The last time I watched the film was in the fall of 2000 (- it might have been spring 2001) as a freshman at Purdue. That feels like a lifetime ago – almost 9 years now – and I am certainly a different person sitting on the couch taking it in. Back then the “post-consumerism” appealed to me, as well as the uniting of diverse men for a common cause. Perhaps this is something built into all men, not a mob mentality (though it could quickly become that), but a desire to be part of something bigger, greater, and beyond ourselves.
Yesterday the film struck me by its honest critique of consumerism. The stinging lines (“white collar slaves”, “the things you own end up owning you”, “what kind of furniture defines me as a person?”, “I was almost complete (as a person by having a this wardrobe and those furnishings)”, “you die a little every minute” or something like that…) ring true in our culture, and as we all probably know - it is quite easy to get caught in a cycle of seeking fulfillment in stuff.
A fascinating thing about leaving consumerism is that it isn’t as simple as having some oddly clothed street fighter shout at you to “snap out of it.” In the film the clubbers participate in fights as a form of release from their monotonous soul suffocating jobs (whether waiting tables or in the other modern serfdom: the cubicle). The challenge, pleasure, and pain (in large doses) are all more real than their “real lives,” dominated by custom and societal expectations. The link between the consumerist, facile, and self-obsessed culture (“self improvement is masturbation”) and the 8-5 set is implicit in the film. The modern cycle of work-stress-buy to manage ourselves is not explicitly named but is conspicuous by its absence when the men depart from society and enter the monastic paper company/project mayhem. Thus the fight clubs provide the outlet the men need from the chains of everyday life. As Jack floats among terminal illness support groups for self-coddling early in the film, Fight Club takes over as the film progresses. There is a shared experience in the community that is more powerful and compelling than that of society which is the platform for their freedom.
The value of human life was affirmed in the film (no, really!). The repeated (seeming) carelessness of several characters (Marla’s walking indiscriminately through traffic, Tyler’s car crash, the “human sacrifices”, even Jack’s discharging a pistol in his mouth-!) all underscore the value of life by taking it seriously and living “the way I ought to” rather than “waiting” for tomorrow to start “really living”. The “Carpe Diem” ethos is based on the seriousness of death and the fundamental goodness of life. Ironically, in the film as in life, getting past the fears of failure, pain, the opinions of others, and death are all prerequisite to living fully and freely (as an adult). These elements reminded me of Jonathan Edwards’ famed resolutions (while redundant at times, worth the time).
The life of the mind is quite deceptive and the difference between perception and reality is brought to the fore by Jack’s schizophrenia. Shel’s reaction to it after the film was: “That makes me overwhelmingly sad for schizophrenics.” My response: “But they live such interesting lives.” Oh well.