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Close Critical Study: Fight Club Final Revision

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Maria Edwards

on 17 June 2013

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Transcript of Close Critical Study: Fight Club Final Revision

SECTION C: CLOSE CRITICAL STUDY
cHARACTERS
THEMES
Nameless Narrator:
Refers to himself as Jack in the third person: "I am Jack's smirking revenge", "I am Jack's complete lack of surprise".

Suffers insommnia

Unfulfilled by his mundane and routine life - this works as a criticism of the postmodern consumerist lifestyle of the 90s "everything is a copy of a copy of a copy"

Searching for liberation and initially finds it through Tyler and Fight Club. For example when Tyler burns his hand "And then something happened. I let go... I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom."

Emasculated by Marla "She's a predator posing as a housepet".

Controlled by Tyler "Tell him you fell down the stairs".
Tyler Durden:
Represents masculinity and is posed as an object of desire and identification.

Is anarchic - does not conform to societies 'norms'. He is distrustful of the status quo and hides himself away from the ‘normal world’ and materialism that Jack is so dependent on and choked by at the beginning of the film. Tyler’s ‘civil disobediences’ become the central idea behind Fight Club as it transforms from therapy group to guerrilla army.

Controls 'Jack': "Get rid of her." Also he knows that they are the same person, giving him more control.

A clear leader - he is the one who announces the Fight Club rules and hands out homework assignments.

Criticised in reviews and critical receptions of the film. Ebert describes Tyler as "a bully…a leather club operator without the decor. "

Nihilistic: Tyler’s argument is that God hates man. “We don’t need him. We are God’s unwanted children. It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything.”
Marla Singer:
Represents the 90s woman: post-feminist, independent and no longer 'needs' a man. For example: the dildo on her dresser when Tyler visits her "Don't worry, it's not a threat to you"

Non-confomist - is not 'feminine' in the traditional sense and does not conform to the 'normal rules' of society. E.g. stealing clothes from the launderette to sell, and her philosophies on elements of life: "The condom is the glass slipper of our generation. You slip it on, you dance the night away with a stranger, and then you throw it away - the condom, that is, not the stranger."

Controls Jack and emasculates him. E.g. when she grabs him by the testicles when he attempts to stop her from selling her stolen clothes. At this point she literally takes control of his manhood. Also when he tries to confront her for coming to the support groups:
Jack: "You're a tourist. I saw you at melanoma, tuberculosis and testicular cancer."
Marla: "I saw you practicing this"
Jack: "Practicing what?"
Marla: "Telling me off. Is it going as well as you hoped?"

Jack is unable to control his feelings for her, or to control her an as such he sees her as a destructive presence in his life: "If I did have a tumor, I would name it Marla. Marla, the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you would stop tonguing it, but you can't."
Bob aka Robert Paulson
Represents the loss of masculinity facing 90s man.

Initially introduced at the testicular cancer group - this is a literal loss of manhood and masculinity.

Represented as very effeminate (hugs Jack and crys, use of drugs has resulted in breasts).

Easily controlled and influenced by Tyler. As such he represents the members of Fight Club and Project Mayhem who were criticised by Ebert who stated "None of the Fight Club members grows stronger or freer because of their membership; they’re reduced to pathetic cultists. Issue them black shirts and sign them up as skinheads.”

However Chris Whitehouse analyses the reasons that the members of Fight Club are so easily led into that life and controlled by Tyler. He states that "The Fight Clubs bring all men together, and what they seem to want to do is hit one another, hard, with bare knuckles, to get a sense of empowerment."

Played by Meatloaf: iconic
masculine
rock figure of the 80s and early 90s. Used to show how masculinity is in crisis - the traditional ideologies about masculinity no longer apply.
This is reinforced by Lou.
Power & Control:
Consumerism:
The way that the lead character creates his identity through what he owns. E.g. the Ikea Catalogue style graphics over his apartment to emphasise his consumerism.
Fincher uses this somewhat comical rendering of the protagonist’s apartment to enhance the film’s criticism of corporate and consumerist life.
According to Henry Giroux, “Fight Club appears to offer a critique of late capitalist society and the misfortunes it generates out of its obsessive concern with profits, consumption, and the commercial values that underline its market driven ethos.””


Support Groups:
The name tags, the regular days and times, the rituals of tea breaks and hugging, and the way the protagonist controls his sleeping by going to them.


Fight Clubs:
“The first rule of Fight Club is” – the clearly controlled conditions of what began as a spontaneous brawl. The giving of ‘homework assignments’.
According to Giroux, the Fight Clubs become “a new religion and secret society open only to males”.
“None of the Fight Club members grows stronger or freer because of their membership; they’re reduced to pathetic cultists. Issue them black shirts and sign them up as skinheads.” Roger Ebert.


Project Mayhem:
What began as a club develops into Tyler’s own private army – the uniforms, the clear sense of hierarchy, the defined job roles within the ‘cult’ and importantly the lack of names. These show a loss of identity which is symbolic of the characters being completely controlled by Tyler and Project Mayhem.


Tyler’s power over’Jack’:
Speaking for him “Tell him you fell down the stairs”, his control over Fight Club and starting Project Mayhem without him. Burning his hand. At the end Tyler clearly knows he’s an alter-ego, whereas ‘Jack’ has to figure it out. Tyler can beat Jack in a fight – shown both in their first fight outside the bar and again after ‘Jack’ discovers the truth.
“Tyler has become a demagogue and that Fight Club has evolved into a fascist Para-military group more dangerous than the social order it has set out to destroy.” Giroux
“a man who tripped over the Nietzsche display on his way to the coffee bar in Borders. In my opinion, he has no useful truths. He’s a bully…a leather club operator without the decor.” Ebert
Masculinity and Feminism (blurring the gender roles):

The way the film plays with ideas on gender roles and how these link to control over our lives.

“Fight Club defines the violence of capitalism almost exclusively in terms of an attack on traditional (if not to say regressive) notions of masculinity, and in doing so re-inscribes white, heterosexuality within a dominant logic of stylized brutality and male bonding that appears predicated on the need to denigrate and wage war against all that is feminine.” Giroux

The way that Marla is the cause for much of the protagonist’s anxiety and stress that arguably leads to the creation of Tyler: “"if I had a tumour I would name it Marla." Once again, repressed white masculinity is thrown into a crisis by the eruption of an ultra-conservative version of post-60s femininity” Giroux.

At the beginning of the film (before the flashback) even ‘Jack’ seems to have realised that his creation of Tyler was a reaction to the difficulty in understanding how to deal with his attraction to the emasculating Marla "Marla is at the root of it."

Tyler blames the loss of masculinity on society on the consumerism of society: According to Tyler, the real problem men confront is "celebrity magazines, television with five hundred channels, some guys name on my underwear, Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra."
Critical Responses
Fight Club was one of the most controversial and talked-about films of the 1990s.

On July 16, 2009, a 17-year-old who had formed his own fight club in Manhattan was charged with detonating a homemade bomb outside a Starbucks Coffee shop in the Upper East Side in May 2009; the New York City Police Department reported the suspect was trying to emulate "Project Mayhem".

Cineaste's Gary Crowdus reviewed the critical reception in retrospect: "Many critics praised Fight Club, hailing it as one of the most exciting, original, and thought-provoking films of the year." He wrote of the negative opinion, "While Fight Club had numerous critical champions, the film's critical attackers were far more vocal, a negative chorus which became hysterical about what they felt to be the excessively graphic scenes of fisticuffs ... They felt such scenes served only as a mindless glamorization of brutality, a morally irresponsible portrayal, which they feared might encourage impressionable young male viewers to set up their own real-life fight clubs in order to beat each other senseless."

Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times, praised Fincher's direction and editing of the film. She wrote that Fight Club carried a message of "contemporary manhood", and that, if not watched closely, the film could be misconstrued as an endorsement of violence and nihilism.

Roger Ebert outright hated the film, calling it "a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up." Later he changed his mind slightly and stated that the film was "beloved by most, but not by me"
Context
Overcame initial financial flop and negative criticism, to transcend it’s medium and attain a cult following.

Developed into an emblem for non-conformity and rebellion amongst white, predominantly male, middle-class youths.

Its become so enormously popular that most people don’t remember that when it was released in the September of 1999, it was considered by most to be a huge disappointment.

The film made about $11 million during its opening weekend (it cost over $60 million to make). To put that in comparison, Runaway Bride, also made in 1999, made over $35
million.

Opened on the weekend following the Columbine shooting to a country not very receptive to violence in movies (where The Matrix and The Basketball Diaries along with Marilyn Manson were blamed for Columbine).

Talk show host Rosie O’Donnell, gave away the ending of the film on her show the Friday it opened, along with a warning to avoid it at all costs.

Fox was not happy with the underwhelming results, and allegedly canned one of the executives who green lit the film.

Got a lukewarm reception from critics. While some had nice things to say, most dismissed it as a long R-rated music video.

Roger Ebert, amongst a few others, outright hated the film. For Ebert, the film was nothing more than unabashed violence posturing as pseudo-philosophy.

Ebert’s remarks are funny and probably sincere, but his criticism is ultimately reductive. Ebert’s issue with Fight Club is not about the film at all. Most indicative is that Ebert’s animosity is singled around Durden; which is similar to the focus of most of the film’s fans.

Pirayesh states: “Ultimately, both the older generation seeking to maintain social stability,
and the younger generation enamored with rebellion, are reducing the film to the message
of its villain, and ignoring the film as a whole.”
QUESTIONS?
CRITICAL THEORIES
McCullogh:
Capitalism dehumanises the narrator.

Breakdown in society and obsession with consumerism leads to violence becoming the resort to the failed American Dream

The characters are all in the narrators imagination.

Tyler represents the narrator's masculinity (which is in crisis)

Marla represents his femininity (and his struggle to accept it).

The ending can be considered as a representation of the narrator finally accepting that he must discard his old, traditional ideologies about masculinity and achieving the American Dream (by shooting Tyler and blowing up the credit card companies), and accept his feminine side (holding hands with Marla at the end, watching the old 'phallic' symbols of the credit card companies being destroyed)
Schuchardt:
Bob is the maternal figure the narrator needs to nurture him.

The narrator idolizes Tyler and rejects love.

Argues that Henry Giroux’s interpretation of the film being morally bankrupt and conveying violence as a representation of masculinity and gender is taking the film at ‘face value’ whereas his interpretation is based on the theory of the narrator being safe with Marla’s presence.

Tyler Durden’s character is Ironic as it is being played by Brad Pitt: Brad Pitt being a Hollywood icon; and thus creating the irony of his appearance and the character ’s working class register .
Full transcript