Sunday, December 14, 2014

Is Fight Club depressing?

FYI: this is not a polished or even especially organized piece of writing, but develops in response to a Facebook conversation.  Second, I'm talking about the movie, not the book (I don't have time for crap like the latter).   

As friends have pointed out, David Fincher’s dark aesthetic sensibility seems to encourage this conclusion, but I have to say I do not know why.  I mean, the landscape, the milieu, of the film is dark.  It is not a world most people would want to live in, what with continuous fluorescent, bluish illumination.  But depressing is not the affect I’ve ever gotten from the movie. 
As someone initiated in some of the mysteries of masculinity in our country and in our time, I think it is actually a fairly affirmative, encouraging narrative.  Unfortunately, I think one of the things that it encourages is misogyny—and this is not why I think it is not a depressing movie.  In terms of that subtext, yes, it is troubling.  But in terms of the affect that it is trying to produce, I do not think it strives to depress, but to excite and even inspire.
For example, one of those exciting moments appears in the montage of fighting scenes, after the fight club is underway, where the nameless narrator (Tyler’s alter-ego) says, “we were learning things about ourselves.” Given that fighting has a meaning of being a man in our culture, and that the fight club is very inclusive, leveling out class and race differences, such that some of the very men who may have hitherto been excluded from its category (the geek, the loser, etc.) are now included—in these respects the movie is inspiring.  If you do not want to be a part of it, at least a little, I guess I would be surprised. 
Moreover, it seems like the film is enacting some kind of social change, particularly towards financial institutions, which are like the movie industry’s go-to bad guy (and with good reason, to some degree) through this fight club.  That seems exciting, and no matter what your politics are (assuming they are pro-masculinity) I think people are affected by that.
Certainly, the film is told from the perspective of someone experiencing very, very serious psychological problems.  Yet, despite our intimacy with the narrator, I don’t think we feel pity (or maybe even sympathy, broadly put) for him.  Yes, he’s going through some dramatic changes, but they are exciting changes.  And even good for him!

That said, let me address the sexual subtext.  I suggested that the character is “deeply closeted” in one of my comments.  Since I’ve said that, I’ve been thinking that perhaps that was poorly phrased.  I mean, if pace a sophisticated view of sexuality, heterosexual men are simply men who have successfully suppressed same-sex desire, then deeply closeted would mean men that are successfully heterosexual.  But of course, usually when we say deeply closeted, we mean someone that has some genuine same-sex desires (so this is an essentialist view, I guess) that he expresses, although never consciously. 
I guess I think that is what Tyler is.  Tyler/the narrator develops a fight club with other men.  For as inclusive as it seems to be, it assiduously excludes women.  Tyler has a sexual relationship with Marla, but it is not a romantic relationship in fact, and it seems to view Marla as almost exclusively a sexual object.  Now just because Marla is a sexual object (although not for the audience), I do not think that means Tyler is wholly heterosexual.  The reason for that is that he doesn’t really treat Marla like a person, and there is little sense that he respects her in any meaningful way, or even likes to spend time with her.  Moreover, there is a scene in the house where Tyler is taking a bath and talking to the narrator, describing how he would consult his father perennially, after certain achievements, on what he should do next.  And at one point the father say, apathetically, get married.  To which Tyler replies, that he does not think that “another woman” is going to solve his problems.  And this seems to imply that women are part of the problem.  Moreover, lots of the problems with the narrator, from Tyler’s point of view, are that he has consumer desires that are womanly and not masculine.
So maybe I’m saying that homosexual desires, essentialist-ly conceived, are misogynist.  I’m not sure I would want to defend that. At the very least, that seems to be true of the film, namely that to the degree that it is homo-erotic it is also misgynistic.
But there are also parts of the film that express homosexual desires.  One of the subplots that I’ve always found quizzical, is the inclusion of Jared Leto’s character ( calls him “Angel Face”, which I’m guessing is drawn from the book), the closeness he develops with Tyler and the subsequent beatdown that he receives, because the narrator “wanted to destroy something beautiful.”  That destruction is necessary to avoid having to face same-sex desires, as well as to fend off the closeness that Tyler is developing with Angel Face (after the restaurant, scrotum-threatening scene), which is the cause of a certain tacit amount of jealousy (“Why does Tyler love Angel Face more than me?  Because he is prettier than I am.”  This is my imagined narration).
Lastly, what is more homoerotic than the loving gaze of the camera on Brad Pitt’s sweaty, sculpted body, particular when he emerges from the room where he is (violently) fucking Marla to confront the peeping narrator (at whom is he peeping?) and then offers him to tag in and fuck Marla himself. 

Fight Club is not homophobic to a great degree, except insofar as it is unwilling to admit same-sex desires (they need to be beat down).  In fact, as a film (and by this I mean its formal construction, more than its discursive content) it is deeply homoerotic.  It’s not gay porn like 300, but it does imagine a woman-less landscape. 

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