Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fight Club finished: spoilers in abundance

Spoiler alert! If you have never seen the film Fight Club, this review will completely ruin it for you. This review is for the book, not the movie, and is operating under the assumption that you have probably seen the movie. It gives away - very early on - information that would spoil either the movie or book for you, assuming you've experienced neither, which must mean that you were born yesterday. You've been warned; proceed with caution.

Additionally, extensive credit must be given to Neil Gaiman. I wouldn't know about all these gods if it weren't for his very engaging use of them. Thank you also, people of the Internet, for researching the gods that Mr. Gaiman writes about and compiling it all onto one web page. I have to do almost no research, thanks to all of you.

I have read Fight Club faster than any book in this list. For one thing, it is among the shortest and quickest reads in the list so far - if not the shortest. I think it gives the individual Narnia books a run for their money in brevity.

Also, I couldn't put it down.

For the purposes of this review, I'll be calling the main character of the book the Narrator - coincidentally, this is also how he is credited in the film. Some people like to call him Jack. In the book, it's Joe. Joe's raging bile duct. Joe's complete lack of surprise.

It doesn't make a difference to me whether it's Joe or Jack - neither of these are his name, which is made quite clear in both the book and movie. But still, you just know that some movie executives sat around in a room and decided that Jack was a better name than Joe. Jack would market better.

Reading Fight Club the novel brings my already developed interpretation of Fight Club the film into a much sharper focus. My interpretation is that Tyler Durden is a trickster god, and as tricksters love to do, he seduces the Narrator. It's not hard to do; just show a person a way of living he's never thought of before. Here's a bit of information that I picked up from somewhere that I can no longer remember, delivered in a style so reminiscent of a Tyler Durden philosophy that it's actually pretty cheesy: one of the dangers of being an American who is taken hostage is that we never expose ourselves to the other side's point of view. Why is our side right and the other side wrong? We don't know. We're just utterly convinced that our democracy is the best way that things can be. The other side is so wrong - whatever that other side is at any given moment - that we never expose ourselves to their ideas. They are wrong. Why waste time figuring out what they think when it's so wrong? So Americans who are taken hostage are subjected to lengthy challenges to their system of government. They are told it is wrong, and why. They are told the other side is right, and why. They have never been subjected to these types of arguments before.

And sometimes they become convinced, just because they can't argue back.

This happens to the Narrator. Does he have a reason for not getting into a fight? For not giving up everything he owns? For not living in filth? No, and so this means it's a good idea. If you can't disprove it, it must be right.

As a trickster god, Tyler Durden is especially good at convincing the Narrator. Tyler is never openly acknowledged as a god, but look at the man. He's the most fascinating thing in any room he occupies. And he creates chaos. Not because it's good for society, not because it breaks people free from their possessions (in the book, possessions are not made into a villain of society nearly as much as in the film). These are excuses he makes up as part of the seduction. He creates chaos for the sheer enjoyment of creating chaos, because it is food and drink to him. In the book, Tyler tells the Narrator about the brown recluse spider, and how its poison dissolves human skin. I'm reminded of Anansi Boys, a book by Neil Gaiman about the West African/Caribbean trickster god Anansi the Spider. That book makes notes of the many bizarre and torturous things that spider venom can do. It says that spider venom does this because spiders think it is funny.

Tyler thinks destruction is hilarious.

Tyler wants to destroy everything. Soon, so does the Narrator. Tyler wins him over with class struggle anger, and so the Narrator wants to destroy art museums. He wants to destroy fancy things that he will never be able to afford to enjoy. He wants to destroy every resource that isn't necessary for his personal survival. The Narrator is not anti-consumerist - he's anti-human.

It would be nice if noticing his selfishness made the Narrator realize something was wrong. It would be nice if Project Mayhem - which strips its members of their individuality, made him realize that things had gone too far. What really catches his attention is when Tyler leaves him, and breaks his heart - leading to the big reveal that Tyler is in the Narrator's body, and that to everyone else in the story, the Narrator is Tyler Durden. Only when he knows that Tyler is riding his back like the voodoo god Elegba, possessing his body for longer and longer amounts of time - only when he realizes that he may disappear and become Tyler - does the Narrator see the other side of the argument. Only when he realizes that he is losing his own body does he want his personality and his individuality back.

The book doesn't end like the movie. I won't fully give this part away, but it's not as dramatic and beautiful - no buildings falling, no fairy tale kiss. The ending in the novel also makes more sense. I always felt like the movie abandoned the plot in exchange for a dramatic ending - how are the Narrator and Marla going to survive past the ending in the film? The book ending isn't fully believable, nor is it as fun, but it does provide more closure.

Overall, the story is an epic myth condensed for the modern attention span. Gods do what they always do, because our mortality makes us curious and vaguely interesting to them. Once in a while they mess with us out of boredom. They abandon us when they become bored with that. Occasionally, if we are lucky or clever, one of us can defeat them.

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