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Opening Shots: 'Fight Club'

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From synapses deep inside the brain...

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 ... out through a sweaty pore...

From Robert Humanick, a film odyssey:

I'm not sure if this applies to the "opening shot" rules, in that it is included as part of the opening credits, as well as the fact that it was digitally rendered (some people are picky about such things). But having already read (and agreed with) many of the other submitted choices (particularly "Aguirre," my personal favorite), I felt this one needed a voice of its own.

"Fight Club" opens from remote darkness into unrestrained chaos, the camera pulling back at near-breakneak speed out of an unknown quarter through various layers of strangely textured substances, the frantic nature compounded by the Dust Brothers' pulse-techno soundtrack. Ultimately, the microscopic journey reveals itself to have been taking place within the brain of the film's unnamed main character (Edward Norton). The point-of-view shot exits his body through a pore on his face (a bead of sweat rolling down from it just as the camera retracts from the skin), pulling further back over more differing terrains to ultimately reveal a hazy human figure. Just as the picture comes into focus, revealing the figure to be at the mercy of the film's quasi-villian (who has a gun shoved mercilessly into his mouth), the recurring voiceover begins: "People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden."

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... up a gun barrel...

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 ... and rack-focus to the narrator's terrified face.

This shot simulates what could be called the film's own Big Bang, beginning out of nothing only to storm like lightning in a bottle, signifying the beginning of consciousness for Edward Norton's character. Most importantly, by originated from deep within his mind, this shot emphasizes the fact that everything to follow is from the filtered perspective of his character (which in turn suggests that the film simulates the beginning of consciousness for the audience as well). At the tail end of the shot, the first line provides another significant clue to decoding the rest of the film, by noting that a very strong connection, whatever it may be, exists between this character and the as-of-yet (for the viewer) undiscovered Tyler.

JE: This is terrific, Robert! And, of course, it counts -- because (as I said at the beginning) it's kind of up to you to decide what constitutes the first shot, whether it includes the main-title sequence or the image that comes next. It varies from picture to picture. (Some think "Lost in Translation" starts with Scarlett Johansson's behind, over which the title appears; others think it really begins with the shot of Bill Murray asleep in the car.) I'm very glad that so many people have acknowledged what I consider some of the very best films of the 1990s, like "Miller's Crossing," "Dazed and Confused," "Fight Club"...

I will never forget seeing "Fight Club" for the first time. I was full of adrenaline and almost giddy by the end of the shot you describe here. What's more, this opener defines the entire movie before a single thing has happened. It all begins deep in the brain of the nameless character (whom some refer to as "Jack" -- after his refrain, "I am Jack's ______"), and his flesh appears to merge with a gun pointed in his own mouth. (See David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" and the birth of the "New Flesh.") In just a moment, the narrator says "I know this because Tyler knows this." "Fight Club" tells you, from the first few seconds, EXACTLY how to watch it, how to interpret what you're seeing. (Some people still think it's about some guys who fight.) I don't think any film has ever captured what it was like to be one of so many young, disaffected, urban American males -- with jobs and apartments, who thought they had the whole couch thing taken care of -- in the latter part of the 20th Century (and into the 21st) with such cinematic bravura and under-the-skin insight as "Fight Club." When I saw it, I swear I thought it was my psychological autobiography. Or, maybe, autopsy.

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