I have seen Fight Club three times in my life now.
The first time I saw it, I was on vacation in Albuquerque visiting my uncle. It was around 2010 or maybe earlier or later, I don’t remember. I remember flipping on the television and catching Fight Club somewhere in the middle of the story. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on but it felt important and I thought it was really interesting.
The second time I watched it, I watched it knowing the ending and also having a better understanding of what was going on. It gave me a lot more to think about to know what was going on and watch it back. I had a deeper understanding of some of the political themes and the themes related to work likely touched a nerve. I don’t remember when I watched it.
The third time was today. I definitely remember that.
There are not many movies I see more than once. Often, once I finish a film, I’m good with it. But with some movies, they change based on your own knowledge and understanding of the world. Some of the best movies are, to me, the most challenging and thus give you a lot to come back to and think about, no matter how many times you’ve seen them.
So it is with Fight Club, a movie that I have more and more mixed thoughts, the more times I see it.
On one hand I really respect this movie. It lays out a lot of explicit themes about the ineptitude of capitalism in the 90s and how clearly artificial it was (and remains, really). Tyler Durden, a charismatic and cocky man (played by Brad Pitt) leads the charge of revolution and encourages everyone to not see themselves as special.
Durden has a few different speeches. Mostly on consumerism and materialism but he also mentions working jobs we hate for buying things we don’t need. I half-like this kind of rhetoric because I see the appeal and truth in it, but in the end who decides what we do and don’t need? And just because we don’t need something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it.
I think the 90s was often fueled in part to this native anti-consumerism and materialism that sometimes gets at what’s going on in society. But it barely touches on the way the government interacts with society, it doesn’t really touch on capitalism per se’ and it doesn’t offer any realistic ways to improve our lives.
As with American Beauty, the protagonist doesn’t seem to get out of their dead-end job in any sort of practical or realistic way. So it just ends up being some sort of power-fantasy (mostly for men) and relegating the one meaningful role a woman has (Helena Bonham Carter) to a more goth and 90s alternative manic pixie dream girl.
One of the weakest parts is the main part of the film, the fight clubs themselves. The idea that we can simply fight our way out of the problems we face under capitalism reeks of so much toxic masculinity, I’m not sure where to start. Durden is the epitome of the dude bro who thinks he’s woke because he doesn’t like the few decent things capitalism does.
That is to say, it isn’t wrong to own things and enjoy them.
It may be wrong to let them override your own individual identity and I agree that can especially happen under capitalism. But this is not a problem for materials so much as capitalism, in other words, materials are not the issue here, it’s the way they are distributed, controlled and perceived in society. If we can change those things, then we can do better.
The anti-consumerism treats working class folks like they’re dumb and duped by capitalism. But most folks I know hate their jobs and don’t like where they are at in life to some extent for another. People aren’t stupid and I think it would do leftists a lot of good to stop underestimating the class of folks it purports it’ll help the most.
Constantly telling the people (explicitly or implicitly) that you are supposedly helping that they’re too dumb to realize their own oppression, isn’t a winning strategy. Accusing everyone of ideological self-delusion just because they disagree or don’t see what you see isn’t a good method to start a revolution. Neither is denying the individuality we all embody.
So a lot of Durden’s strategies strike me as ultimately trite and futile against capitalism. That explains why Fight Club 2 picks up 10 years later when almost nothing has changed, despite Durden’s best efforts. You can’t blow up a social convention as the old leftist saying goes and it’s true. You can’t blow up capitalism, there are no limbs to hack off.
Despite these problems though, the film really works for me overall.
I have my ideological grievances with the film but it isn’t like it doesn’t stake its claim well. The directing is great, the acting is great, the soundtrack is 90s as hell, but that’s fine. The end credits theme song is perfect and overall the film knows what it is (or what the original book was) and handles it fairly well. The prose is also excellent.
I would definitely recommend this movie to anti-work folks, if they somehow haven’t seen this yet.
But the trick about this movie is, if you’ve seen it then don’t tell anyone.
No, wait, that’s dumb. Let’s talk about movies and how much they affect us.
Stop repeating that stupid meme, it doesn’t work anyhow.
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