“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
This movie was made in 1999. Long before this “YOLO” phrase was invented. Yet, the crie still echoes in 2013, amongst our generation: What is our identity? Is it something worth living for? How will we be remembered? What will we be remembered for doing? How will we make a difference? Will we remember to live carpe diem?
Or will we continue to drift aimlessness, with no name and no purpose, like vagabonds who wear purposefully distressed clothing instead of tattered hobo-rags?
These are some of the questions which this movie “Fight Club” addresses.
At first glance, you might think it just another R-rated, Brad Pitt-starring thriller, buzzing with scenes full of sex, bare-knuckled fighting, raging testosterone, and explosions. But, after RE-watching this film for the first time in several years, with my own story playing oh-so-similarly in my head, I saw something different. Believe it or not, I found more redeeming qualities, than not, in this film. I know, it sounds crazy with this movie’s plot being so extreme; we categorize it as unrealistic tales, entertainment, at best. But I think there are some very real things we can absorb and apply here.
I began to see myself, wholly, in this pitiful character (Edward Norton), who must choose to either take control of his future, or fall further into helplessness. He faced a turning point in his life. It was all or nothing. There was no more fooling himself, pretending he could live happily in the world of apathy. He was at the end of his rope. It was time for either change or acceptance.
He begins to build an alternate lifestyle, a whole other world for himself. In this underground boxing world, he takes control of things; he is the man. He wants so badly to be like Tyler Durden because Tyler is everything he is not. [Really, this goes for every other character in the show who eventually follows eagerly in his footsteps. ] Watch closely the duality, if you end up renting the movie.
Tyler was an intense character in the movie because he, among many other things, confronted his problems. He confronted them head on, with very “in-your-face,” there’s-no-avoiding-this-now, way. Despite what you might initially think after watching it the first time, Tyler is actually the protagonist here (the guy fight for “good”) in this story. His character is inspirational because, though he is “reckless,” he does all those things we only wished we had the courage to.
- No Fear: He holds down Norton’s hand and gives him a chemical burn. Seriously. All to teach him that death and pain are inevitable; embrace it instead of running from it and fearing it. His lesson rings true in the sentiment: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything“. Painful lesson. Literally. Listen to the monologue here. (Warning: strong language)
- Let Go: What do you wish you would’ve done, if you died right now? You’ve heard of the game “chicken,” right? First one to flinch loses. Well, Tyler plays this game with cars, in oncoming traffic. Answer the question quickly. What are your dreams? See video here. (warning: extremely strong language)
- Hit me: Pretty self-explanatory, if you watched the trailer. This is the premise for the whole movie. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
It almost scared me how much I saw myself in him (Norton, not Brad Pitt’s character). I think there is a very valuable connection here, if we look close. For ALL of us are at risk of falling for the same pitch he did –like “what kind of furniture defines you as a person.”
“You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet.”
Words that still hold true today. For our generation, more than any other’s in history.
We are a culture obsessed with superficial ideals. Our lack of drive spawns from the unattainable carrots dangled before us. We give up. Or, at best, chase after the wrong things. Meaningless things. At any rate, it all ends up back where we started: nowhere. As I said in my last post, we feel “stuck”. We are the motionless vagabonds. Hell, we don’t even live up to the definition of vagabonds. We’ve surrendered to the couch and gave up on finding a better ourselves.
Tyler predicted this kind of corporate burnout, calling it “slaves with white collars”
At best, we might be someday defined by our tech. Our cool gadgets. I used the example of our smartphones and how everything has been given to us, literally and metaphorically. Everything is in the palm of our hand, more than ever. Though it is easy to look at this, and proudly proclaim, “see, look at all that we have accomplished in the past 20 years!”–I say “not so fast.”
Indeed we have come far, by way of tools. But, almost to prove my point, our technology is not what we’ve done, but what we have. While impressive, they only amount to things, not accomplishments. A painter’s greatest dream isn’t a really nice brush set. It’s the image the brushes (his tools) will be used to reveal. Tyler would undoubtedly have something to say about this, if he could see us now. In the end, these are only products, nothing more.
“advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need”
I almost gasped out loud at this scene. I realized he had prophesied the inevitable, verbatim as we see it now: “We’re the middle children of history, man.”
“We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”
Man, I can relate to that. Working a job you hate. . But you keep doing it because you tell yourself you “have to”. Feeling “stuck”.
I’ve been working at a grocery store, toiling away 10 hour days, making less than I can live on, daydreaming about getting out soon. Ya, it’s probably one of the most demeaning things I’ve ever done. Hell, I had a more cush job in high school.
The point is, ever since I’ve started on this journey, I’ve had countless others reveal to me in frustrated whispers the same exact feeling. I’ve been amazed by how many of you have told me your similar stories of feeling boxed in, hopeless, full of impossible dreams. There are so many of you with important and unique struggles, but you have given up fighting and feel an inevitable, dull ending to your once exciting story. There is no story because there is no conflict.
Every fiber of my being twitches, my blood pumps faster, my fists become clenched, and I’m almost angry for you, at that point. I’m not sure at who. But it makes me so mad, I want to scream out loud, “HIT ME! Dammit! When are you going to get up and do something?!”
I want to be able to save you from that feeling. That horrible feeling of bitter resignation.
But I can’t.
The reality is the majority of Americans live closely quartered, quite literally boxed in, breathing fresh air only in small quantities between the walk from cubicle to taxi to apartment. Among our generation, there are so many of you who feel stuck. The number is intangible. But whatever the case, I couldn’t fix your situation anyway, if I had the wisdom. In the end only one thing matters:
You have to want it for yourself.
You have to be willing to fight for it yourself.
Nobody can for you.
So I’ll won’t waste paper on a thousand encouraging letters. Instead, I’ll just show you it’s possible.
……….but more on that in Part 3……
-Dave (still) in South Texas (but not for long) –