Friday, January 31, 2014

“With a gun barrel between your teeth, you speak only in vowels.”

This year is the 10th anniversary of Fight Club, a film that, to me, is one of the most important American movies of the last 20 years. “Important” in the sense that it is one of the few American non-documentary films from a big studio in the last two decades that actually has something to say about American society.

The story is a simple one (SPOILER ALERT): A nameless main character (Ed Norton), suffering from depression and loneliness brought on by a bourgeois middle-class life, basically goes nuts and starts an underground combat tournament with the help of a suave, part-hipster part-emo alter-ego named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Other middle-class men are more than happy to partake in the opportunity to beat the shit out of each other, their broken bones and bruises helping them to connect to their own bodies and to a secret brotherhood. As with most projects based on violence, though, things get out of hand quickly.

Some critics automatically dismiss the film as nihilistic and pointless because of all the violence. In between the punches, though, is some biting commentary about consumerism, happiness, relationships, groupthink, and what it means to be a man in a world where traditional masculinity is a foreign concept.

The fact that some people actually tried to start their own fight clubs after seeing this movie (quickly finding out that having shattered arm bones and detached retinas isn’t nearly as slick and cool as watching someone else get them on the big screen) only underscores how much violence is in America’s DNA, just as much as the desire for cheap thrills and mindlessly following trends.

It’s been decades since major studio film makers regularly attempted to inject social commentary into entertainment (On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd, High Noon, etc.). Fight Club is a welcome reprise to that style of film making.

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