Fight Club


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Fight Club

  1. 1. + FM 4: Single Film – Critical Study Fight Club „The things you own end up owning you‟ Tyler Durden
  2. 2. + Fight Club  Directed by David Fincher  Released - 1999  Produced by Twentieth Century Fox  Duration: 139min  Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, published in 1996  Edward Norton – Jack  Brad Pitt – Tyler Durden  Helena Bonham Carter – Marla Singer
  3. 3. + Fight Club  David Fincher  Chuck Palahniuk
  4. 4. + Fight Club – The Novel  The novel was banned in some countries due to it‟s content (depiction of terrorist acts of destruction/ giving instructions on how to make bombs) the novel quickly attained a cult following.  The film was released in 1999 and, although a box-office disaster, like the novel it quickly went on to achieve cult status.  Palahniuk wrote an essay called „Monkey think, Monkey do‟ where he told of how many fans, inspired by the novel and film, have copied certain acts.
  5. 5. + Context  The novel was published in 1996  The Cold War ended in 1991 with the fall of the Berlin War and the collapse of the Soviet Union  The 1990s saw the US economy booming
  6. 6. + Context  Francis Fukuyama  Fukuyama is best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992)  Fukuyama argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government.
  7. 7. + Fight Club and Context  If the economy was so successful and the US had won the Cold War then why can‟t the protagonist of Fight Club sleep?
  8. 8. + Fight Club  The film is iconoclastic  In other words, its aim is to destroy some of our most cherished beliefs – to turn our ideas about society on its head  For example, the idea that the desire for/trend towards self- improvement is a good thing  As Tyler Durden says:  „Self improvement is masturbation … Self destruction is maybe the answer‟
  9. 9. + Fight Club  The film performed poorly at the box office but has since become a critical and financial success on video, DVD and television  It is a classic example of a CULT film which was initially unsuccessful but then finds a new audience following the cinematic release  The film was also a CRITICAL failure receiving many bad reviews. This undoubtedly contributed to its poor box office performance
  10. 10. + A Cult Film  A cult film is defined as meeting some or all of the following criteria: 1. Marginality: content falls outside general cultural norms 2. Suppression: subject to censor, ridicule, lawsuit or exclusion 3. Economics: box office flop on release but eventually profitable 4. Transgression: content breaks social, moral or legal rules
  11. 11. + A Cult Film 5. Cult following: generates a devoted minority audience 6. Community: audience is, or becomes, a self- identified group 7. Quotation: lines of dialogue become common language 8. Iconography: establishes or revives cult icons  Fight Club clearly meets most or even all of these criteria
  12. 12. + Fight Club  Auteur study  Representation of women  Representation of men  A progressive or reactionary film?  Critical and popular responses  Context and Reception Possible approaches to Fight Club
  13. 13. + Fight Club David Fincher as Auteur? Andrew Sarris‟ formulation for an auteur is that there is a consistency across a body of work of: Style Theme And that there is a sustained level of technical sophistication
  14. 14. + Fight Club  Fincher‟s films are suffused in the style and themes of the Film Noir – a series of low budget crime dramas made in Hollywood from 1941 to 1958 characterised by low-key lighting and dark, gloomy and pessimistic themes  The director and critic Paul Schrader identified that:  „film noir‟s techniques emphasize loss, nostalgia, lack of clear priorities, insecurity; then submerge these self doubts in mannerism and style. In such a world style becomes paramount; it is all that separates one from meaninglessness‟
  15. 15. + Fight Club  In which case Fincher‟s films – Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, The Game and Panic Room can all be viewed as modern „neo- noirs‟  These themes identified by Schrader are all present in Fincher‟s films which are characterised by a style which is „slick and glossy‟  Fincher absorbs the fleeting styles and tastes of Hollywood, reflects them and twists them  His films are suffused with an almost overwhelming sense of loss and nostalgia
  16. 16. + Fight Club  Much of this nostalgia is for Hollywood itself, and so on this level the films display Fincher‟s own obsessions with the diegetic worlds created within Hollywood films – for example Film Noir & the films of Frank Capra (It‟s a Wonderful Life).  This is also apparent in on of his most recent film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – his most nostalgic and sentimental film yet – the sense of loss inherent within the film is palpable
  17. 17. + Fight Club  Even though Fincher works across a range of genres these Noir themes allow us to identify a consistency of theme across the body of his work.  In Fight Club the American Dream is even further out of reach than it was in the noir world of the 1940s  However, rather than fighting to obtain it, Fight Club‟s solution is to destroy it utterly
  18. 18. + Fight Club  The film assuredly rejects the consumerist nature of our contemporary capitalist society  Every form of consumption is attacked: coffee shops, computers, houses, furniture  It is epitomised by the IKEA catalogue that Jack is clearly addicted to  The very act of resistance or revolution against the consumerist ethos engages and energises those who participate in Jack/Tyler‟s movement
  19. 19. + Fight Club  The Representation of Women  Is the depiction of Marla misogynistic (the hatred of women)?  It can be argued that it is not misogynistic but the film certainly depicts a patriarchal society (one dominated by men)  As Tyler says to Jack: „We‟re a generation of men raised by women. I‟m wondering if another woman is really what we need.‟
  20. 20. + Fight Club  In the classic film noir there is often a femme fatale – a woman who is both beautiful and powerful, who seduces the male protagonist but then ultimately betrays him
  21. 21. + Fight Club  The noirconnection – is Marla a femme fatale?  However, unlike the femme fatales of classic noir she is ultimately passive, powerless and lacks agency  She still follows Laura Mulvey‟s argument that in classical Hollywood cinema women are represented as „objects of erotic desire‟. She is still subject to the „triple gaze‟ of camera, protagonist and spectator  For Tyler she is the „object of erotic desire‟  For Jack she is closer to a mother figure – forever chiding him
  22. 22. + Fight Club  Conforming to Freud‟s Oedipus complex – Jack only becomes a mature „man‟ when he rejects/kills his father figure (Tyler – by shooting himself in the mouth) and it is only at this point that he is able to have a mature romantic and physical relationship with Marla  As the film ends they are shown holding hands as the bombs detonate destroying the credit card companies  The symbolism is clear – Jack has destroyed his reliance on consumerism and has evolved into a complete and mature man
  23. 23. + Fight Club Context and Reception  One of the odd ironies about Fight Clubis that it appeared at a time of prosperity and confidence for American capitalism  Just as the noir films of the 40s and 50s showed the flipside of the prosperous and thriving America of the Eisenhower years – a period of unprecedented confidence and self-belief
  24. 24. + Fight Club  In 1999 the US economy was booming and with the collapse of the Eastern-block in the early 90s US economic, political and cultural dominance seemed secure  Nevertheless, just as the noir cycle seemed to signal an underlying uneasiness and dissatisfaction leading to societal breakdown and alienation Fight Club shows us the emptiness and vacuity of the consumerist society – again leading to alienation and paranoia
  25. 25. + Fight Club The destruction of the credit card companies at the end of the film cruelly anticipates the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001
  26. 26. + Fight Club  The ending of the film is somewhat triumphant – by blowing up the office blocks and „killing‟ Tyler, Jack has managed reach maturity and has reconciled his true masculinity – and he finally gets the girl!  The reality of such destruction in New York only a year or so later is of course still infinitely shocking and makes the conclusion of the film both far more controversial than when it was first released but also far more disconcerting and unsettling
  27. 27. + Fight Club  Nevertheless, the result of the September 11th attack was to fatally undermine US self-confidence both at home and abroad, and to force a widespread examination of what it was in US society that had prompted such a terrible response  With the later economic collapse – many of the widely held beliefs and assumptions in the inherent dominance of US economic beliefs and its culture have been undermined and severely damaged  In this respect the film can be seen to have been somewhat ahead of this time – it is also inconceivable that such a film could be made now
  28. 28. + Fight Club – Reception and Afterlife  The film had a budget of more than $60 million  It only recouped $37 million during its N. American run. Therefore it was viewed as a box-office flop  However, the film has had a potent afterlife selling more than 6 million copies on video and DVD and is now being issued in a 10th anniversary Blu-ray edition  On the important Internet Movie Database it is listed as 15th in the list of all time favourite films
  29. 29. + Fight Club and Audiences  Who is the audience for Fight Club?  In the novel the target audience is clearly the disillusioned, white, working men represented by the narrative‟s key protagonist  The first person narrator is never really named but is referred to obliquely as Jack – an „everyman‟ name  On a wider level it communicates to everyman and everywoman, to every Jack (and every Jill)  Even the name of the city in the film is never mentioned – it could be any city
  30. 30. + Fight Club and Audiences  The key appeal of the novel and film is that audiences recognise its alienating world and the existential predicaments of those living in it  One critic noted how, „Jack‟s wasted life, his emasculate nowhere existence, speaks to an entire generation, and not just men‟ (J. Swallow Dark Eye: The Films of David Fincher)  The audience for, and characters in, Fight Club have been described as GENERATION X
  31. 31. + Alienation Alienationis the systemic result of living in a socially stratified society, because being a mechanistic part of a social class alienates a person from his and her humanity A condition of workers in a capitalist economy, resulting from a lack of identity with the products of their labour and a sense of being controlled or exploited.
  32. 32. + Existentialism A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts. A sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world
  33. 33. + Fight Club – Generation X Generation X - 1991 Douglas Coupland
  34. 34. + Fight Club – Generation X  Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, published by in 1991, is the first novel by Douglas Coupland.  The novel popularized the term Generation X, which refers to Americans who reached adulthood in the late 1980s. It is a framed narrative, in which a group of youths exchange heartfelt stories about themselves and fantastical stories of their creation.  Coupland felt that people his age were being misclassified as members of the Baby Boomer generation.  „I just want to show society what people born after 1960 think about things... We're sick of stupid labels, we're sick of being marginalized in lousy jobs, and we're tired of hearing about ourselves from others‟
  35. 35. + Fight Club and Audiences  Generation X are the children of the „Baby Boomers‟ – those people who were born in the optimistic years following WW11  The Baby Boomers have been characterised as being optimistic and purposeful, however their children, Generation X, are seen as pessimistic and purposeless.  They lack energy, drive, focus and maturity – Jack describes himself in these very terms in the film
  36. 36. + Fight Club and Audiences  Generation X is characterised as:  Powerless  Purposeless  Obsessed with commodities which they hope will give their lives definition  All style and no substance  Unhappy  Often coming form broken, fatherless homes  They struggle to find father figures, often in the work place – a place they feel alienated from
  37. 37. + Fight Club and Audiences  They are doubtful about the „feminised‟ culture of therapy  They doubt the „Godless‟ world in which they live  They are morbid and fatalistic and have lost faith in conventional politics  They are fearful of commitment and suspicious of enthusiasm  They can‟t sleep or dream  They are very anger but their anger is confused and unfocussed
  38. 38. + Fight Club and Audiences The film can therefore be seen as Generation X‟s attempt to „fight back‟ – to gain their own sense of empowerment and purpose The film is, then, a call to arms for a disaffected generation – this is why it has struck such a deep chord with its Generation X audience
  39. 39. + Fight Club and Masculinity Context & Background Information
  40. 40. +Masculinity in the 1990s and beyond  You may have heard about the „crisis in masculinity’in other media/film studies lessons.  One of the many popular readings of Fight Club is that it is an overt examination of the changes in pop culture masculinity.
  41. 41. + Men are ‘under threat’! 1. Women‟s growing independence meant that there was now an economy and culture based on women – men were not as dominant as before. 2. National trends to dismantle heavy industry meant that there were few traditional „male‟ jobs.
  42. 42. + Men Under Threat! 3. In many families both parents now work, meaning the power structure had changed. 4. Feminism had laid bare the myths of masculinity. Some role models (philandering Casanovas, domineering fathers) exposed as destructive myths.
  43. 43. + Men Under Threat! Fight Club the film caused considerable outrage on its release and shocked many people, especially critics, with its violence but also with its depiction of a society that was shown to be breaking apart.
  44. 44. + From America…  “It's macho porn -- the sex movie Hollywood has been moving towards for years, in which eroticism between the sexes is replaced by all-guy locker-room fights.”  “It's at about this point that the movie stops being smart and savage and witty, and turns to some of the most brutal, unremitting, non-stop violence ever filmed.” - Roger Ebert
  45. 45. + …and back home here in Britain.  “In any well-adjusted society, its stars would feel a backlash of public indignation well beyond the box-office”  “As for Britain's own Helena Bonham Carter, playing a sleazy, white-faced slut, on drugs, suicidal, servicing the flesh and fantasies of both men, she shows the extent that actresses are willing to go in order to trash their screen images and enjoy notoriety without responsibility.”  “My verdict on Fight Club is already in: it is an inadmissible assault on personal decency.” – - Alexander Walker, The Evening Standard
  46. 46. + However, did both Alexander Walker and Roger Ebert miss the point???
  47. 47. + Fight Club Fight Club is a film that not only deals overtly with ideas concerning masculinity and societies representation of it but is also, by the films end, critical and dismissive of this.
  48. 48. + Specifically, it does this in three ways: 1. By supposedly reflecting the way in which modern men are ‘feminised’ and confused. 2. Explores the ideas of ‘delayed adolescence’ and how men form relationships with other men. 3. Apparently rejects ‘open’ masculinity in favour of a more ‘mytho-poetic’ (classical) masculinity model.
  49. 49. + Lets look at this in more detail: 1. It can be said to reflect many men‟s distaste at the way men have become „feminised‟; mainly through the „womanly‟ obsession with consumerist wealth which has replaced strength, honour and independence as male status symbols.
  50. 50. + „Jack‟  In the novel this character remains nameless as Palahnuik wanted the character to be „an everyman. Every young man‟.  He is given the name ‘Jack’ in the film due to audience considerations, though even the choice of name still suggests we understand him this way.  For much of the film his character arc is one which varies with the two extremes of modern man: from yuppie status-slave to modern primitive (interestingly you might want to consider the ending of the film and the last shot in particular…)
  51. 51. + “We used to read pornography, now it was the Horchow (IKEA) collection” - Jack In the film the male status that „Jack‟ has achieved is an illusion, based on materialist accumulation and career hierarchy.
  52. 52. +
  53. 53. +The pursuit of these goals has subsumed his more „naturally‟ male needs as he has:  no male friends  no sexual partner in the „nest‟ apartment he‟s built  no physically demanding work or action-based solution to his problems.
  54. 54. + Textual Analysis 1  Re-watch the scene where Jack attends the ‘Remaining men Together: Testicular cancer group’ meeting (about 7 minutes in). Make notes on the different representations of masculinity shown here.  What examples of ‘traditional roles‟ are mentioned and what is seen to have happened to them?  What examples of confused masculinity are there?  NOTE: It‟s around here that Tyler first starts to „appear‟ in the film. Keep your eyes open – can you see him?
  55. 55. +
  56. 56. +  At this point, Tyler starts to appear in the form of quick, blink-and- you‟ll miss-him cameos. This subliminal introduction of Tyler could be seen as a gimmick, but what else might it suggest?
  57. 57. +  „…It pushes the concepts of subjectivity and identification to extremes to suggest a male identity that‟s not only fragile but frangible. Jack is so filled with self-loathing and repressed rage he‟s desperate to get out of his own skin and into someone else‟s.” – Sight and Sound, November 1999
  58. 58. + 2. It also explores the phenomenon of „delayed adolescence‟: the weaker character bonding with the cooler, stronger „best mate‟; ritualistic violence as a rite of passage and the Oedipal relationship built with the mentor/father (think of „Jack‟ and Tyler, their relationship and the end of the film with Jack killing Tyler too ).
  59. 59. + Delayed Adolescence •Fincher once said – “In our age kids are more sophisticated at an earlier age and less emotionally capable at a later age.”  What do you think he meant by this?
  60. 60. +  The fighters in Fight Club hark back to the pre-industrial male roles.  The fight club is an initiation ritual, one that instils a tribal sensibility in the men and helps create and maintain a sense of solidarity that the „under threat‟ men sorely desire.
  61. 61. + Ritualistic Violence Focus of the „fighting‟ is endurance – taking the beating and defining one‟s identity through pain – not the winning (“How do you know who you are if you‟ve never been in a fight?”) These acts establish masculinity through the ability to endure physical pain and discomfort - think about the sportsman who boasts of his agonising gym workout or the laddish pride in the severity of a hangover after a night of drinking.
  62. 62. +
  63. 63. + Jack/Tyler as Acolyte/Mentor  Tyler is the cool kid in school; irreverent, cares nothing for status or urbane wit or etiquette.  He is the ultimate adolescent fantasy – the „wild man‟ showing the „straight guy‟ how to cut loose.  Many films that are aimed at men use this idea – think of „buddy‟ films like Lethal Weapon, Shanghai Noon or even Hot Fuzz.  Think back to our earlier point of men not accessing traditional models or codes of masculinity – why does Jack lose his luggage and who, by implication, is partly responsible for this?
  64. 64. + “We are a generation of men raised by women” • Tyler‟s first function is to separate Jack the narrator from the „comfortable‟, feminised world by destroying the ‘nest’ (i.e. By blowing it up). • Toughens Jack up by exposing him to the harsh reality of the uncaring world - “you are not God‟s delicate snowflake.
  65. 65. + • Like many Oedipal son/father relationships, the „father‟ (Tyler) is revealed to be a hypocrite and this then enables the „son‟ (Jack) to symbolically overcome and kill the father.
  66. 66. + Textual Analysis 2  Re-watch the scene where Tyler makes the speech to the men about what men have become (“advertising has us chasing cars and clothes”) – it‟s about 1 hour 7 minutes in.  How are men defined here?  What are the problems (as seen by Tyler) men face?  What is lacking in men‟s lives?  Why do you think we see the scene with Lou? How does Tyler handle this and what does it show?
  67. 67. + 3. Fight Club shows the rejection of a confused/open masculinity in favour of a more classical, „mytho-poetic‟ essentialism and how this attitude can lead to destruction (or fascism in the case of „Project Mayhem‟)
  68. 68. + Remember this scene?
  69. 69. +
  70. 70. +
  71. 71. + „Mytho-Poetic‟  Robert Bly‟s influential yet oft-criticised book Iron John (1992) explored the problems men apparently faced in the modern world, such as frustration, lack of a firm role, violence against men/women, anger at society.  In doing so, he takes an essentialist viewpoint – that any kind of entity (men, in our case) has a specific set of characteristics that their kind must possess.
  72. 72. + Extract from Iron John
  73. 73. +
  74. 74. + So, as Bly would have it, if we deny our „nature‟ as hunter/gatherers then we feel „shame‟, which then leads to wide scale frustration and anxiety!
  75. 75. + What next?  Bly goes on to state that as men are no longer allowed to take part in physical „rites of passage‟ or „trial by fire‟ tests then this „essential‟ nature manifests itself in masochistic group behaviour such as binge drinking or excessive drug use.  As a response, ‘men’s groups’ form (drumming circles for example) where they re-establish and re-connect with their „natural‟ male state. Sound familiar???
  76. 76. + But… Fight Club takes Bly‟s ideas and also shows the pitfalls of this line of thinking and doesn‟t suggest it is the answer. As stated earlier, It could be argued that Fight Club shows how this can ultimately lead to destructionand (in some cases) fascismlike with „Project Mayhem‟.
  77. 77. + In short, men are confused, unsure of themselves and weak.
  78. 78. + Is there any hope for modern man? • Somewhat interestingly, in the novel the narrator wakes up in hospital and is contacted by the other members of Project Mayhem who remain convinced that he „will return‟ – what do you think Palahniuk is saying about masculine archetypes? • Why do you think Fincher didn’t include this? • What could he be suggesting? • Look at the ending again – the next two slides
  79. 79. +
  80. 80. + So what‟s the answer…?
  81. 81. + Representation of the male body and other readings of Fight Club  Before we take a look at the star „persona‟ of Brad Pitt, lets quickly take a look at one aspect of the film we haven‟t discussed: homoerotic readings of Fight Club and fetishisation.  By now you should be familiar with Laura Mulvey‟s idea of the „male gaze‟ - how does this function in Fight Club?
  82. 82. + Textual Analysis 3  Before we take a look at the star „persona‟ of Brad Pitt, lets quickly take a look at one aspect of the film we haven‟t discussed: homoerotic readings of Fight Club and fetishisation.  You are going to see two scenes from the film – the bar scene and a scene between the two men in the toilet. Make notes and comment on how the relationship between the men is shown. Consider:  Setting  Mise-en-scene  Performance,  etc
  83. 83. +
  84. 84. + ◦ There is almost a sexual tensionbetween the men, and this is something referenced to in the text with it‟s talk of „cut the foreplay‟, the setting of the bar/toilet and the mannerin which the men meet (has Jack „picked up‟ Tyler?) ◦ What could Fincher be suggestingabout masculinityhere? Or about „Fight Clubs‟ (drumming circles) and the way in which men establish their masculinity?
  85. 85. +
  86. 86. + Possible criticisms of this:  Some critics have accused the aesthetic of Fight Club as being exactly the same as that the characters attack (ie that in casting Brad Pitt – „the worlds sexiest man‟ – he was playing to the same aesthetic ideals that men‟s magazines show or women want).  Is this a genuine criticism or do you think Fincher has done this deliberately?
  87. 87. + Past Exam Questions – 30 marks 1. What does your chosen film reveal about the usefulness of one or more critical approaches you have applied? 2. Consider debates that have arisen in the critical reception of your chosen film, either at the time of its initial release or now or both. 3. Despite the gesture of destroying symbols of corporate power at the end, Fight Club is a film about power and control, not liberation.' How far do you agree? 4. Explore some of the ways in which you have gained fresh insights into your chosen film as a result of applying one or more specific critical approaches.
  88. 88. + Past Exam Questions – 30 marks 5. How important have been the responses of others, such as film reviewers, in influencing your own response to your chosen film? 6. Explore the contribution of visual style to the overall themes of Fight Club. 7. Explore some of the ways in which placing your chosen film within a broader critical framework has helped to develop your appreciation and understanding of specific sequences. 8. How far has critical debate about your chosen film shaped and altered your response?
  89. 89. + Past Exam Questions – 30 marks 9. Discuss critically some of the characteristics of Fight Club that have given it cult status as a film. 10. How useful has a particular critical approach been in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of your chosen film? [30] 11. Explain how your understanding of your chosen film has been influenced by critical debates. 12. „Marla is at the root of it,‟ says Jack in Fight Club. Discuss what this statement reveals about the film as a whole.
  90. 90. + Question: What issues of masculinity are explored in Fight Club? Include:  Changing roles/jobs of men  Significance of the „Fight Clubs‟ themselves  Homoeroticism of the fights  Homoerotic „relationship‟ between Jack & Tyler  Jack is different to his work colleagues (insurance). Why?  Fetishism – masculine body as object of sexual attraction (Tyler etc)  Casting issues – Brad Pitt vs Edward Norton – why?
  91. 91. + Question: What issues of masculinity are explored in Fight Club?  Rites of passage – from boy to man. Have to fight at the Fight Club  Men prove themselves through an act of violence  Men defining themselves by the products they consume i.e. the „Ikea‟ scene & the yin/yang coffee table  Oedipus complex (Sigmund Freud) – can only become a man by symbolically killing his father (here – Tyler) – only then is he able to reconcile the two sides of his subconscious and be able to form an adult romantic relationship with Marla  Jack has to create „Tyler‟ in order to become a „real‟ man