Many commentators have suggested
that since September 11, everything has changed. I don't know about that, but
I do know that the terrorists attacks give this movie entirely new meaning, and
a deeply disturbing one at that. More on that later, but first lets take a closer
look at this powerful film.
This is a play with three acts. Or maybe it's
three different movies spliced end to end. In the opening scenes, Fight Club
appears to be a satirical comedy. Through the eyes of our nameless narrator (Edward
Norton) we get an insider's view of what it's like for a young, white, urban male
working in the heartless world of corporate capitalism. The narrator doesn't
have a name, but he does have an Ikea catalogue, and in one memorable scene early
on, the camera pans his empty apartment as he furnishes it piece by piece straight
out of the Gen-X furniture store of choice. (In the Columbia University neighborhood
where I live, Ikea has a shuttle bus running from the main entrance of the campus
to its outlet in New Jersey. At the end of each day during freshman week
busloads of students stream back to their dorms where they set up their living
quarters just like the Edward Norton character in this movie.)
the movie's opening scenes, we learn that the narrator is working as an investigator
for one of the big auto companies. It's his job to determine whether a fatal accident
suggests a flaw in an automobile's design. He routinely translates the charred
bodies of accident victims into a formula which measures their lives against the
dollar cost of recall and repair. Just how many lives will a particular flaw in
the auto's design consume before the company takes steps to correct its error?
It's little wonder, Fincher seems to be saying, that a young man who performs
this sort of cynical calculus eventually rises up to take down the system that
places him in such a dehumanizing role.
Part one, satirical
comedy; part two, action movie.
This begins when the narrator
teams up with another young man, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) to organize the "fight
club" in which scores of young men spend their weekends, not jogging in the
park or bar hopping, but brutally beating each other up. Apparently the
searing pain involved in being battered to a pulp snaps these young men out of
a stupor of boredom, and awakens a sense of being, for the first time, truly alive.
During this film's run in the theaters some commentators
compared the fight club gatherings to fascist youth gangs in Hitler's Germany;
others drew parallels between the cheering crowds of these slug fests and an ecstatic
congregation at a pentecostal church. It's a tribute to the skill of David
Fincher's direction and Jeff Cronenwith's cinematography that both these comparisons
In the action movie, Fincher takes us inexorably toward
more and more brutal forms of violence, until the members of the fight club begin
to vent their anger against the outside world. Gradually their "club"
becomes a cross between a cult group and a terrorist cell. And as they become
better organized under Durden's leadership, their ambitions soar. No longer satisfied
with random acts of violence, they dream of striking out against the behemoths
of corporate capitalism, planting bombs, so that the high rise office towers that
dominate the skyline of a major city come tumbling down. In fact, during
the course of making Fight Club Fincher consulted architects to insure
that the destruction of the towers would be totally credible. Viewing recent news
clips of the World Trade Center's collapse makes it utterly clear just how realistic
Fincher's computer generated images were.
satirical comedy; part two, action movie; part three, psychological thriller.
In this part the narrator tries to come to grips with
the destructive forces within his own psyche, from which the anger and the violence
have flowed. It's this part of the movie that is the most disturbing. Yet even
as the Fight Club cell prepares to execute its greatest act of violence
ever, the contesting forces in the narrator's consciousness collide with each
other with ever increasing intensity. In this part, Fincher takes us into a fantasy
world, in which the line between nightmare and reality is increasingly blurred.
September 11, many people have wondered, "Why would anyone hate us so, that
they would plan and carry out the destruction of the World Trade Center with such
massive loss of life." This film offers a disturbing answer. One need not
travel to far away Afghanistan to find out why. The source of such hatred can
be found much closer to home. Look within the hearts and minds of young Americans
like those who committed the earlier terrorist attacks at Columbine High. Follow
David Fincher into the hearts and minds of America's own alienated youth. The
war on terrorism's most dangerous front line lies within.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.