The Greatest Conservative Films: Fight Club (1999)
“After fighting, everything else in your life got the volume turned down. You could deal with anything.”
I know, folks—believe me, I’m all too aware:
“The First Rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.
“The Second Rule of Fight Club is: You do not—talk—about—Fight Club!”
In my defense, I’m technically writing about Fight Club. So…surely that means I’m safe…right…?
Anyway…yes, this is a Conservative film, in its own way—and like many a Conservative film, it was hilariously branded “fascist”. By people who have no idea what that means.
Bear with me.
(And incidentally, a MAJOR Spoiler Alert, as this film has one of the most famous “unspoiled” twists in the history of cinema. Some other plot points are revealed, too. You have been warned, dear readers.)
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
First off, none other than the author of the original novel, Chuck Palahniuk, pretty much endorses Fight Club as a direct inspiration for Trump supporters in general, and the Alt Right in particular. He may be more right than he realizes—but I’m getting ahead of myself. In the meantime, let’s start with what he gleefully—and delightedly—takes credit for:
“You Are Not A Beautiful And Unique Snowflake”:
That’s right, folks. The term’s attributed to Fight Club—specifically, a scene where Tyler Durden lectures his disciples on how they are not “special”.
As Palahniuk notes, the definition still stands:
“There is a kind of new Victorianism. Every generation gets offended by different things but my friends who teach in high school tell me that their students are very easily offended.
“…The modern Left is always reacting to things. Once they get their show on the road culturally they will stop being so offended.”
Well, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, Chuck.
When Men Cannot Be Men…
The “Snowflake” thing is part of a much broader theme. Namely, when Tyler brings it up, it’s part of a general recurring theme about how the men of today have just plain forgotten to be men…and further, how society has essentially emasculated them, transforming them into a bunch of conformist spoiled brats. To wit…Snowflakes:
“Man, I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential—and I see squandering. …An entire generation, pumping gas—waiting tables. Slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes—working jobs we hate, so we can buy s—t we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man!—no purpose or place. We have no Great War…no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression—is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars—but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very—very pissed off.”
Now, just to get this out of the way: Tyler Durden is not a Conservative hero. He isn’t meant to be. As the above speech indicates, he pretty much identifies the wrong target as the culprit. Well…to be specific, he effectively misbrands an effect as the cause. More on that later.
But the point is, what Tyler—and “Jack” the narrator—see is the effective emasculation of culture. For whatever reason, men have forgotten how to be men…and the entire (initial) point of the Fight Clubs is to remind them—further, to remind them of the value of those Alpha qualities of ambition, strength, and force of will. It’s an outlet, for men to exercise their inner muscles of masculinity, amid a society that discourages such.
Consumerism As Emasculated Capitalism:
When “Jack” (so nicknamed by movie fans because of his “I am Jack’s…” mantra) takes us back to his pre-Tyler life, we see him as a self-admitted “slave to the IKEA nesting instinct”. See, “Jack” has a good-paying office job…but in this feminized culture where classical manhood is dismissed and undervalued, what does he do with that money?
Well…he shops. And shops. And SHOPS.
“I’d flip through catalogues and wonder: ‘What kind of dining set defines me as a person?’”
It’s a common stereotype, with more than a little basis in fact, that women love to shop—whether they buy something or not; basically looking to find what fashion is most “me”. Decor, knickknacks—what specific brand and style “fits” best, that sort of thing.
And lo and behold…here we have “Jack” obsessed with the exact—same—things.
Welcome to Third-Wave Feminism, where the very notion that men and women are inherently different is smeared as “sexist”—instead of, you know, basic psychology dating back to Freud and Jung, and frankly before…as in, since the beginning of time. Regardless, you see culture en masse marketing to men as though they had the exact philosophies of shopping as women. All that’s missing is the “shoe” thing.
Alas, you do it long enough, and a lot of men end up believing it. After all, what alternative is there?
Frankly, Tyler’s classic “duvet” speech, pricelessly calling “Jack” out on Consumerism’s problems, is the stuff of legends (warning: language):
(I myself often drop a version of that on acquaintances of mine—involving bidets, and other expensive stuff with one purpose, amid much cheaper multi-purpose things we’re told aren’t “fashionable”.)
Capitalism doesn’t have to be like this. Actually, true-blue, free-market, “neo-liberal”, entrepreneurial-spirit Capitalism encourages precisely those “Alpha” qualities Consumerism dismisses.
More On “Chickified” Culture:
This is almost an aside, but: Recently I picked up from my church library a book entitled Why Men Hate Going To Church, by David Murrow. Basically, its argument is: Christianity in America has long allowed itself to become “feminized”, emphasizing “sensitivity” and “turn the other cheek” at the expense of bold, aggressive leadership and “do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil”…to the point of terminology and even songs being much “mushier” than they used to be.
Why do I bring this up? Well…the testicular cancer support group where “Jack” meets Bob takes place in a church. And the behavior in that group’s almost tailor-made for an object lesson in Murrow’s book. The group leader promotes “sensitivity”—men crying about their problems, while they hug.
Mm-hmm. Fortunately, the Church is starting to snap out of this, with organizations like Wingmen—and of course, classic organizations like Promise Keepers. Thank heaven.
And to be perfectly fair, the film also takes a tongue-in-cheek shot at New Age “chakra” insanity.
So What About Project Mayhem?
All right…you might have noticed I’ve seemingly gone back-and-forth about Tyler Durden’s “wisdom” and its value. Are his ideas worth considering, or not?
Well…it really depends. Tyler’s more-or-less spot-on about things, earlier in the film. As Fight Club progresses, however, his statements get increasingly…off. Again, he pretty much puts the blame on Consumerism—rather than on the Left, where it belongs.
From Third-Wave Feminism, to gun control, to Welfare State dependency, to just plain Political Correctness—that’s what destroyed society’s value of masculinity. But Tyler doesn’t make that connection. One really gets the idea that it all comes out of “Jack’s” complete boredom with his tedious, routine, unadventurous, and therefore unfulfilling life, where the holes in his life are “supposed” to be filled by…shopping. “Jack” blames that life, in and of itself, because he doesn’t know any better.
And so, in the end, Project Mayhem basically sets out to fulfill the Occupiers’ dream: destroy the world’s credit system. Meanwhile, we—the audience—are clearly meant to condemn it, as “Jack” realizes just how thoroughly messed up everything has become.
But why did things get so messed up? What brought the perfectly (let’s be honest) reasonable idea of Fight Clubs spiraling down into Project Mayhem?
This is where the Alt Right comes in. Remember, the entire reason for the Alt Right’s existence as a major force in America links directly to the constant PC and identity politics of the Left. Essentially, it’s a lot of the folks most ostracized by a society so terribly corrupted by cultural Leftism…deciding at last to fight fire with fire.
The problem, again, is when you pick the wrong target—“globalist Jews” (as opposed to globalist Gentiles?), “white genocide”, “Pizzagate”, “Hollywierd”, whatever. And then go all out, while the real culprits laugh and deride away.
Crossing The Line Into “Space Monkey”:
The switch of Tyler’s efforts from “constructive” to “destructive”, when you really get down to it, parallels the switch in his philosophy from individualism to collectivism. He starts out as a rugged “free spirit”, preaching the need to reject conformity…and to find it within yourself to get off your behind and make something out of your life.
And then the “homework assignments”. More and more, the lines get blurred—sometimes good, sometimes bad. Until…
“Sooner or later, we all became what Tyler wanted us to be.”
At some point, he starts organizing the Fight Clubbers with a bizarre groupthink—and this is where the “fascism” (if it can be called that) comes in. Suddenly, it’s no longer about finding yourself. Suddenly, it’s about being a “space monkey—ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good.”
What the detractors of the film failed to understand is that the film does not approve of that. We see the men who’d been helped by the Fight Clubs end up becoming exactly what they’d once fought against: conformist drones, given in to mindless routine.
Just as so many in the Alt Right have become the kind of “micro-aggression”-obsessed Snowflakes they fight against…such is the fate of the Fight Clubbers, becoming what they hated and not ever knowing it.
In The End…
What is the point of Fight Club? It’s at once against the emasculation of Western society and the insane anarchic-yet-paramilitary revolution of Project Mayhem. So what is it for?
Well, in the end, the film is a warning. It’s the ultimate cautionary tale against the “chickification” of society—and what just might happen if that corruption finally becomes too much for men to bear.
We are constantly asked to “understand” the plight of victims in society…and whenever riots break out, the P.C. crowd’s always so quick with an apologetic, a great big “Well, we must first realize where they’re coming from—what society did to cause such distress in these people, driving them, out of sheer desperation, to snap.”
And lo and behold, that seems to apply to every group except for men—that is, the entire idea of masculinity, so often smeared, mocked, and derided. Men are made to feel guilty over the boogeyman of “patriarchy”, and accused of “sexual harassment” for looking at a woman “wrong”. Living in fear, constantly apologizing. So much potential gone to waste. And when society denies men the right to be men…despair and desperation set in. And that has consequences.
Fight Club, then, shows a vision of just what would happen if the men “snap”, too—in response to all that. At any rate, if society doesn’t get its act together, it reaps the consequences. One way or another.
For Bonus Points:
Despite the sadly timeless nature of the film’s warning, certain things do date the film. Specifically…remember Tyler’s line about there being “no great war” or “great depression”, for the men of today to struggle through, to get strong by? Yes, the movie came out a couple of years before 9/11—and nine years before the housing crisis that kicked off the Dodd-Frank-Pelosi-Reid-Obama recession. Lo and behold, Snowflakes still exist—on both sides. Political Correctness flourished amid that war and depression. Seems it’s another indication that Tyler’s targeting the wrong root causes.
Meaningfully, “Jack” notes that his father walked out when “Jack” was six. Not having a father figure, then, forms a good root cause of sorts for all he goes through. As Tyler notes a moment or two later, “We’re a generation of men raised by women.”
And in the end, for all the carnage, “Jack” does learn the ultimate lesson:
“I am responsible for all of it, and I accept that!”
Finally…is it just me, or does Milo Yiannopoulos’s hairstyle indicate he’s sort-of trying to invoke Tyler Durden? “Sane” Tyler, mind you….
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
A film that’s left such a deep and profound impact on our culture surely counts either as Great, or Monstrous. A case could be made that Fight Club is both. It’s a classic, regardless.
At any rate, to this very day you see real-life “fight clubs”—thankfully, ones that don’t fall prey to real-life Project Mayhems.
That we know about, anyway….
Regardless, Fight Club—by all accounts one of director David Fincher’s masterpieces—is easily one of the most quotable films in recent history, up there with Ocean’s Eleven and Pulp Fiction. Seriously, just try to get the first two rules out of your head. Even beyond that, Tyler and “Jack” have many a clever turn of phrase you’d be easily forgiven for wanting to drop once in a while. (Just look at all the kinetic typographies about the film on YouTube.)
And of course, “Snowflake” has just reentered the popular mindset, courtesy of the Trump era.
Brad Pitt in one of his most iconic roles—slick, sly, and wily as ever as Tyler Durden. Edward Norton brings full force to “Jack’s” deadpan, snarky disenchantment with everything around him. Their mutual dry wit conveys some excellent “buddy” chemistry, especially when Tyler and “Jack” share a snicker over a Gucci ad with buff male models. One wishes Brad and Ed would do a lot more films, together.
Helena Bonham-Carter is at her quintessentially-Goth best, even without Tim Burton’s vision. Marla is the irritating presence that for “Jack” embodies everything emasculating about his life—and Tyler knowing just how to “handle” her just rubs it all in, beautifully. As time goes on, we see she does have a sympathetic side. In the end, she’s not really that bad. She’s just suffering from the same sort of disenchantment as “Jack” and Tyler…and copes with it in her own, admittedly twisted way.
The Arc Of The Audience:
Let’s face it—the quotability of the film speaks to just how appealing the scenario is, at least initially. Rather like a good gangster flick, the seduction of “the life” is completely understandable. Of course, then things go dark, and the appeal falls apart. Slowly but surely, the “cool” gives way to weirdness as the “space monkeys” come in…and the weirdness gives way to dread with Project Mayhem. Slick comedy becomes dark comedy becomes psychological thriller. And we’re on for the ride, like “Jack” is.
After re-watching it, this week, I felt roughly the same way I do whenever I watch Goodfellas. The first two-thirds of the film are wildly entertaining and enjoyable. (A good “cutoff” point is Tyler’s “You are not your job” speech to the camera.) The last third is where you “pay for it”, and almost feel like you need a shower afterwards.
But that’s the point. What goes around comes around. Drag the audience in with the style…and then pull the rug out, to shock them into thinking hard about it.
Obvious, In Hindsight:
As a major fan of Quentin Tarantino (as you remember from last week), I do get a kick out of “puzzle” films. And Fight Club is one of the most famous of all—its legendary twist right up there with The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, and Memento. It makes us question nearly everything we’ve seen so far, as we discover that Tyler Durden is “Jack’s” alternate personality, seen only by “Jack” himself. As far as the Fight Clubbers—and Marla—are concerned, “Jack” is Tyler Durden.
Now the key quality separating a good “twist” film from a bad one is: its “re-watch value”. Watching the film again, with the knowledge of the twist in mind…does the film still hold up, and make sense? And better yet, are there “clues” we can spot, post-“spoil”?
Yes, there are. There’s a lot of foreshadowing—so much, you may kick yourself for not noticing, before.
Look sharp, and you’ll see something quickly flicker on the screen a few times before “Jack” meets Tyler. Freeze-frame…and lo and behold, it is Tyler. In hindsight, you get the idea that it’s Tyler starting to form in “Jack’s” mind….
For another classic, pay attention to exactly what “Jack says, the first time we get a clear sight of Tyler, passing him by in an airport. And of course, Marla’s behavior around “Jack” makes a lot more sense once you learn what’s going on….
By The Way…
Some trivia notes: There’s a lot of ad-libbing in the “bar” scene, where Tyler gives the classic “duvet” speech. Apparently, Fincher had them do 38 takes, and edited it all together. Pretty cool, huh?
Speaking of ad-libs, originally “Jack” was supposed to hit Tyler on the shoulder during their impromptu friendly brawl outside the bar. Lo and behold, Fincher secretly told Edward Norton to hit Brad Pitt on the ear. In other words, Tyler’s hilarious reaction was 100% Brad. “Why the ear, man?!?”
Also, that notorious “grade school” line came about because originally Marla was supposed to make an abortion joke. Yes. See, the studio told David Fincher to change that, and he did…on condition that the line would then stay as it was. Oh, and…Helena Bonham-Carter had no idea exactly what the line meant, until later. British school-system terminology’s somewhat different….
Jared Leto—yes, the current Joker—plays the blond guy who “Jack” nearly fights to the death. And rock star Meat Loaf plays Bob.
Apparently “Jack’s” real name is Neal, if his office name tag early on is anything to go by. If it isn’t, you can pretty much get the idea that his name is Tyler Durden, and everyone knows it but him.
And no…gasoline and orange juice concentrate do not make napalm. So far as I know. Don’t try it. Please.
Buy the movie here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
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