Criminally Overrated: Fight Club

In one sentence: misogynistic twaddle.

Now let me say straight up, I am not one who puritanically hates violence in entertainment; a hallmark of a great film is violence used effectively in the service of character, comedy or horror. I DO have a problem with 'men can only take back their masculinity from evil modern women's equality by BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF EACH OTHER.' It feeds into this whole bullshit theory (that feminists are equally guilty of defending) that men have an innate NEED for violence, that their manhood is inherently tied up with brutality.

That said, I have a general disdain for any story that has a main theme of 'men being emasculated.' Again, the whole concept means there is a clearly defined version of what being a male means, and a feeling of emasculation usually reflects some form of misogny. This misogyny is further reflected by the fact that while the movie tells of the man-destroying feminization of the world, there is only one female character, and that female character is a balls-out male fantasy, ill equipped to challenge the movie's main point (though at least she doesn't confirm it).

This sort of surface deep analysis of social issues is rampant in the film. Now that we've got wussification of men out of the way, lets attack consumerism! In the stupidest, most idiotic, 'I wanna be a Red Army Faction Black Shirt but without any political ideology' kind of way. Back-fat soap is the instrument of horror, but like everything else in this movie, it's cheap and shallow.

Fight Club also commits the ultimate crime in fiction of any form; the illegitimate twist ending. An ending that completely removes the validity of the entire world the audience has been subjected to, an ending that exists only because the writer cannot be bothered to come up with something better.

I thought I was alone in hating this movie, but here are some of my more legitimate (employed!) brethren on the film:

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times): "Fight Club" is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since "Death Wish," a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up."

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian): "But, by the end, it has unravelled catastrophically into a strident, shallow, pretentious bore with a "twist" ending that doesn't work. And it is a film which smugly flirts, oh-so-very-controversially, with some of the intellectual and cultural paraphernalia of fascism - but does not have anything like the nerve, still less the cerebral equipment, to back this pose up."

And my personal favorite, by Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly): "The giant international furnishings chain IKEA is responsible for many consumer-based phenomena, among them our docile acceptance of cheap, hinged desk lamps that droop like spent lilies. But I hadn't realized that overexposure to IKEA results in limp penises, too, until I saw Fight Club. David Fincher's dumb and brutal shock show of a movie floats the winky, idiotic premise that a modern-day onslaught of girly pop-cultural destinations (including but not limited to IKEA, support groups, and the whole Starbucks-Gap-khakis brand-name axis) has resulted in a generation of spongy young men unable to express themselves as fully erect males. And that the swiftest remedy for the malaise lies in freely and mutually beating the crap out of each other -- bleeding, oozing, cracking, and groaning until pulped bodies crumple to the floor in a poetically lit heap."

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5 Responses to “ Criminally Overrated: Fight Club ”

  1. I'm new to this film criticism business, is there a difference between a film ABOUT misogynist people who feel like they deserve some unattainable and ridiculous macho heaven world and a film that tells us that is what we should think and feel about the state of the world?

    Feel free to say no...

    When watching fight club I've always felt like it is a portrait of people (or a person) who feel the things you so heavily criticise, rather than a call to arms that we should do them too. But maybe that is just how I watch it in order to make it enjoyable.

    Basically despite the fact that I personally really enjoy the stylised way the film (and book!) are narrated doesn't mean I agree with the narrator or Brad Pitt when they say stuff.

  2. There are two issues here I think.

    From my perspective, you are forced to spend 2 hours living in the hateful worldview of a particular character, which I can accept and sometimes even enjoy even when I don't agree with it (take Dostoevsky, for example, or numerous Mafia movies). But the movie takes this whole Freudian id/ego angle, which by its very nature generalizes about the entire male population (as Freud did), not just Edward Norton's character, or a particular sect of society. That's when it stops being a portrait of a person (or people) and comes off as trying to make some sort of larger point, and perhaps I'm oversensitive to that larger point in this film.

    The second thing is, that fakeout ending would make me hate any film, so it just compounded everything I already disliked by a factor of ten.

    Obviously I don't think I am really contributing to the body of academic film criticism here, but my comments are based on a visceral dislike, and in that case I was happy to have that backed up by respected crittics.

  3. These criticisms make sense only if you stop watching before Bob bites the big one. Fight Club is not an endorsement of nihilism, it's an emphatic rejection of it. Tyler Durden may be charismatic and seductive, he may initially seem to be the guy you'd really want to be, but the important thing to take away from this film is that he's a fucking lunatic. His rhetoric of emasculation and neglect is just as childish and ill-conceived as his attempted violent overthrow of consumer culture.

    As to the twist, I do take your point about the violation of the audience's world, but remember who's telling us this story. From the very beginning it's quite explicitly Ed's POV, and at no point do the other characters react to Ed & Brad as if they are separate people. Why should unreliable narrators be restricted to prose fiction?

  4. I don't equate twist endings with unreliable narrators, they're completely different things. Twist endings show the the hand of the AUTHOR, not the narrator, which is why they spoil the narrative. Maybe I do react to strongly to this, because twist endings have ruined quite a few things for me, like Lost, and the entire Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes franchise.

    Separately, unreliable narrators work in film and in literature only when the character has something serious at stake (Rashomon, Usual Suspects), or there's a larger mystery (American Psycho), or it REALLY says something about the person narrating (Invisible Man, We Need to Talk About Kevin). When you have this ridiculous twist ending, you find out that no one had anything at stake, Ed is mentally ill, and so it was all a lie just for the sake of being a lie and that's it.

  5. I would say that from Ed's (or Brad's, or maybe both?) point of view his life was at stake. Not in terms of survival but in terms of sliding into mediocre oblivion, so the 'get a life' sense of the word.

    But if you don't buy it then that won't work for you.


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