'A' Grade Exam Response
Section C – Single Film: Close Critical Study.
“Fight Club uses cinematic means to produce a fantasy which is also a serious exploration of masculinity”. How far does this statement capture your own response to the film?
The cinematic and thematic exploration of the undervalued blue-collar workers of America in “Fight Club” is an expression of the results of the suppression of masculine, animalistic and natural elements within modern society. While viewing the film the consideration the audience makes alongside the protagonist “Jack” (whose identity is questionable) appears to be questioning whether it is right to fight against this society of anti-masculine individuals who strive for materialism is really an emotional struggle.
We see that Jack experiences the consumerism of society while he is struggling with insomnia (created by the addiction to materialistic items in his apartment) through the sequence are fast-paced close-ups of popular items such as Starbucks cups, Crispy Creme Doughnuts and moreover a shot of his American dollars. These are noticeably crumpled and not at all patriotic with the logos not facing the framing. This focus upon materialism suggests a masculinity dealing with the feminine love of shopping coupled with the anonymity that American city dwelling brings. The idea that this could be anywhere in America is suggested with a memorable close up of stickers bearing “Hello. My name is _____” that evoke a response of loss of direction and identity within the audience. The anonymity and IKEA-catalogue based sequences we see Jack experience in his hallucinations are also a possible schizophrenic embodiment of this lack of any true identity or even his individuality hinting that arguably his importance as a man is being tested.
“Fight Club” embodies the idea of Nietzsche: the idea of a superman being possible is alluded to in the ever-repetitive doppelganger/split-persona of Tyler appearing in a subliminal flicker at the side of the frame throughout the first few scenes. This demonstrates the power that Tyler has over Jack’s mind, and it gets ever more present as the film progresses. It becomes more apparent when we see him in a tracking shot at the airport on an escalator, almost as if the camera shows a preference to following his movements rather than Jack's. This is because we see this side of the masculinity of the main characters split personality being the alpha male, also displayed when the camera tracks his movements from behind and in front as he is surrounded by a crowd in the basement. “Project Mayhem”, the needless fight of violence and terror, is powered by this dominant figure, giving the audience clues that this individual does not let himself be owned by possessions unlike Jack, and regards himself as his own.
Also seen in the masculinity of the postmodern traits of the film is the reference to a rape scene in “A Clockwork Orange”, as the eerily similar, exaggerated disorientation of angle of Tyler after beating up government officials is reminiscent of a more sinister, evil scene from a film about anarchy. This instils a sense of fear in the spectator, as the masculinity of this man appears to be turning into something more power-hungry and fascist. The intertextual reference to 'A Clockwork Orange' also confirms the postmodern significance of this film as it generates so many questions but ultimately and superficially fails to answer them.
The film also displays a radical array of misogynistic traits through the character of Marla, an anagram of the word “alarm” and met with the sound of sirens and non-diegetic influences of danger. This gives us the idea that the main character Jack is so terrified by this femme-fatale and disturbed by her appearance that his masculinity is challenged. In a neo-noir style, we see the framing of Marla introduced sinisterly via shadow and with her hat obscuring half of her face dominating the screen, she also gives the impression of power as it convinces us through the low-angle. Her character is also, while present during a scene in which the self-help group has to reflect and meditate, blurred in the background, while Jack thinks when we are catapulted into the frantic hallucination of Jack in a cool-blue icy cave, in his head, is interrupted by Marla smoking (that demonstrates further the hybrid of noir genre incorporated), she is clearly more dominant. It's as if she is the masculine one, she uses the word “slide” and this dialogue perhaps provokes the idea of Jack’s deterioration leading from here into the audience’s mind. When we next see her in the crosscut back to the church-style environment, it is Jack who is blurred and unimportant.
The narrative also relies on its use of cinematography to relay certain ideas through stylistic and mise-en-scene elements. Almost pornographically shot in a grotesque way is the footage of Jack turning up to his office beaten and bloody, with close-ups of his bruises after his decline into fighting that suggests that the main character has traded his addiction of self-help groups and materialism for the exhilaration of fighting as a form of release. The film also closely explores elements of homosexuality by referencing the experimental style of directors like Kenneth Anger, as we see that the fetishising of objects and improving the body of the men has elements that arise in “Fight Club”. It could be suggested that Jack is in love with the idea of Tyler, and therefore we are greeted with the notion that he is in fact homosexual or may have deep emotional struggles with such tendencies.
Furthermore, the response at the Viennese Film Festival to the film was an angry one of shock and concern over the films fascist, Nazi style links. The sequence in which we see Tyler and Jack stealing a liposuction factory’s human fat and processing it into soap to sell to the rich delivers a haunting message that there are still Nazi-style thoughts born of a generation in need of a disciplinary style of life to stop their masculinity going downhill. The cinematic means used to portray Jack’s early obsession with self-help groups, such as shot-reverse-shot from his close up face centred in the middle of the frame looking solemn, and then to a list of self-help groups not unlike a religious scroll, back to his face, and paired with organ, church style non-diegetic sound express the vulnerability of his addictive nature. This foreshadows his steady decline into being open to fighting and causing mayhem because of his easy transfixion’s with things.
Furthermore, the theme of gender confusion is embodied in the role of Bob, an ex-fighter who was once an alpha male, now resorting to crying at a self-help group and suffering from testicular cancer that physically and mentally feminises him. The viewer’s response is an automatic pity when Jack uses ironic dialogue that injects a hybrid of comedy into the film and we feel sorry for Bob. This emotive response is also strong in our fear that Jack will continue to gradually deteriorate as we see him jeering and fighting alongside the “Project Mayhem” gang – the division between Tyler, the alpha male, and Jack, the less superior character by means such as a phone booth window, trees, furniture and other characters suggest a fighting battle between Jack and his other persona. Because we see this vulnerability in Jack that lacks the usual American ego of a masculine male, we see that the masculinity he craves and worships is in fact slightly evil.