Monday, April 24, 2006

Fight Club

by Chuck Palahniuk

This is one of the rare instances when a movie is better than the book it's based on. It's not that the book is bad, in fact it's very good, it's just that the movie is really fucking awesome. I'm pretty sure that everyone has seen the movie or at least knows what it's about, I figure I should describe the plot in broad terms at least. I'm going to give away the big twist at the end too, so don't read any further if you're concerned about spoilers.

At the beginning of the book the narrator (who remains nameless for the entire book) has a tidy, boring life, a nice job, a nice apartment and lots of nice stuff, however at the same time he is purposeless and lonely. All this changes when he meets a charismatic madman named Tyler Durden who helps him start an illicit brawling competition in the basement of a bar. Men from all walks of life join the fight club in order to find some kind of catharsis by beating the shit out of other men, and in turn getting the shit beaten out of themselves.

The theme of the book is a bit mixed, on the surface it seems simply violent and nihilistic, but underneath it all is a feeling of loneliness and abandonment. It's made very clear in the book that all this violence is erupting because the men who join fight club feel emasculated by modern society and impotent to change anything. The narrator in particular creates Tyler Durden out of loneliness as a way to get closer to his love interest Marla, and creates fight club as a way to deal with his repressed anger about being abandoned by his father. So while on the surface you're getting a brutal story about people who are reacting against a repressive consumerist society by releasing their inner violence, you're actually getting a story about a bunch of guys with psychological parental issues who really just need a hug. Still, it's wrong to expect too much coherency from your nihilistic expressions of rage and frustration, and once fight club turns into Project Mayhem things do get pretty cool, as they begin to actively work towards the collapse of civilisation.

As much as Project Mayhems methods are clever and entertaining I have to say I found their ends to be a little disturbing. This is mainly because at the same time as I was reading Fight Club I was also reading Guns, Germs and Steel, a non-fiction book dealing with the rise of civilisation, and how much it's done for the human race, and Red Mars, a science fiction novel dealing with the colonisation of Mars, where the colonists reject old Earth society and present much more constructive and satisfying alternatives than Fight Club's solution of 'blow everything the fuck up'. Now that's not the actual message of the book, but we are supposed to get a vicarious thrill out of watching them try to achieve this goal, and we are supposed to sympathise with them just a little. I found it a lot easier to do so when watching the movie, which took itself less seriously and had a lot more style, than when reading the book, which contained characters who were just a little too morally deficient and a little too overtly psychologically damaged.

The movie left out a lot of the psychological subtext included in the book, making for a tidier but somewhat shallower story. Due to it's visual nature the movie also had to leave out all the little hints that could be placed in the book towards the big twist at the end, which is that Tyler isn't a real person, just the narrator's split personality. I especially liked the scene in which Tyler is first introduced, as the narrator suffers through a constant series of long plane flights:

“You wake up at O'Hare. [...]

You wake up at LaGuardia. [...]

You wake up at Logan.”

And then, after a long passage about something else so that the trick isn't obvious:

“You wake up at the beach.”

When you know what the twist is, Tyler's first scene is obviously a dream, but it's neatly done and it's all delivered in a jumbled stream of consciousness reflecting the narrator's insomnia.

“If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?”


fairy princess said...

I hear that some chick from rocky was shagging some guy on your lawn..

Jon said...

I can confirm that rumour as being not only true, but merely part of a series of shenanigans that cannot be described fully here as they involved serious criminal acts.

Best party ever!