Thursday, September 21, 2006


FIGHT CLUB (1999, USA, David Fincher, Jim Uhls, Chuck Palahniuk novel)
Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing. This is your pain -- this is your burning hand. Don't deal with it the way those dead people do.
Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God? You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. We are God's unwanted children. So be it!
First you have to give up. First, you have to know – not fear, know – that someday you are going to die. It's only after we've lost everything that we are free to do anything.

This film is mad as hell, and it's not going to take it anymore – and like Howard Beale in NETWORK, its "what have I got to lose" bravado tells enough ugly truths to assume a prophetic mantle. Its uncompromising rage touched a nerve at the turn of the millenium, and FIGHT CLUB became one of those films that spoke to – or for – a generation of alienated young men embedded in corporate structures, targets for marketers, hungry for community and transcendent purpose.

With its near-death experiences, its damn-the-consequences refusal to live life numb and ordinary, FIGHT CLUB is FEARLESS on crack cocaine, fast and full of fury. The unnamed narrator flies from place to anonymous place, investigating fatal car accidents, praying for a plane crash or a mid-air collison – anything that will deliver him from his spiritual narcolepsy.

He gets his "anything" in the form of Tyler Durden, a wildman alter-ego whose reckless abandonment of civilized ways slaps him awake and introduces him to the shadow side of things – particularly, an ad hoc secret organization where men strip off their shirts and pound each other bloody. Sieze the day, the film seems to say – grab it by the throat and smash its head against the concrete until it begs for mercy.

At one level, FIGHT CLUB seems to skewer the whole "live life to the fullest" philosophy that so dominates our culture, forging a troubling link between self-actualization and fascism. "Seems." You see, it's a tricky business, trying to figure out what this film is saying – in truly post-modern fashion, whenever it seems to land somewhere, it undercuts the insight or conclusion with another layer of irony, another "but...." This is dense and demanding film-making, cinematically sophisticated story-telling that reveals – and subverts – its deeper truths only upon reflection, discussion, argument, and careful repeat viewings. A movie for the DVD/chatroom generation.

As relentlessly harsh and violent as the movie is – on first viewing I found it dishearteningly grim and cynical, leaving me in a cloud of quasi-depression for days – FIGHT CLUB shows up on the Fave lists of a remarkable number of film-loving Christians. I think that's because this film is against what God is against: it runs counter to the very culture that the Church needs also to be critiquing.

This from one friend who's immersed in the laments of the prophet Jeremiah, and Walter Brueggeman's writings on the prophetic imagination in exile: "Some things must be destroyed and brought down completely before newness can begin. And prophets were commanded to destroy, pull down. Institutions, perhaps. Self-love, perhaps. The need to own things, perhaps. So I applauded this film for the voice of truth, anger, and destruction.
We are not what we own. We need something else. We are angry for being let down and we have a right to be. Some things must be destroyed -- including my self, my pride, my love of possessions -- if God is to have a chance at regenerating me."

Truly, this is a story about regeneration – about the need for a death, however painful, to bring about the possibility of rebirth. And indeed, the film is saturated with religious imagery, Biblical language, encounter groups in churches, sacred music, Christian metaphor. Don't let anybody tell you they know exactly what Jesus meant when he said "The Kingdom of God suffers violence, and violent men seize it" – but I think it's something about a desperate, uncompromising battle to shed The Kingdom Of This World and break through to a different one. And there's something of that spirit in FIGHT CLUB.

In Telling The Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, Frederick Buechner maintains that the gospel has to be bad news before it can be good news – that we have to tell dark truths about what is wrong before jumping to what might be right, before trotting out the happy endings. Sometimes the true calling for the artist – as it is for the prophet or the preacher – is embodied in King Lear's "Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."

FIGHT CLUB speaks what some of us feel, these days. It's not so good at providing answers – all its proposed solutions seem to spin wildly out of control and into violence, self-deception, madness, destruction. But not every story needs to tell all of the truth: not every prophet needs to offer solutions.

In the final analysis, this film wants us to get mad. It doesn't know what to do about the multinationals, about the globalization, about the orphaned young men in meaningless jobs. All it knows is, "First... You've got to get mad!"

Available at Videomatica

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