Ten years after its release, there are still plenty of people who will not get David Fincher's "Fight Club" because they refuse to see what is in front of their eyes. They think it's about a cult of men who get together to punch each other, which is like saying "Citizen Kane" is about a sled. Fundamentally, it's an uncannily accurate depiction of depression and delusion -- capturing a uniquely (post-?)modern strain of anomie to which perhaps older baby boomers and their seniors find it difficult to connect because it's beyond their frame of reference. (I don't know -- that's just a hunch.)
"People get scared, not just of violence and mortality, but viewers are terrified of how they can no longer relate to the evolving culture," "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk told Dennis Lim recently in the New York Times:
Some older audiences prefer darker material in conventional forms; they "really truly want nothing more than to watch Hilary Swank strive and suffer and eventually die -- beaten to a pulp, riddled with cancer, or smashed in a plane crash."
In that Times piece, Lim dubbed "Fight Club" "the defining cult movie of our time."
Back in 1999, I described it as "a grim fairy tale for adults, a consumerist revenge fantasy, a portrait of a disintegrating personality, and, for all its hyper-active stylization, an astonishingly vivid portrait of the berserk materialist wasteland in which (like it or not) billions of city dwellers live today." (It can also be seen, in retrospect, as a prescient 9/11 nightmare.)
"...There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison." -- "Hamlet" Act 2, scene 2
If you've ever suffered from clinical depression, you know the experience is impossible to convey to someone who hasn't also gone through it. It doesn't make sense. It's like trying to describe why you love somebody. How do you explain a lack of feeling, or interest, or pleasure, that is both numbing and excruciatingly painful? How do you account for a disconnection with the past and any conception of a future? It's not "living in the moment" -- it's being stuck in a moment from which you can't imagine any escape -- not just the feeling that this asphyxiating near-deadness will go on forever, but that you can't imagine ever having felt any other way (even though, logically, you know that is not possible). You can remember feeling pleasure -- no, make that "having felt pleasure" -- but you have no memory of what it actually felt like.
One of the (many) reasons I probably connect so strongly with David Fincher's "Fight Club" (1999) is that, by capturing clinical depression more accurately than any other movie I've ever seen (though Laurent Cantet's "Time Out" and Eric Steel's "The Bridge" delve mighty deep into that abyss), it helped shake me out of the grips of a depression that was sucking me down at the time. I was the only person in the theater convulsed with laughter from beginning to end, because it was liberating, exhilarating, to see the truth of my own inner experience reflected back at me in its funhouse mirror. I recognized myself in the movie, relished the psychological acuteness of what I was seeing, felt its black absurdity resonate in my poor, chemically imbalanced noggin. From the very first images deep inside the human brain, I felt it could not be about anything else, even though I didn't know where it was going to go from there.
(Spoilers? Oh, yes.)