Fight Club

fight club 4How many people reading this sentence know the first rule of Fight Club? My guess: every single one of you.

Extreme resonance is demonstrated by that fact.

When a line of dialogue penetrates all social and economic barriers and becomes a requirement of our cinematic literacy, we can say [with certainty] the film that houses the line has meant something to the culture which produced it.

Something about Fight Club makes it Our Fight Club. As responsible members of the Audience, we ought to at least try and give that “something” a specific name.

1. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character. (each part worth 10 points)

Unfortunately, my Fight Club file is the type that won’t let you copy and paste from the pdf. This is unfortunate because the dialogue in Fight Club [through the first 98 pages anyway] is extraordinary. We will have to make do with talking about the dialogue categories in generalities which can do little to describe just how good the dialogue is [at least for the first 98 pages].

Part A) As we’ve seen from EVERY other script we’ve ever looked at, Fight Club’s ubiquitous Voice Over does count as exposition. Without a doubt, we learn things from Jack’s monologue with us that are not present in the actions or subtext of the script.

However, Fight Club’s exposition laden Voice Over is NOT a problem. In fact, it counts as one of the MAJOR successes of the script.

The reason this is so is because the facts that make up the story of Fight Club are not where the mystery that animates Fight Club lies. What we really want to know as we read this script is what the hell is up with Jack, Marla, and Tyler Durden. These people are almost supernaturally unusual. We have not met their kind anywhere.

Jack’s Voice Over promises an answer to the question of who these people are. Jack’s Voice Over is the key to understanding why Tyler has a gun in Jack’s mouth on the upper floor of a building that “Project Mayhem” has decided to demolish.

And, to understate the case dramatically, Jack’s Voice Over is not acting anything like the way a normal person would act if put into Jack’s circumstances. The mystery of Fight Club is the mystery of Jack’s Voice Over: Why is this Voice Over so calm in circumstances that normally summon extreme anxiety?

Why, in other words, is Jack’s Voice Over SO abnormal? This is why we continue to read Fight Club in spite of its never-ending exposition.

10 out of 10 points.

Part B) My favorite use of subtext in this story comes on page 88 when Marla and Jack have a conversation about Marla and Tyler that simultaneously describes Jack’s relationship with Tyler AND Marla’s relationship with Tyler.

The overarching achievement of the subtext in this scene is that their conversation ALSO describes Jack’s relationship with… Jack.

10 out of 10 points.

Part C) The character individuation in this script is exceptional. If this is an area of writing you struggle with then read this script closely.

Jack and Marla are two of the most strikingly original voices I have ever read. It is impossible to give enough credit for how well done they are:

10 out of 10 points.

2. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)

The first 10 pages of Fight Club are phenomenal. Having just finished them, I am almost willing to rank them as the most interesting first 10 pages I’ve ever read. Period. I don’t know if my opinion on that will mellow with age.

I do know that I’d be surprised if any person reads these 10 and doesn’t continue to Fade Out. The primary mystery of what is causing the anxiety suppression in Jack’s Voice Over character eludes quantifiability. It is so captivating and evocative of our shared humanity, that I would almost recommend it as a fool proof Turing test.

If you aren’t hooked, you aren’t human.

20 out of 20 points.

[I’ll also note that for the second question in a row, I am embarrassed by my attempt to rate this area of this script. The script is so good in this area that it mocks my question.]

3. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist and (c) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story. (each part worth 10 points)

Part A) So far, I have been primarily a fan of this script without being able to give it much meaningful criticism. I am prepared, however, to weigh in a bit more forcefully on the subject of reveals.

After a vandalizing expedition to the local park, Space Monkey Bob is shot and killed by a police officer. This leads to the following Voice Over from Jack [page 98] which I will go to the trouble of retyping because of its importance:

JACK (V.O)
Under and behind and inside everything
I took for granted, something horrible
had been growing.

My problem with this is that the entire set of reveals that explains the duplicitous nature of the plot of Fight Club then gets recounted to us as Jack follows a string of information he has left himself that dribbles out the details of Project Mayhem. There is even a section of the script [from 102-115] in which we do not get a single Voice Over from our man Jack. The script allows him to be swept up in the slow eddy of revelation.

I will be daring enough to suggest that the scriptspace between the already quoted line on 98:

JACK (V.O)
Under and behind and inside everything
I took for granted, something horrible
Had been growing.

and this line on page 120:

JACK (V.O.)
I think this is about where we came in.

is completely disharmonious with the rest of the script.

Someone who wanted to defend the script from all challengers might say that this was “intended”. We are witnessing Jack unravel the secret of his own dementia. Surely, that would be an off-putting process, right? But, I am one of those who insists that if you are doing something for a metaphorical purpose, this purpose must be observable under scrutiny. I did not find this to be the case with Fight Club. I find the dissociative reveal to be entirely at odds with the tone and characterization in the rest of the script.

4 out of 10 points.

Part B) Now that I have been sufficiently harsh, let me return to being a fan… Man, does this script have an engine that matches its protagonist.

Jack, or more specifically, JACK (V.O.), is an amazingly unique creation. We have in Voice Over Jack a character who exists as a challenge to Western Civilization’s Mantra of Individualism. The beautiful irony being that it is only in a culture so anxious to express itself through its individual persons could an individual person threaten that civilization by repressing his anxiety about not being a unique individual.

Jack is not whole. He is not a person. He is three people. He is Tyler Durden, Jack, and Voice Over Jack. [It occurs to me that this trilogy is remarkably similar to Freud’s id, ego, and super-ego. Unfortunately, I am just not that interested in seeing if an interpretation that hinges on this similarity bears thematic fruit.]

Part C) For me, the theme of Fight Club is:

Society necessarily represses individualism.

Fight Club is the story of one character, Jack, giving birth to two new characters: Tyler Durden and Voice Over Jack. Both of these new characters arise out of Jack as a means for him to challenge the repression that Society enforces.

Notice how brilliant it is that all three characters are on the stage from page one. We see the splintered Jack and then we regress… first to physical Jack. We see his dull life with his Ikea catalogues and his suit type job and we learn, quickly, that this life is killing him. He can’t sleep, and he can’t participate. He does what he has to do. He does what Society requires.

Fed up with the prison this makes life, Jack begins to experiment with his anti-social tendencies. He attends the support groups of the terminally ill and manages to conflate the physical misery of others with his own mental misery. In other words, Jack finds a connection with other people only by pretending to deserve the sympathy they get FROM society.

What Jack discovers by way of his anti-social tendencies is that the substance which lubricates the gears of cohabitation is called Empathy. I count it as even more startlingly brilliant that the authors choose to further illustrate this point by having Jack make his ONLY real connection of the entire script at these support groups. He meets Marla– a woman who feels exactly like him.

Of course, he reacts to her transactionally rather than emotionally. They make a contract. Jack gets half the support groups Marla gets the other half. It’s as if these two forgot the fun parts of a matrimonial union and went straight for the divorce.

Also note that it is only after he fails to connect with Marla that he invents Tyler Durden. On page 20 Marla leaves Jack without learning Jack’s name. Tyler makes his first appearance [outside the opening flash forward] on page 22.

Jack doesn’t cause Tyler; Marla causes Tyler.

What I also think is brilliant about the script is that Marla causes the birth of Voice Over Jack as well. From page 101:

JACK
What’s my name?

MARLA
Tyler Durden.

JACK (V.O)
We’ve just lost cabin pressure.

The message of Fight Club is that genuine connection is possible between individuals who choose to exist outside the conventions of society.

The script ends with the collapse of society symbolized by the destruction of all the buildings which surround Jack and Marla. The crumbling of our culture has been jumpstarted by the massive forces required to bring two individuals together to make a real connection.

Of course, the script then goes one frame further by suggesting that it was all an exercise in metafictive cinema. We are all the movie… etc etc. I do not really like those kind of endings:

6 out of 10 points.

4. Is there (a) anything unique in the story being told or (b) in the writing itself? (each part worth 5 points)

Part A) The story is ultimately fairly simple. I have seen this multiple personality scenario a dozen times before. Still, this Project Mayhem and Support Group expression of that old trope was, honestly, fascinating.

5 out of 5 points.

Part B) Oh my, the writing in this script was dizzyingly unique. I am prepared to say that Voice Over Jack is the heir to Hamlet and the unnamed narrator from Dostoyevsky’s Notes. Voice Over Jack is a brilliant creation. I give credit for this to Mr. Palahniuk over Mr. Uhls, but I am unable to give Mr. Palahniuk all the credit he deserves:

5 out of 5 points.

Are we inspired, for however brief a time, to live in harmony with the theme of the script. (10 points)

Well, since this script advises us that society is the antidote to real individualism, we must infer that we are supposed to reject society? I think there is a bit of a contradiction lurking there.

How can we do anything? Isn’t this a message meant to be consumed individually? Again, I give credit to Mr. Palahniuk for writing his story in the novel medium, but it seems to be a dilution of the point to try and make a movie of it.

After all, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

7 out of 10 points.

Total Score: 87

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