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The 'Fight Club' Debate: Just What Is the Message Here?

The film's energy and ferocity speak to a new generation.

November 01, 1999|DAVID GREEN | David Green is an award-winning student filmmaker who attends Crossroads School in Santa Monica. He is 16

When Kenneth Turan went to see "Fight Club," did he keep his eyes open, or did he simply squirm in his seat, refusing to see what was on the screen? Turan's review ("The Roundhouse Miss," Oct. 15) surely did miss the radical storytelling techniques that director David Fincher introduces with "Fight Club." Turan neglects the energy, style and shocking visual language that the film speaks, while he attacks the film from a traditional, closed-minded standpoint, seeing it as a movie full of "whiny, infantile philosophizing and bone-crunching violence."

Is it fair to simply disagree with a film's values and therefore disregard the entire work as a whole? Of course not. Nor is it fair to overlook one of the most poignantly smart and visually sensational films in many years.

Turan poses a question that begs to be answered: "If the first rule of Fight Club is, 'Nobody talks about Fight Club,' a fitting subsection might be: 'Why would anyone want to?' " Here's why:

Once in a great while, a film speaks to an entire generation, as "Fight Club" does with energy, ferocity and style. With a bitingly sarcastic tone, the film explores our consumerist society and concludes that it should be ripped apart: Everything marketable, pretty, happy, "Fight Club" tramples. To what degree do your possessions define you? Strip away the cell phone, get rid of the Fred Segal haircut, the Armani suit and the Prada shoes: Is anything left?

We are the product of a consumer society that tells us that happiness always comes in a brand-named package, but "Fight Club" tells us that happiness is only part of an imaginary image. As Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) comments to the nameless Narrator (Edward Norton), "Self-improvement is masturbation. Maybe self-destruction is the answer."

"Fight Club" marks a reinvention of cinema as we know it: What will surely be seen as one of history's most insensitively violent pictures is, in fact, violent for the sake of reinventing an entire storytelling medium. By breaking conventions, by trampling "the norm," the film not only grabs the audience's attention but also forces it to observe what will soon be the future of movies: work that is nonlinear, multilayered, shockingly visual and moving at the speed of a thought.

While Turan labels "Fight Club" as an actively violent film, it is actually a picture of passivity; the film is about taking the hit, it's about being beaten into a new, self-reflexive consciousness. Throughout the film, Fincher forces his audience to be self-aware. Using various distancing techniques--at one point, Pitt addresses the camera directly and the film appears to shake violently from the projection lamp--Fincher allows the audience to be, at once, conscious of the film and removed from the film: The violence is never promoted firsthand. The viewer of "Fight Club" is asked to let down his guard, forget about conventions and observe the film as an expertly designed cinematic masterpiece.

Maybe Turan is too traditional for such a film: He can't play the game, he can only referee between "Fight Club" and his traditional values of right and wrong. Whether Turan approves or not, "Fight Club" represents the voice of a new generation: It is a subversive, cerebral rush, and it must be viewed with open eyes.

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