What I Think about the Movie ‘Fight Club’

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know Kerim Friedman who produces the blogs Keywords and Savage Minds. Lesser known outside of my circles is Kerim’s wife, Shashwati. You can find her blogs and information about her work in film here and here. Shaswati, Kerim, and I often talk about films and recommend ones that we should and shouldn’t watch. The film Fight Club seems to come up a lot.

Fight Club is a 1999 Hollywood movie staring Brad Pitt and Edward Albert Norton that describes the exploits of a group of men who find meaning through participation in an underground fighting club. As the club grows, it becomes the backbone of a revolution of ordinary guys against the established order. In fact, I have seen Fight Club. I saw it when it first came out. At the time, I though it was very hard to follow and I couldn’t quite understand the point. I just watched it again and to be honest, parts of it were interesting. I especially liked the beginning and the almost poetic way in which our protagonist sees his empty life. Some of it was quite beautiful. It was almost worth watching until…well… until they started fighting.

Shahwati asked me about the movie because I actually belong to a real life fight club. Or to be more accurate, a group of loosely affiliated men who fight as part of their recreation. We live in Taiwan, so we don’t get to do a lot of punching. We do a lot of what you’d call wresting, but most of us have fought cage matches and we want to fight more of them. I played a lot of contact sports before this. I played rugby union as a kid, playing again from 1990 until a few years ago. And you know, in all the years I have been involved in combat sports and the years before that in which I played rugby union, no one ever talked about Fight Club. This is not quite true. One of the members of my BJJ club in Taipei (that’s Brazilian Jiu-JItsu) once mentioned he had seen the film and that there was some aspect to it he thought was interesting; something about walking down the street and sizing up strangers for a fight. But that’s it. That’s the end. No one watches Fight Club. No one talks about it. No one even seems to know the movie exists, although I know they do.

This is not to say that real life fighters don’t watch films. They love watching them. These guys get together and watch Bruce Lee movies all the time. They quote Bruce Lee on their websites. They use his Chinese name () as their Chinese signature and there was even a brief period where everyone was talking about the recent hit The 300. They just don’t watch Fight Club.

And why would they? It’s a stupid movie. It’s got nothing to do with the things that guys who fight in their spare time fight about. It’s not about people who want to fight. Guys who want to fight for fun really are the way you think they are. They may be nice, Christian folk, but they’re nuts. Have a listen to this interview UFC champion BJ Penn following his victory over Jens Pulver – who is a born-again Christian.

All those people who would do steroids and then complain about people cheating in the ring to win a fight with them – come on. Anybody who does steroids to smash my face in personally, while I’m playing by the rules, I got a serious problem with that. Grow some balls and fight BJ Penn without steroids. That’d be cool…when I go into the Octagon, I’m ready to die… I’m ready to die, and you come in and you kill me somehow and you cheated, I mean where’s the honor? Where’s the whole thing?

BJ is speaking about UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk who tested positive for anabolic steroids. You don’t need to be shocked by these words. I’ve heard the same things from Penn’s personal friend Enson Inoue,

There is no better way to die, than to die in the midst of a battle, fighting to the very end……like a man.

whose gym in Tokyo uses Japanese military slogans (大和魂) as its motto. Or from Ken Shamrock, once called the most dangerous man in the world.

I will get my respect or I will die

In fact, this neo-Bushido talk is the norm for full-contact fighters. For more psycho quotes from MMA fighters, see this link. And if you want, compare them with some memorable quotes from the movie Fight Club.

In a sense, the realism of the fights in the movie and the people involved in them shouldn’t be an issue. The fights themselves are just a metaphor for rebellion. But this hasn’t stopped the critics. Take a look at Rotten Tomatoes if you don’t believe me. In a ridiculous masturbatory fantasy from vultureculture.net, Tom Block tells us that, “While watching the men knock each other’s teeth out in Fight Club, some women may find themselves eying their lovers and wondering, “Is some part of guys really like that?” Mr. Block goes on to clarify the world of Fight Club. “It’s only fair to point out that Fight Club is about womenless men”, he confides in us. And he is right. Fight Club is a make believe world where men are men and women are just on the sidelines. It’s sort of a Rambo and Bruce Willis-type-thing, but it’s not Clint Eastwood and the anger of a Dirty Harry changing the world. Instead it’s your anger turned into rage against the machine. It’s the pornotopia of kicks and punches. It’s prison without the sodomy.

But when all is said and done, Fight Club is one of those ads in the back of a comic book selling the human growth hormone (HGH) my brother-in-law claims he bought, used, and grew 3 centimeters. But he didn’t. HGH has serious side effects on grown people that are very quickly noticeable. And so does getting in fights. You get hurt; you get really messed up. There is no part of the man next to you that’s like that, if only because he’s afraid of getting hurt too much. There may be in his fantasy, but there’s a reason why he stayed where he was born and things in his life continue to run pretty much the way they did yesterday.

But the twisted thing about the movie is that in the end, it wasn’t an underground club of White men and their buddies banding together in a desperate struggle for humanity that truly shocked our world. It wasn’t a White man angry at the meaninglessness of his job and his life who really had the dream of making tomorrow radically different from today. Instead it was a bunch of religious nuts holed up in some cave in Afghanistan. It wasn’t a claims adjuster frustrated at airline meals and silly conversation who had the balls to finally say, “Hay, the way you’ve been living your life is wrong, and I’m going to do something about it.” It was Osama bin Laden and the crew that George Bush Jr. calls terrorists who really made your tomorrow different from today.

People for whom violence is no fantasy have always known this. Fighting doesn’t set you free. It hurts. The fighting in Fight Club isn’t about fighting. It’s about stupid White guys who are too chicken to live the life they really want. It’s a movie that makes being a stupid White guy seem heroic instead of just the boring thing that it really is. Fight Club goes beyond boring into a whole new dimension of stupid. And that’s where I want to leave it.

I didn’t like Fight Club, not the first time I watched it and not the second time, either. I don’t recommend that anyone watch it.

Other links about Fight Club

What I Think about the Book Fight Club

What I Think about Chuck Palahnuik

I also highly recommend this piece from the film review blog Bright Lights.

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