unnamed narrator who is so put down by the oppression of modern life (Ikea is a real ball-buster, apparently) that he creates an imaginary friend / alter ego (spoiler alert, I guess) named Tyler Durden, who basically dresses like a Sugar Ray superfan and drops seemingly wise but empty platitudes like “The things you own end up owning you.” He participates in Adbusters-lite prankery and teaches us all about the horrors of capitalism and consumerism, which I would possibly take more seriously if they weren’t delivered by Brad Pitt in a red leather jacket.

Between Fight Club and American Beauty, the biggest takeaway is that 1999 was a very difficult time to be a white guy. Both films depict the struggle (which is all too real, I guess) of the most privileged group of Americans dealing with the misunderstanding that they are somehow put-upon by the problems of those who are actually marginalized (meaning, literally everyone else). You could argue that Fight Club is in fact a satire of this mindset, but that the film sparked the kind of Mens Rights Advocacy that is now responsible for threatening women across the Internet and blaming feminism for their own failures is particularly amazing. Straight white men aren’t lesser than because of the culture the rest of us created; rather, it’s the silly importance placed on basic notions of masculinity that have affected their brains like some sort of psychological disease, simultaneously propagating a sense of victimhood and subjecting the rest of us to the insane idea that fighting back against the culture and systems for which they are responsible is the only way to preserve a sense of identity and individualism.

That at the center of Fight Club is a quest for unadulterated machismo is particularly eye-rolly, a concept that is only rivaled by the anti-subtlety of Ayn Rand’s oeuvre. I can’t help but enjoy the delicious homoeroticism of the film, which pits pretty boys like Edward Norton and Jared Leto against each other, tearing each other apart, while their muscles and limbs writhe around in a dirty warehouse setting that looks like it could easily double as a gay porn set. And that Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, has pretty publicly struggled with his internalized homophobia before coming out publicly as gay is pretty telling — the film seems, after all, like it was written by a college freshman figuring himself out and realizing that the world that has told him he is special is actually pretty complicated and full of inconsistencies. It’s a bummer, for sure, but it’s something that people who have experienced the brunt of the world’s brutality figured out without having to take a Philosophy 101 class first.

When discussing my hatred of Fight Club recently, a friend told me that I can’t shit on the movie just because most of its fans so hysterically misread it and miss the point. That’s one stance, sure. But it’s also pretty indicative of the film as a work of art (“art”) — it says all kinds of things, none of which have any sort of coherence that sticks. It’s a sloppily written film, an expensive studio-produced film that sells the pseudo-psychological bullshit that it wants to pretend it stands against. Even the dudes that love it deserve better.

 

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Photos: 20th Century Fox / Everett Collection

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