From the Cradle on Television – The American Myth

“I was a poor kid. I came from nothing. We didn’t have any money; a lot of times we didn’t have any food, and now, all of a sudden, I’m a superhero in a Marvel movie? Talk about the American dream, man – I’m living it.” David Bautista thus passionately seizes the American Dream while exploring his own lifescape. And thus the legend of the American Dream has travelled far and wide – has pierced the East and the West alike and enticed hearts. The image of the new garden of Eden accessible to everyone willing to commit to perseverance and find fruit indeed embalms and cocoons us into a sense of wonder and security. A deliverance from fated disharmony and nourishing adventure spelled in lustrous letters of fortune and esteem.

Over time, the comfortable ethos of the States has eroded to give way to yawning self doubt, despair and hopelessness towards the future. Director David Fincher’s Fight Club offers a clamorous, controversial take on this great despair.

“Television is the teacher and arbiter of our value system. The idea of waking up in adulthood and realizing that the promise couldn’t be fulfilled by this advertising and marketing culture has led to a whole generation having a midlife crisis in its 20s.” Fincher thus presents a major takeaway of one of the most contentious silver screen presentations till date. Based off Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel sharing the same name, Fight Club opened to a lukewarm box office reception but was ultimately successful in gaining the cult classic status it enjoys in the Hollywood hall of fame, a movie that has been denigrated and uplifted, censured and cursed- yet it never seen irrelevant or inconsequential post its release in 1999.

The unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) captures the nameless Everyman caught up in the dream of the hustle, impoverished in spirituality and wandering the maze of consumer culture while succumbing to chronic insomnia. He finds temporal solace in various support groups which he dubiously seeks out by posing as a patient with chronic illnesses. This solace is rudely snatched when he faces Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) , another imposter tackling her personal demons. The narrator then meets enigmatic force of nature Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on a business trip, a soap salesman who the former contacts on finding his house destroyed by a freak explosion . Durden preaches how capitalism is slowly choking our consciousness and the two get in a fist fight, watched on and later emulated by multiple men chasing the same circles of lifeless ownership and thus the Fight Club is born. A deep dive and some 120 minutes later, the theme of the narrative surfaces in rumbling ominous destruction. A theme widely disputed, contested and discussed by movie buffs and in critical circles alike.

Consumerism wreaks havoc on a cellular level as “the things you own end up owning you “. This cinematic affair encompasses the experiences of the Generation X, thoroughly disillusioned by the gilded tomb of the infinite economic emancipation that the American Dream brought. It’s the cry of a generation breaking free from the hypnotism of their cushioned duvets, their Calvin Kleins and IKEA furniture. The celebrated , consequential and impassioned speech by Durden reverberates true through the ages and sums up the thrust of the characters, the era they speak for and the psyche of the cornered wounded animal striking back -” we’re very, very pissed off.” The capitalist sway of the spotlight is dimming and the fabled world of possibilities is a house of cards collapsing into itself. The Everyman of Generation X has no opportunities – he realises he will stay poor if he is born poor – he is angst ridden because he is “the middle child of history”. He bears no great defining climax or descent, his is the “spiritual war”. The insomnia may be viewed as the chronic loss of sleep stemming from the lack of social mobility promulgated to impel the allegory of the American Dream and secure popular support by existing institutions of power. Such machinations have rendered the Generation X on a lifelong hamster run , glorifying the hustle to keep the cogs burnished and turning smoothly.

Tyler Durden arguably remains far more iconic in the audience’s mind than the protagonist himself. Coming from a noisy claim of human existence as beyond wallets, beyond khakis and most importantly ,” beyond jobs” – Durden is an ubercharismatic man stylised in the mould of the Nietzschean Übermensch- a powerfully riveting, sexy, hyper masculine man out against the world to dismantle the fever dream of the still befuddled Generation X ,direct catastrophe against bigshot card credit owners and last but not the least, inaugurate the Fight Club. He is the irreplaceable heartbeat of the movie, and the movie does seem to glorify his nihilistic inclination to obliterate every societal order possible for seeking an ideal- the utopia of the ultimate equal.

He is also seen holding a gun to an Asian cashier, most definitely a consequence of the hamster run but never a cog in it. He is seen endorsing violence as the answer to an apparently feminized America’s neurotic anxiety over emasculation and loss of the true man’s code of honour and reclaiming bruised ego.

He is also most importantly- a figment of the Narrator’s imagination.

Tyler Durden’s reality, or lack thereof, is the most shocking hairpin bend in the course of this account. Critics and general audiences have been thrown for a wild ride as wild as the character himself. The character does not just want to strip institutions pertinent to the corporate manifestations but wants total decimation of the supposed emasculation of the generation’s anxiety over losing position and manhood – “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” He conceptualises the Fight Club as this swashbuckling, ultramasculine and macho initiative to regain “lost” virility and sense of white male individuality that blue collared corporatism reduces to hollowed consciousness. He breathes and exudes style, sex appeal and delicious confidence. Many often misrepresent him in the light of a more socially awry Robin Hood-esque manifestation. However, the one primary understanding that the plot serves to drill into the audience’s sensibility is the complete failure of Durden’s American Dream. He orchestras Project Mayhem and colours it as a counter structure to abolish classism when it is simply a terrorist cell out to cast vigilante justice on perceived wrongdoers and answer in a subservient position with unflinching loyalty evoking the militia image.

Durden is the Narrator’s brainchild – the manic hallucinations of his insomnia riddled mind conjured when he thinks he falls asleep. In a subtly poignant moment Durden asks the Narrator to take creative responsibility- as self awareness seeps into the hallucination so does the break of the feverish frenzy for takeover. We come to see how a ‘martyr’ of Project Mayhem is honoured beyond words- painting him in a heroic, fallen figure light incongruent to his real stature- an innocent, severely frustrated man channelising his exorbitant redundancy into lawless, futile pursuits. Project Mayhem is a decidedly anarchist collaboration under the sway of one charismatic leader with no clarity on operations or considerations of human life(reminiscent of most dictators in history), The Narrator ignores Marla Singer, ignores rational misgivings till he finds himself amid the throng of life, vicariously living through his own projection. Nihilist outlooks etched in dialogues like “I wanted to destroy everything beautiful I’d never have” comes from a place of a non material, moral and spiritual void birthed by the advertisement fueled glaze of television and personas of rock stars and actors. The Fight Club , amid its rites of complete secrecy and anonymity provides a very dangerous and simulating outlet- the seat of the physical fights dually serve as recruitment grounds for Project Mayhem. The physical toil has gloriously been adopted by multiple men’s rights activists as the beacon of entitled male heterosexuality. This has rendered the message of the movie degenerate – it is in the action of “killing” Durden that the Narrator gains back control. It is with Singer’s hand in his that he witnesses the destruction set in motion by Project Mayhem. The movie holds a conspicuous silence that definitely fuels further controversy, but the fact that the Narrator holds the latter’s hands may prove insightful into further negotiations – the moral void may have been dissolved to some extent in human companionship free from market values and consumerist drives.

The film professes no answers. It follows no didactic note or moral compass- in fact the layers are dubious and treacherous to navigate through and see moral embellishments at the end of the tunnel. The sexist strokes are very often cited by bigots as the essence of true order and hierarchies. The author remains silent on these immensely important concerns. Yet the film remains etched in time as a riveting watch- if not for the convoluted messages then at least for the performances.

– Bipasha Bhowmick

Picture Credits: cinemablend.com

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