Tuesday, 10 January 2012

On Teaching Fight Club to Students Inclined to Love It (This be yet another one of them posts.) Fight Club, like its latter-day counterpart Inception, is the sum total of its wasted talent. Unlike Christopher Nolan, for whom Inception represented his personal white whale chased, captured, and carved, Fincher can't be held accountable for the many weaknesses of Fight Club. That can be blamed on his source material: the singular novel Chuck Palahniuk's been writing for the better part of the past two decades—Fight Club is merely an early incarnation. Read in isolation, it's possible to believe than any one of Palahniuk's books contains the potential to be more than it is—that its strengths, few though they are, may augur the arrival of a more sophisticated writer. Unfortunately, Palahniuk's development as an author could never eclipse the logic behind shampoo: He lathers. He rinses. He repeats. So if I seem particularly annoyed with any isolated moment in Fight Club, know that I'm not merely annoyed with that particular moment, but with its many kin. All of which is merely a long preface to a fairly simple argument: David Fincher's film far outstrips its source material. He accomplishes this not by altering fundamental elements of the plot, but by filming those elements in a way that undercuts, for example, explosive statements or implications of masculinity. For example, when charged to locate and lose a fight with a stranger, Fincher presents the scene comically: He uses a long shot to emphasize how unnecessary this altercation is. That priest can turn his other cheek and exist the mise-en-scène without being goaded by the mechanic and his hose a second time. The priest isn't, to paraphrase the narrator, doing just about anything he can to avoid a fight. He's walking away. It's not until the mechanic steals and waters his Bible that the priest becomes disturbed enough to muster a shove. The ensuing "fight" consists of the priest slapping the mechanic twice before running away. Moreover, the goofy non-diegetic sound playing throughout this sequence undercuts the bravery of all involved. The priest doesn't embrace his masculinity when he confronts the mechanic, nor is the mechanic's masculinity challenged by the priest's feeble attempt to confront him. Compare the Keystone Kops routine above with Palahniuk's description of the same in the novel: By this time next week, each guy on the Assault Committee has to pick a fight where he won't come out a hero. And not in fight club. This is harder than it sounds. A man on the street will do anything not to fight. The idea is to take some Joe on the street who's never been in a fight and recruit him. Let him experience winning for the first time in his life. Get him to explode. Give him permission to beat the crap out of you. You can take it. If you win, you screwed up. "What we have to do, people," Tyler told the committee, "is remind these guys what kind of power they still have." Fincher took what had,...

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