Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fight Club (Reviewed by Robert Augustus Masters)

Fight Club is often considered a "man's movie," a film women would not like or appreciate. Robter Masters suggests that women could learn a lot from this film, as can the men who watch it for the violence and miss the meaning. Check out the thread at Gaiam to see the comments on this article.

Fight Club (Reviewed by Robert Augustus Masters)

Great movies are like great dreams – as much as you might understand them, you cannot peel them down to some final meaning. Dreams are moving pictures – did you ever have one where nothing was moving? Many of my favorite movies are ones that explore the relationship between waking and dreaming, and that explore spiritual – not religious, but spiritual – themes. More and more such films are being made, in fitting parallel with the deepening consciousness – and increasing openness to transformative spiritual practice that many are experiencing. There's an accelerating impetus to wake up, to really wake up, from the air-conditioned madness of contemporary culture – and this is reflected in every area of modern life, including movies.

There's “spiritual” cinema that's sugary and sentimental, treating spirituality as a cool place to be, an all-inclusive organic opium den with airbrushed skies and everyone making nice – and there's “spiritual” cinema that is far from nice, rattling the shit out of our status quo addictions and pretensions, leaving us not necessarily feeling good, but feeling closer to Reality in the raw. Which brings me to Fight Club, a movie seemingly far from spiritual, but that I think is worth going a few rounds with, however much it might disturb you.

I saw it a couple of weeks ago, for the third time since it's release, and was blown away by it. There's a story, and there's something behind and below the story, like a dream that won't quite surface, at least not until the film has us firmly in its grip. The “real” life that starts the movie is the plastic pseudo-life of postmodern ennui and hungry ghost consumerism, as empty and boring as tupperware gossip. So the scene is set: The narrator, a young insomniac automaton doing time doing his daily grind, is played to perfection by Edward Norton. He's a corporate stooge, in much the same existential rut as the protagonist in American Beauty, prostituting himself for a styrofoam security. We may laugh seeing his predicament, but our laughter isn't totally comfortable, for his situation and ours are not all that far apart. Things are edgy.

Soon another scene intrudes, undercutting the first: the narrator discovers some solace and relief through attending a bunch of support groups, beginning with one for survivors of testicular cancer (he has no balls, so it's fitting that he be in a group that is literally ball-less). There's catharsis for him in these groups, some connection to feeling, but soon a deeper catharsis calls to him, after he meets Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. Tyler is a wild man, anarchistic and spontaneous, cocky and unapologetically alive, immensely attractive to the narrator. Before long they get into pounding each other bloody in all-out bare-fisted fights, in which the point is not to win, but to give everything to the encounter.

Soon other men join them, and Fight Club begins, providing a setting where no-holds-barred fighting happens, with ferocious intensity. These scenes will turn off many viewers, but they need to be viewed not as gratuitous violence, but rather as raw depictions of a full-blooded fuck-you to an emasculating culture. The fighting is so over-the-top that it allows us to see its underpinnings, without any meaning-messages needing to be stapled to the poundings. The fighting scenes – and most of the scenes between them – are so unrelentingly visceral and intense that we don't get a chance to sit back and ponder the symbolism of the whole damned thing. We have to feel it. Or leave the room.

As the film progresses, the catharsis provided by Fight Club – which has quickly gone nationwide, though remaining undercover – leads not just to release, but to a metastasizing organization, called Project Mayhem. From club to cult. At this point the narrator starts to wake up – and this is where the film's spirituality kicks in – to what is happening, and takes a stand. He has gone from wimp to savage to awakening dreamer to moral warrior, and the result is mind-blowing. He is finally confronting himself, and it's far from a merely intellectual encounter.

See Fight Club once without trying to figure it out, and then see it again. It is commonly taken to be a man's movie, but I think it's just as much for women to see, if only because of the inside look it gives regarding the male psyche. It is a testosterone tour, and it is much more. It not only has balls, but also spine. Its bloodsport is not a condoning of violence but an in-your-face illumination of it. Mix together Orwellian darkness, postmodern nihilism, surreal dankness, and Ultimate Fighting (without the gloves and frigging rules), and throw in some late-arriving dynamite morality, along with exquisite cinematography and music, and you've got Fight Club, breaking bare-knuckled into the schizophrenic fault lines of America's sold-out soul. Fight Club is about entering, facing and, ultimately, healing that split, which asks everything of the narrator – and us.

- Robert Augustus Masters

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