"Fight Club" Excerpt
Adam: In the Filmspotting slack channel a few days ago, Josh, you made this observation; "Interesting that the three '99 movies we've done so far all involve..." and here's where you used an emoji, because you're one of the cool kids.
Josh: Oh yeah.
Adam: "...'exploding head,' twists." Indeed, there's a lot of mind-blowing going on in our opening trio of "9 from '99" conversations. In the case of David Fincher's "Fight Club," it's almost literal. The movie is bookended, after all, by the image of Edward Norton's unnamed narrator about to pull the trigger on a gun wedged into his mouth. And yes, this will be a spoiler-filled discussion of "Fight Club," whose twist comes earlier in its runtime than "The Six Sense's," but much later than Neo's red-pill-blue-pill moment with Morpheus in "The Matrix." I was all set to dismiss this observation – inconsequential, as they usually are.
Josh: [Laughs] That's your instinct whenever you see something of mine pop up.
Adam: Exactly, until I actually read rewatched "Fight Club," and got to the scene where the narrator – I'll just call him Norton from here on out – finally confronts where exactly his mind has been all movie. "This is impossible. This is crazy," he tells Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden upon hearing that he and Tyler are in fact the same person, to which Tyler explains, "People do it every day. They talk to themselves. They see themselves as they'd like to be." Which reminded me of, "I see dead people. They don't know they're dead." Both Norton and Bruce Willis as Malcolm Crow are in such denial that they don't even recognize the obvious fundamental truths about their very existences. Both movies ultimately are about characters coming to terms with their identities because they've only been seeing what they want to see or what they have trick themselves into seeing in order to give their lives purpose and meaning. I wonder if "Fight Club," which is considered a cult classic and was successful in the home video market after a disappointing theatrical run, is the type of film that reflects one's response back onto the viewer. In other words, does one see what they want to see in "Fight Club" – a profound take down of consumerism run amuck? Or, to quote the Letterboxd musings of Filmspotting producer Sam Van Halgren, "self-satisfied garbage," that itself feels like a product? An indictment of misguided, misdirected sadomasochistic masculinity, or purely misogynistic malarkey? Blow our minds Josh. What did you see in "Fight Club," this time, and is it any different than what you saw as a much younger, and let's face it, virile man in 1999? [Laughs]
Josh: [Laughs] Wow! You have to go there, huh? Hey, I use emojis! Come on, doesn't that count for something?
Josh: It's keeping me young.
Adam: Yeah. It shows how weak you are.
Josh: [Laughs] Well, uh, boy... I would add quickly that Neo also... the deception is forced upon him, but [he] also fits into your description very well, right?
Josh: He's seeing what he what he maybe wants to see. He's a little more self-aware than the characters in the other two films.
Adam: Great point.
Josh: But these three movies, I think what sets them apart [and] makes '99 such a great year is that they do have these sort of twists but are so much more than that. They make the most of them, interweave them into the ideas, and I would definitely put "Fight Club," in that category. It absolutely held up for me – my favorite Fincher film! We'll maybe get into a little ranking at some point, but it is still at the top – without having revisited a lot of them for this show, but definitely watching this again, I think it holds up. I think it's all of those things. If you want to say it is one specific thing – and I won't argue too hard against Sam here because it's not fair. He's not here – but if you want to say it is one specific thing, I think that is discounting the other things it also wants to provoke you into thinking about, because I know there are people who respond with revulsion to this film, and I think that's part of the film's intent on one level. I don't know if it's the ultimate intent of the movie, and that's probably why I still hold it in such high regard. I do see this ultimately as a social critique, but here's the wrinkle. This isn't something new that I discovered now, but it did hit me harder this time. It's social critique through the lens of a very disturbed individual.
Josh: Indeed, an individual who you could maybe describe now in today's terminology as one expressing toxic masculinity.
Adam: Oh, we'll get there.
Josh: And so, there is a way I can see "Fight Club," being even more revolting for people in 2019 than it was in 1999, when our antenna are up for such things. And I don't think that changes the fact that the movie is a lot smarter than that and is willing to provoke you, to just push you far enough to make you have that revulsion, that reaction to it. Now, the question for me is, "Is the narrator, is Norton's character, suffering from a societal ill, or is he a psychopath?" And I think if you answer either way to that, you're cutting the movie short, because to my mind, it is a combination. It's a portrait of an angry young man who's got some legitimate reasons to be angry.
Adam: For sure.
Josh: The critiques of consumerism, you know, do hit home. I think they're legit now. He's also psychologically damaged. This is a really troubled guy, and so the anger expresses itself in destructive and self-destructive ways. When I wrote about it in '99 I said, "It's a study in a specific psychosis one brought on by the consumer culture of our modern age," and let me point out, which shocked me... Think about that online shopping was not even really a thing in '99. And so we're even more immersed in this. So again, I understand the dramatic responses to this movie both positive, which I have, and negative. I think listener Jason Egan summed it up really well on Twitter when there was some back and forth about this film. (Hope to see Jason at the Filmspotting meet up in L.A. later this month.) Jason said, "The more I watch and think about this film the more woefully I think it's been misrepresented and misinterpreted by bros and anti-bros alike." I think he's dead on.
Josh: Because one of the disturbing things is that it has been picked up as a mantle for people who see Tyler Durden as a hero, just the way people admire "Wall Street," for all the wrong reasons. Maybe "The Wolf of Wall Street," similarly. But I don't think you can hold that entirely against the film.