Political Film Review #57

DEMOCRATIC VALUES ARE CHALLENGED AS FIGHT CLUB TURNS INTO PROJECT MAYHEM
Fight Club appears to be a sequel to Clockwork Orange (1971) for the yuppie X Generation, half of whom see their parents get a divorce and are fatherless teenagers. (The word “clockwork” is in the script!) Jack (played by Edward Norton) narrates the film, explaining how his 1997 life of white-collar employment and middle-class materialistic success bored him until he fell under the spell of Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt), who takes on part-time jobs so that he can engage in mischief to deal with his own identity crisis. In the early part of the film Jack has insomnia, but his physician will not give him stronger sleeping pills, urging him instead to attend alcoholics anonymous-type groups so that he will meet those with real problems. Initially, the nightly meetings provide enough emotional catharsis so that Jack can get a good night sleep. Then Marla (played by Helena Bonham Carter), another faker, starts attending the same meetings, so impotent Jack no longer enjoys the experience. Looking for something different, one night in the parking lot outside a bar Jack meets Tyler, who asks him to slug him. The exhilaration of the fight prompts them to repeat the ritual, and ultimately Jack abandons his yuppie lifestyle to live in Tyler’s ramshackle house (after Tyler secretly plants a bomb to destroy his condo). Others, watching the two slug it out, soon want to fight, too, whereupon Tyler organizes the Fight Club, eight rules in all, which meets in the basement under the bar. (The eight rules appear patterned on the famous 12-step programs of the AA groups.) Interchangeable parts in an overbureaucratized world, where everyone is employed and thus feels no compulsion to become politically active to get politicians on the ball, the club’s members belong to the working class in contrast with middle class Jack and Tyler. Fight Club’s camaraderie provides the psychological support so that they can revert to their own animalistic resources. Only Tyler enjoys sex (with Marla). The others seem so crude in appearance that they have obviously not been able to seek release via sex; that they enjoy a nihilistic men’s club, where men are topless, is a clear sign of repressed homosexuality. Only through showing muscle can they feel like men after their demasculinized postindustrial jobs. In due course, Tyler changes the Fight Club into Project Mayhem, a club with fascist rules that stockpiles explosives in Tyler’s home preparatory to blowing up high rises. The Asian seen twice at Fight Club, however, is not invited to join Project Mayhem, which has now become an all-white conspiracy. Meanwhile, Tyler organizes Fight Clubs in several big cities, and presumably Project Mayhem is about to go nationwide when Tyler’s suicide ends the film as high rises are exploded and fall to the ground (the Oklahoma City bombing writ large). What is most interesting about the film, which suggests that brutal violence is a personal and societal solution to the ennui of the X Generation, is that working class members of the filmviewing audience are favorably aroused by the senseless violence. For the working class, the excitement is the fisticuffs, whereas yuppy Tyler enjoys organizing the clubs, and yuppy Jack gets his kicks by bonding with a Hitler. In short, if Fight Club’s director David Fincher is seeking to explain why extremist groups are gaining popularity in the X Generation and why serial killers emerge at post offices and elsewhere, the message may have boomeranged, since Fight Club could for skinheads be perceived as the antidote to the 1988 film Colors, which mythologized urban Hispanic gangs, despite the film noir and comedic intentions found in Fight Club’s tagline “Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.” For more eloquent reflections, Nitzschean and otherwise, the novel by Chuck Palahniuk is recommended reading, but the visual images on the screen have tremendous power to make viewers contemplate where postindustrial society is really heading and beckon the filmviewer back for another look at how easily a demagogue can organize anti-democratic militias. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Fight Club for an award as the best film of 1999 for raising consciousness of the need for greater democracy. MH

NOMINEES FOR 1999 POLITICAL FILM SOCIETY AWARDS

Democracy Fight Club
Three Kings
Naturally Native
Exposé Bastards
Boys Don’t Cry
Cabaret Balkan
Naturally Native
One Man’s Hero
Three Kings
Three Seasons
Human Rights Boys Don’t Cry
The General’s Daughter
Hard
Naturally Native
One Man’s Hero
Three Kings
Xiu Xiu
Peace Cabaret Balkan
Earth
One Man’s Hero
Three Kings
West Beirut