28 January 2013

A Near Life Experience



When I was in school they showed us graphs and statistics representing our predicted future riches. “Go to University and get a qualification. Walk into the world with a degree and you'll live a life of wealth. Failure to do so will leave you poverty-stricken and starving. You'll wander the streets selling drugs and sex until you finally spiral into a state of suicidal depression. After years of whoring yourself out for that 'one last hit' you'll eventually reach rock bottom with your family finding your deformed and rotten carcase festering somewhere in a ditch”. I'm paraphrasing the teachers slightly but that was the basic jist of what they said.

A year after I'd received my prestigious BA (Hons) a friend and I were leaving the dole centre following one of our many regular visits. He was going to try and get hold of some weed whilst I was heading to a supermarket to beg them for a menial job. If I was really lucky they'd allow me to sit at a till where I could swap a percentage of my life for their minimum wage. This was not the situation I'd been promised by school. I don't know the legal backing of education but I think I'd have a genuine case if I sued them under the trades description act.
You are not your bank account

I'm young, male and enduring the aftermath of a system of lies. In times of crisis, many people will turn to their favourite book of fiction for help. The Bible’s never been there for me though and so I wouldn't consider the magical sky-man as a suitable source of guidance. With my degree lost somewhere in a draw of miscellaneous bedroom crap, I am not living the promised life of riches. I'm dwelling and stewing in a sleep deprived body filled with a sense of betrayal, frustration, self-pity and suppressed rage. As target markets go I couldn't be more perfectly designed to understand and enjoy the masterpiece of Fight Club. I am Jack's raging bile duct. I am Jack's inflamed sense of rejection. This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time.  

I first saw the film when I was about fourteen years old and I just didn't get it. I went in wanting to see men punch the living shit out of each other but what I got was a lot of surreal, pseudo-philosophical waffle. The things that were spoken meant nothing to me with its preachy, life advice drivel sounding like the deranged ramblings of a drunken uncle. I gave it a few years though and returned for a repeat viewing aged about seventeen. I don't know what happened to me in that brief time because I certainly didn't grow up but by now the weight of the world was truly on my shoulders. At best I suppose I'd probably started to develop my smothering sense of cynicism as I slowly realised that adults actually don't know what the fuck they're talking about. Suddenly though Fight Club wasn't a disappointing film about men being hit in the face. With my slightly wearier outlook it was an exhilarating and unfamiliar lesson in honesty.

"I'll give you £20 for the bendy spoon"
From the moment it began I hung onto every line of dialogue like a schoolboy Neo finally being told the realities of this bullshit existence. It wasn't simply a case of “there is no spoon”, but rather that the spoon is a shiny slice of aspiration that I would be manipulated into yearning for. Mindlessly following the herd has never really appealed to me and suddenly here was a film that understood my greasy teen angst as though it was written in spots on my forehead. In two hours, Brad Pitt morphed from being the beautiful face that I angrily wanted to destroy, into the blooded grin of an anarchic messiah. For us alienated craps of the world, Tyler Durden is pretty much the Dalai Lama which is assuming that the Dalai Lama also likes to knock men’s teeth out and fuck women more damaged than himself.

It's kind of hard to describe the plot of Fight Club just because of how mental and how random it all is. It begins with Ed Norton's nameless narrator living life in a stupor after the modern world has left him unable to sleep and almost emotionless. To try and counter this he spends his time pretending to be ill at various cancer support groups which he believes helps his situation. This might sound odd but then loads of people fake illnesses. It's just that most of them do it to claim benefits and not because they like the cushiony comfort of MeatLoaf’s fat tits.

If I had a tumour, I would name it 'Marla'.
This little system seems to be working for a while until it's ruined by the arrival of two people. Firstly there's Marla Singer who is a deranged, rape-victim looking woman that has started visiting the same therapy groups as him. From her appearance it's possible that she may also be the lead singer of The Cure, though it’s never mentioned in the film. Then there's Tyler Durden, a soap making nutcase that seems to see through the bullshit of society. Like Pee Wee Herman and Fred Willard, Durden's hobby also seems to include exposing innocent cinema goers to a brief flash of cock.




"Arbeit macht frei"
Through some random events that involve the everyday occurrence of an exploding fridge, Ed Norton and Tyler Durden start an underground Fight Club. This whole movement begins when the two men wonder, “How much can you really know about yourself if you've never been in a fight”. ‘That you're at least civilised’ would probably be the obvious answer to that. I've never been in a real physical fight but I did once do the British equivalent which is writing a very sternly worded letter to Sayers the Bakers. They might just sell pies and sausage rolls but they're also bastards and fascists and I urge you all to boycott those ignorant fucktards.

So anyway word gets out about these secret fighting sessions with the concept starting to spread. It turns out that we men are the stereotypes that had always been assumed, and we actually love nothing more than smacking the actual crap out of someone. At the start of the meeting, Tyler Durden delivers a speech in which he lists the rules in what was once a fairly cool scene. It's kind of been ruined for me now though because someone once told me to mentally replace the word, “fight”, with the word, “wank”. With this in mind I can never take them seriously past rule number three, “If someone says "stop" or goes limp, taps out, the fight is over”.

From here on out things get even more strange. Their basement brawls evolve into some prankster revolution as though a corporation-hating Che Guevara accidentally watched too many episodes of Jackass. As Durden becomes more obsessed with his mission of improving peoples lives through self-destruction the repeated message becomes, "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything”. If that's true then those starving Africans don't know how lucky they are. Sure they might be dying of AIDs but so was Freddie Mercury-- at least they haven't got all his money holding them back as well. 

"I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
The key to loving Fight Club beyond simply being male is to quickly understand that it's actually a black comedy. Like my younger self, anybody going in hoping for the bargain budget version of The Warrior is going to be very confused. With its laugh-out-loud moments, themes of anarchy and frequent flourishes of surrealism, it's more like a Monty Python film than it is a Rocky of the basement. Sure Tyler Durden might be the messiah for those fighting the impotence of masculinity but considering he also pisses in soup bowls there's a chance that he could also just be a very naughty boy. Also as I’m sure everybody knows, a black comedy is simply one which deals humourlessly with the darker more taboo subjects. I shouldn't have to clarify that, but in the second year of my movie related degree course a fellow student actually had to ask if an example of a black comedy might be The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

So beyond loving the story, humour and characters, it goes without saying that Fincher brilliantly directed the shit out of this. He's known for his extravagant camera movements and so it's nice to see Fight Club start as he means to go on. The first few minutes of the film follows a path through the inside of Ed Norton's brain, out of his forehead, down his nose and then up the barrel of a gun that he's inconveniently deep throating. I guess we should be grateful that for this scene, Ed Norton was cast and not Paris Hilton. Firstly this five minute mind journey would have been a hell of a lot shorter and secondly she'd probably revert to auto-pilot and just start sucking off the gun. As it stands though, these titles are long enough to give us our first taster of the soundtrack. Composed by the Dust Brothers it's got a brilliantly raw and grungy feel to it that perfectly matches the tone of the film. Not that I have any idea who the Dust Brothers are by the way. They sound like they might be a couple of cool, streetwise, ghetto style musicians but from the name they could just as easily be two disillusioned old English Butlers. Regardless of how great a job they did, I will be disappointed if it turns out not to be the latter.

I won't mention the revelation at the end, although if you don't know what it is by now then you really need to stop living under that rock. Having said that, it's worth noting just because of how it highlights the brilliance of Helena Bonham Carter’s performance. On first viewing she seems to be one of the most deranged women on the planet. However after seeing the ending, her actions actually make quite a lot of sense and she's not as random as you might initially assume. I mean, she's still fucking mental but that obviously can't be helped. She's played by the mother of Tim Burton’s children and belongs to the crazier half of our species, so Marla was never going to be completely normal.

Fight Club- Female Edition:
You are the money in your bank account.
As is probably obvious by now, this is clearly one of my favourite films. I'm not saying that everybody should live their life according to the terms of the slightly fascist Project Mayhem, but it can't hurt to occasionally question our position in life. The movie might look violent and horrible but at heart it's just about people coming to terms with realising their dreams. Whether it's becoming a vet, building a house or accepting that you're really just that actor from Red Dragon, the movie’s aim is simply to remind you not to waste your life. Whenever I find myself tossing off more than five times a day, I force myself to watch Fight Club as a reminder that there must be something more useful I could be doing. Considering how focused on penetrating the male psyche this film is, I'd actually be quite curious as to what a female would make of it. I suppose at the end of the day, we are all the same decaying organic matter as everything else. Can women relate to this movie just as easily or does it provide any insight into how males think? Do our fears of knowing the word ‘duvet’ mean anything or are we just presented as petulant children trying stubbornly to fight against the rules? Feel free to send your answers in on a postcard, or more conveniently the comments section just below. In the meantime, I'm going to punch my best friend in the ear and destroy some corporate art. After all, we've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off. 



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