‘The Puffy Chair’ Breaks Up with Hollywood’s Illusion of Lasting Relationships

11 December, 2013

Mark-and-Jay-DuplassMark and Jay Duplass exhibit the mundane elements of everyday life with The Puffy Chair, a road-trip film that explores these banalities as its self-centered characters go on a journey yet essentially do nothing extraordinary except watch television and disagree with each other. This quasi-documentary glimpse into the triteness of life utilizes naturalism and a low-budget style that diverges from conventional Hollywood filmmaking. The Duplass brothers satirize interpersonal issues when blurring the lines between their real and fictional relationships, with family members and significant others playing parts alongside Mark Duplass in this independent film. With breakdowns in communication, the duo mocks the quickness of romantic relationships in Hollywood films, questioning viewer’s acceptance for this hyper-compressed construction of time. Through presenting failures in communication as an antithesis to Hollywood conventions, The Duplass brothers’ mumblecore film anticlimactically and naturalistically shows the disintegration of romantic relationships.


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With the approach toward naturalism, the camera often spins around in search of the action rather than knowing where the next moment takes place. Comparable to Dogma 95 films, no shots exist without the shakiness of the digital camera recording the action like a home video. Minimal sets and no special lighting also become evident, enhancing the sense of real life similar to other independent films of the 2000s like Half Nelson. In doing so, the Duplass brothers look at relationships through the comedy and entertainment that comes from moment-based, dysfunctional scenarios rather than life-altering, climactic events. Regarding relationships of even unlikable characters, this brings viewers a more genuine identification that Hollywood films cannot re-create without this unpredictable, home-video style.

Rhett and Amber’s relationship comes without much build-up. The film stops following them in what seems like an eventful day after they meet. Instead, it stays with Joel and Emily in all their dullness, watching television and talking. This does not further the plot other than exhibiting the unexceptional happenings of everyday life, not letting the film skip over any of these mundane activities in pursuit of something more interesting somewhere else. Viewers only see the promise of Rhett and Amber’s first encounter, yet the suddenness of their marriage forces the audience into dooming the relationship rather than interpreting it as a hopeful scenario. Joel also acknowledges the ridiculousness of the situation, yet he allows for suspending his disbelief during the surprise engagement party that escalates into becoming a wedding.

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The Puffy Chair’s strength as an independent rather than big-budget, studio film comes from its improvisational style. This quality occurs not only with performances, but also with the cinematography. A camcorder aesthetic gives an impromptu sense of unscripted urgency when the camera, often refocusing and providing extreme close-up, gives viewers an intimacy with the characters while maintaining an atmosphere of movement and spontaneity. Though reliant on this spontaneity, this wedding scene makes an overt effort at scripting lines when Rhett repeats his wedding vows after what Joel dictates. Still, unlike the performances for typical, Hollywood films, Rhett cannot say the lines verbatim even within moments of Joel’s dictation. In this scene, Rhett also makes minor alterations to his brother’s words, exemplifying the immediate disconnect between the way the characters communicate in the film as well as Rhett’s incapability in promising commitment to Amber.

This scene also makes an anticlimactic parody of the fast-paced romances in Hollywood films; Rhett meets his wife and ends their relationship within a day. In her article, “Against Hollywood: American Independent Film as a Critical Cultural Movement,” Sherry B. Ortner says, “Where Hollywood films seek to provide escape and fantasy, independent films seek to tell realist or hyper(bolic)-realist stories about the world as it really is, in all its ugliness and cruelty, or all its weirdness and strangeness…” (Ortner 10-12). Ortner describes how Hollywood idealizes situations in a way unlike independent films. Emily, Joel’s girlfriend who deludes herself with romanticizing relationships, falls into this Hollywood mentality that separates her from Joel.

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Emily spends her free time watching movies and hoping for pop-culture reenactments, like Joel holding speakers outside her window. These moments also show that other films exist as fictions and entertainment for parodies within the world of this Duplass brother’s mumblecore. In creating these Hollywood ideals, Emily convinces herself of the possibilities for an unrealistic, happy ending for Rhett and Amber even though the relationship disintegrates as fast as it ignited. Even the eBay-bought chair, which Rhett believes taints their group relationship, meets an anticlimactic end. Rhett lights it on fire and within that minute, a stranger extinguishes it, putting out the flames to a potentially dramatic instance without letting the moment build up.

The moment becomes prosaic in the same way Emily and Joel’s relationship dissolves without a grand payoff. In the opening scene, when Emily and Joel fight and she storms off, this dramatic occurrence fizzles when Joel walks back inside his house instead of chasing after her. Later in the film, Joel says, “There’s a lot of things in this world we pursue that seem really important to us and we get wrapped up in.” In a Hollywood film, one attributes this pursuit to winning over the significant other. In this film, Joel fights harder for the trivial upholstering of an unappealing chair than for his relationship.


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The final scene also removes itself from Hollywood conventions by rejecting the happy ending. As Ortner writes, “…Hollywood films are in the business of fantasy and illusion, independent films… are usually highly realist; and finally, where Hollywood films classically have happy endings, independent films rarely do” (2). Here in the film’s final moments, Joel and Emily break up. While they argue with each other throughout the film, no big fight occurs within their splitting up. They make an amicable departure to their relationship, hugging each other for closure to a relationship they leave behind. Dissimilarly, Hollywood films prefer the happy, boy-gets-the-girl endings or scenes of aftermath in showing how characters cope with the break ups, like with He’s Just Not That Into You’s network narrative exemplifying each of these scenarios.

The Puffy Chair provides neither of those alternatives. Instead, it opts for authenticity, especially with Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton being a couple while playing the parts of two people in a relationship. In addition, the non-actor parents of Mark and Jay Duplass play Joel and Rhett’s parents in the film. By doing so, The Puffy Chair creates an overlap between real life and the fictitious plot of the film by blending actors and characters. This authenticity and naturalism gives viewers the impression of watching what happens in the real world rather than an upbeat ending one hopes for in a conventional, Hollywood comedy. If Hollywood films sugarcoat or sweep away the harsh realities of opposites attracting in relationships or sudden romance, independent films such as The Puffy Chair use tough love for reminding viewers of the problems present in these scenarios.

Unlike Hollywood films, The Puffy Chair approaches break-ups as the result of rushed relationships where characters lack commitment. The lack of communication between Emily and Joel exemplifies two people with different agendas. She wants marriage while he confronts her for unrealistic expectations of him. They stay together until the randomness of life happens on a road trip where they learn their differences, break up, and implicitly move on. The Duplass brothers mimic the naturalness of real-life disagreements, like neorealist films do in presenting the everyman and using non-professional actors for authenticity, instead of giving viewers an escape into the excitement of studio-concocted productions about finding everlasting love. In a way, The Puffy Chair even makes a joke of seeking excitement from Hollywood cinema when Rhett says, “So we pretty much have the whole day to do nothing,” which they do, so they go see a movie.

Works Cited

Half Nelson. Dir. Ryan Fleck. Screenplay by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Perf. Ryan Gosling. Thinkfilm and Hunting Lane Films Present, 2006. DVD.

He’s Just Not That Into You. Dir. Ken Kwapis. Screenplay by Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein. Prod. Drew Barrymore. Perf. Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, and Bradley Cooper. Warner Bros., 2009. DVD.

Ortner, Sherry B. “Against Hollywood: American Independent Film as a Critical Cultural Movement.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2.2 (2012): 1-21. HAU Journal. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.

The Puffy Chair. Dir. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass. Screenplay by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass. Perf. Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton, and Rhett Wilkins. Roadside Attractions, 2005. DVD.

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Glengarry Glen Ross: The Corruption of the Masculine Crisis Through the Portrayal of the Working Man

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David Mamet sends an ironic message with Glengarry Glen Ross that dishonesty and corruption become methods of surviving in the competitive world of men. His nineteen-nineties, post-modern representation of the crisis of masculinity glimpses into the lives of pressure-stricken salesmen when a system of capitalism forces them into fighting for job security. These conditions place the characters in a moral conundrum whereby they seek alpha-male prominence through material gains or fail by default of not meeting the sales standards of Mitch and Murray. Mamet, with the direction of James Foley and cinematography of Juan Ruiz Anchia, treats the film like his stage play by keeping the characters in a contained, fishbowl-like habitat so that the incessant rain, passing of the L train, and lingering presence of a detective in the merciless real-estate office isolates tensions between characters. Through an oppressive environment and performance styles of an all-male cast, Mamet situates the characters of Glengarry Glen Ross on scale of failure and success in a cutthroat, corporate workplace driven by masculinity.

glengarry_glen_ross-21-e1308035197187-700x381The implication that an order of free enterprise subordinates everyone in the office, including John Williamson, creates a male workplace under the notion of nothing being good enough. The winners keep their jobs and win a car or a set of knives (figure 5).  The underachievers lose their livelihood, stripping them of their male pride. No options exist in between. This male-driven environment of the film presents itself through few, minimalist sets. Mamet contains the dialogue-driven actions and restlessness of the film in an atmosphere that maintains, as Vincent Canby mentions in his New York Times review, “… the claustrophobic nature of the original stage work,” (Canby, par. 5). This claustrophobia intensifies pressures of cutthroat mentalities as a pro-capitalist business creates the film. The enclosed environment also makes the world beyond feel empty, like the salesmen make pitches in a rainy, desolate world that predestines their failure.

A sense of entrapment permeates throughout the film when the salesmen, whose jobs rely on communication, cannot communicate with each other. Though in the business of selling, they have literal barriers between each other. With Geroge Aaronow and Dave Moss, respectively, in the middle of the scale of failure to success, Alan Arkin’s portrayal of Aaronow creates a character 3-glengarry-glen-ross-1267050533whose natural pace feels slower than the other characters. He talks slower and repeats back what he hears as a question. Where he exhibits passivity, getting nowhere because he does nothing except talk, Moss displays aggression without caring about consequences, like stealing leads from the office. In playing off the environment of the film, Moss makes Aaronow, the weaker of the two, feel trapped as an accessory to his schemes.

Shelley Levene, with the nickname “Machine” which sounds old and outdated, and James Lingk, respectively the weakest characters in the scale of failure and success, find their manhood reduced to motivations revolving around women. Levene thrusts himself into various immoral methods of conducting business for the sake of his sick daughter while Lingk backs out of his deal with Ricky Roma because of his wife’s disapproval. Levene’s determination for helping his sick daughter, a less self-serving need than wanting a car like Roma, pushes him to desperation. With the subtle reminder of a woman’s photo on his desk, the downfall of Levene prompts the audience in viewing failure as the ultimate death to masculinity, since he goes to the extreme of stealing for a female, in the corporate world.

Al Pacino’s performance as Ricky Roma, the most successful salesman in the office, makes the material prize, a Cadillac, his main concern throughout the film. His self-reliance makes him stronger, someone who excuses himself from the detective’s accusations of robbery and Blake’s condescending speech—where Baldwin emphasizes on the chalkboard a sales acronym that the working men see every day on a poster behind him. Through Pacino’s sweet-talking, confident acting style, Mamet points out the fault in the mentality of the characters needing “brass balls” glengarry-glen-rosswhen Roma uses femininity in order for making his client feel masculine and in control. Roma uses femininity to his advantage, pitching to Lingk as if they sit together on a date, letting Lingk be the man with his arm across the booth as Roma seduces him into a sale with charisma.

John Williamson becomes the physical antagonist to the salesmen of Mitch and Murray as a higher power that enables their struggles by not handing out good leads and messing up sales instead of cooperating with them. In his article, “A Cinema of White Masculine Crisis: Race and Gender in Contemporary British Film”, Niel Graham Slack discusses this inner-workplace divide in context of another working-man film of the nineties, The Full Monty:

Theirs is very much a group response, a coming together to ward off some notion of a challenge from ‘outside’ their ranks… this idea of coming together, of joining forces with one’s own kind for the purposes of defeating a common enemy… (Slack 74-5)

Slack’s analysis applies to the mentality of Williamson as a hindrance from the point of view of the other characters, yet they use him as a crucial figure in their deal-closing efforts and Williamson falls into their corrupt tactics as well. When Roma emasculates Williamson with insults, he scolds, “Whoever told you that you can work with men?… I’m going downtown… to Mitch and Murray. I’m going to Lemkin… you fairy. You company man…. You never open your mouth till you know what the shot is. You fucking child.”

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Pacino plays his character like a parent in control of their rage, as if saying, “I am not mad at you, but I am disappointed,” while Spacey portrays Williamson, for the only time in the film, with a childish look of shame, especially at the sound “fairy” as an insult that correlates femininity with weakness. This moment of noticeable concern on the usually stoic Williamson’s face allow for a realization that though Williamson makes the decisions in the office, outside his comfortable authority exists a chain of command in the corporate world that terrifies him. The unseen men of the film, like Lemkin, make even Williamson feel subordinate. Here, he becomes on par with the salesmen as another fish in their bowl, under scrutiny of the capitalist system’s hierarchy that traps them.

The notion of not being masculine becomes evident not just in femininity, but also in the childishness that Roma detests Williamson for, which Levene exemplifies when Lemmon’s fast-talking pace for wordiness puts viewers on edge for a moment where he might, and ultimately does, open his mouth too soon. Likewise, in an unsuccessful pitch, viewers make the connection of childishness and Levene weakening himself when he sits on a couch where toys scatter around him. Lemmon even gives himself a moment where he holds the teddy bear before placing it beside him. 1.49619_imageLevene, the character who tips his scale toward failure more than anyone else, encompasses both feminine motives and childishness.

Even though Levene holds the literal fishhook, Lemmon’s character makes the least masculine of sales pitches here. By contrast, Pacino’s Roma, who sits at bars with his smooth-talking manipulation that pries on insecurities, becomes the only salesman capable of figuratively reeling in his clients as bait. Pacino’s acting centers on paying attention to people. He looks them in the eyes and tells them the stories they want, but Lemmon’s character spends more time convincing himself, not making direct eye contact and switching his sales tactics in an unnerving way that gets him sent out in the rain, without an umbrella of his own, on numerous occasions. Lemmon changes his personality and his facial expressions within brief moments based on the parts he plays for scheming, but because he seems so inauthentic, he fails at it, unlike Pacino who uses manipulation in a charming way. Ultimately, because his talk does not redeem him, Lemmon grabs for Kevin Spacey, resorting to physical force in reclaiming dominance and masculinity in the desperate situation.

glengarry-glen-ross-title-stillFinally, The L train tumbling through this dialogue-driven film implies action and the actor’s names appear on screen like passengers on the train. This indicates the constant rotation of salesmen in and out of the office, making the never-ending commitment to work from fear of burning out as Slack explains:

…it is shot through with a sense of fear the men see themselves as being under threat, not just as individuals but as a species. Moreover, it is not just in The Full Monty that this is the case, since this idea of extinction (the interpreting of issues such as unemployment… attributed with triggering a crisis in masculinity – as something more threatening still) is discernible in the other post-industrial films as well. (74)

From this dread of extinction and falling into a crisis of masculinity, the actors place their defeatism into well-timed reaction shots. Here, each tearful eye glints with the unhappiness of shattering hopes.

The salesmen in Mamet’s 1992 film exude disparity under the pressures of capitalist business promoting superiority in the workplace as a form of masculine success. Mamet’s ironic message makes the male-run system of capitalism, seen by the salesman as opportune for achieving their greater destiny, destroy them when unscrupulous tactics become their downfall. The competition between the characters that drives them to lying, scheming, and stealing leads them into turning on each other for a chance at getting ahead, commenting on world operating under a rigged game where nobody wins except the system itself.

Works Cited

Canby, Vincent. “Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Review/Film; Mamet’s Real Estate Sharks and Their Prey.” Rev. of MovieThe New York Times 30 Sept. 1992: n. pag. The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

The Full Monty. Dir. Peter Cattaneo. Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy. Perf. Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, and Mark Addy. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1997. DVD.

Glengarry Glen Ross. Dir. James Foley. By David Mamet. Perf. Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and Alan Arkin. New Line Cinema, 1992. DVD.

Slack, Niel Graham. “A Cinema of White Masculine Crisis: Race and Gender in Contemporary British Film.” University of Sussex (2008): 74-75. Sussex Research Online. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

Visual Portrait of Barton Fink’s Deteriorating Psyche in the Hotel Earle

4 October 2013

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In Ethan and Joel Coen’s 1991 comedic noir film Barton Fink, a symbolic prologue to the decade’s later films such as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and David Fincher’s Seven, the titular character undergoes a manic, mental deterioration. This visual depiction of an inner descent exemplifies itself in many outward aspects of the filmmaker’s cinematic approaches that include setting, characters, and cinematography. One specific sequence with such parallels involves Barton’s arrival into the world of a ramshackle hotel. In this particular sequence, The Coen brothers and cinematographer Roger Deakins, through methods that include disorderly production design, fluid camera movements, and elements of German Expressionism depict unsettling characters and represent Barton Fink’s entrance into the Hotel Earle as his hellish descent into psychological instability.

The transitioning shot of waves striking a rock on a beach overlaps with Barton’s entrance into the eerily uninhabited Hotel Earle. Similar to German Expressionism films, this wave-crashing imagery shows submergence, like a sense of drowning, into a world of madness that quickly overcomes Barton’s mind. This brief overlap into Barton’s unsettling new dwellings starkly contrasts with the high culture, elegant atmosphere of the scene before. In that earlier scene, where Barton expresses his concern for the “common man,” the colors gleam and the lights shine brightly. This provides a sense of warmth in a room full of inhabitants, unlike the bleak and lifeless lodgings of the Earle, but this vibrant coloration soon washes away, turning into the insipid, muted hues of the Hotel Earle where the world of commercial Hollywood ceases.

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The mise-en-scène of the Hotel Earle, the everyman’s abode, creates visual frustration and discomfort along with an intolerable air of mugginess. Fans scattered throughout the entrance imply an incessant heat that places anxiety on the audience’s perception of this foreign environment. This heat, along with slow and fluid camera movements, creates tensions. The characters in the hotel dress inappropriately for such atmospheric conditions as well, wearing multiple layers and faded uniforms. These elements create the impression of unbearable uneasiness within the menacing realm that welcomes Barton Fink.

The composition of shots within this sequence also shows many objects placed slightly off center, such as wilting plants not aligned with the staircases in the background. Deakins’ cinematography frames Barton Fink between these spiraling staircases that split in two as well as merge together, highlighting the division in Barton’s mind that both dissociates and blends his sense of reality and imagination. This method stresses a subtle implication over Barton’s psychological condition in a way that echoes German Expressionism. The framing and surroundings thus intensify Barton’s mental state.

This unpleasant aesthetic also appears in forms of clutter. Innumerable unmatched lamps, plants, and furniture clash like in a Sartrean idea of hell where torture comes from a disordered setting. The camera, in a wide, high-angle shot, moves upward as Barton enters as if watching him descending into damnation. These wide shots, suggesting more disarray beyond their sizeable frames, enhance the overwhelming anxiety that Barton Fink feels, by taking up the role of the common man, in a way similar to Italian Neorealist films. This overwhelming notion creates a world indifferent to his character. It is a world that consumes him. He has no control, especially after establishing himself as a resident in this place by contracting a living arrangement with the character of Chet.

The Coen brothers introduce Steve Buscemi’s character of Chet, the jovial bellhop, with a similarly hellish implication. Chet, seen through a high angle, emerges from below in an entryway unusual to a conventional check-in greeting. This surreal entrance exemplifies Chet as a specimen, reminiscent to Jean Paul Sartre’s Valet in No Exit, of the underworld the hotel represents. In this Sartrean fashion, Chet ushers Barton to his personal hell with an automated quality that enhances the darkly comedic aspect of Barton Fink.

BartonFink2Chet, in his overly friendly, painfully accommodating, and robotic manner, proclaims himself with an exclamation yet raises more questions about the phantasmagorical atmosphere of the Hotel Earle. For instance, when Chet asks for Barton’s signature, he spins the intimidatingly large book toward Barton before the overhead shot spins the camera in the opposite direction, expressing Barton’s spiral into madness as he signs away his soul. After, the camera moves in a jarring, quick unison with Barton, as if realizing the implications of this contract. The rapidity of this camera maneuver, and one following it where Chet bids Barton farewell, stands out from the unhurried movement of the preceding shots. Here, there is more of a shock in the concrete, ink-to-paper selling of Barton’s soul to the oddly animate hotel.

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In the next moments, the elevator operator represents a ferryman, like Charon from Greek mythology, who guides Barton into his Hadean accommodations six floors up. The presence of this elevator operator guiding souls to the sixth floor echoes the notion that the hotel is hell, entrapping Barton within its barriers. The elevator partitions imprison Barton while keeping the viewers outside the compartment, looking in on Barton. Deakins’ slow, dolly move into the elevator before Barton tells the operator his destination inches toward the figurative portal before shutting viewers out at the last minute, implying a forbidden world behind those cage-elevator gates of hell.

With Chet and the elevator operator as devilish agents, transitioning cinematography, and the Hotel Earle as an earthly depiction of hell, the Coen brothers and Roger Deakins carefully construct camerawork and visually suggestive set designs for illustrating these concepts as Barton Fink tries bringing himself near the “common man” by checking into the ominous, low-culture hotel. From this moment onward, interpretations to the questions regarding where Barton’s world shifts from real to surreal and what truly happens in his mind grow increasingly blurred. Deakins varies the pacing of his camerawork in relation to Barton’s psychology while the Coen brothers paint a surreal picture around their main character so that Barton’s inner struggles run parallel to the external factors affecting him. The rest of the film’s sequences show how the confined setting punctures Barton’s fragile psyche and ultimately escalates into a literal inferno by the climax.

Hamlet on Film

2 December 2011

Hamlet is arguably the most often adapted William Shakespeare play. With each new adaptation, directors often take liberties in presenting the play. Though all 1990s film versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990), and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) all provide dissimilar conditions in which Hamlet reunites with his close friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Each film diverges in the context of settings as well as in the use of camera angles, time-lapse techniques, various points in which the character of Hamlet’s tone/character alters, and other differing elements to underscore the character traits of each interpretation of Hamlet and to provide insight into the relationships between Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. Stoppard’s film focuses on the centrality of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern while presenting a melodramatic Hamlet from their point of view, Zeffirelli’s film focuses on Hamlet and his secluded nature that keeps the secondary Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at a figurative distance, and Branagh’s film implements a balanced interaction between the three characters while Hamlet appears to be in a state of mania.

Game of Thrones' Jorah Mormont on his Shakespeare game

Game of Thrones’ Jorah Mormont on his Shakespeare game

One of the aforementioned versions of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Stoppard’s 1990 version, will first be analyzed as a distinct rendition of such a popularly depicted play. To heighten the atmosphere of absurdity and existential tone of this interpretation, Stoppard’s film provides a particularly unique interpretation of Hamlet for this scene in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern first encounter the young prince. Here, Hamlet (Iain Glen) exhibits characteristics of ridiculousness, egotism, and aggressiveness. Each of these character traits becomes visible at different moments as the scene progresses.

Hamlet’s absurdity comes out right from the start when he appears to be having a conversation with no one around. While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern watch him before entering, they are confused by Hamlet’s unaccompanied behavior; Rosencrantz perplexedly asks his companion, “What’s he doing?” and Guildenstern responds that the peculiar Hamlet is, “Talking…to himself.” The ambience is already set for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be talking to an out-of-the-ordinary old friend rather than one who does not act out of absurd impulses because Hamlet’s actions have become exaggerated to the point where his thoughts have been projected in a secluded discussion.

Hamlet’s unusual behavior is also not limited to an enhanced disorientation in his own inclinations, but also to an inflamed ego. Stoppard’s film displays the egotistical Hamlet by giving him a certain, nonchalant tone of voice. Hamlet gives a proud speech saying, “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god” (Shakespeare II.ii.301-4). Then, he goes on to casually dismiss these astonishments as “dust” (II.ii.306). Unconcernedly, Hamlet remarks, “Man delights not me” (II.ii.306). With this switch to a blasé attitude toward the subject matter, Hamlet brings an existential philosophy into this version by quickly, and uncaringly refuting all of his appraisals and celestial comparisons of man so that they become meaningless.cap037

The final telling trait of this particular Hamlet is his aggressiveness. While talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he removes his sword, belligerently cuts down a chandelier when Guildenstern admits to being sent for, and injures Rosencrantz and Guildenstern when he grabs their hands to say, “I am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw” (II.ii.373-4). Even when Hamlet is standing on the table giving his dramatic speech, Rosencrantz must protect the items (plates and glasses) in front of him as Hamlet comes closer because Rosencrantz anticipates that the Dane could possibly break them. Through the use of these actions, both small (like the simple act of taking the sword out) to the more overly done actions (like actually cutting down a hanging chandelier), along with his apathetic egoism and absurdity, this Hamlet becomes different in that he becomes an unlikable interpretation of the Danish prince who is redeemed by comical, exaggerated behavior.

With a Hamlet that seems less like a leading man for his melodramatic behavior, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are seen as the central characters, especially since the scene starts from their perspective as they watch Hamlet. In this way, the scene is designed to revolve around their forthcoming experience with the prince, and in a role-reversal, Hamlet becomes a minor character in comparison. For example, during his dramatic speech, the camera often cuts to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or shows wide shots that all three characters are instead of concentrating on only Hamlet. The time-lapse that keeps the characters in a widened shot also adds to the absurdity of this film because Hamlet’s clothes alter, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern look as though they have sat for hours, and the dark, undecorated room becomes illumined with candles and adorned with pictures. Viewers experience Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s point of view here because Hamlet does not seem to notice such changes, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do appear fatigued, which is what the audience relates to when a time-lapse is introduced to show how long Hamlet keeps his friends in one room.

While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sit for hours and tolerate Hamlet’s antics, this shows that they are all close friends because in responding to him as well, Rosencrantz does not feel the need to defend himself when Hamlet asks why he laughed at “man delights not me…” (II.ii.306). Instead, Gary Oldman’s character suggest, through tone of voice, that his answer is genuine and rather than concocted to please Hamlet, so their friendship is long-standing enough to be so concerned with slight offenses. Upon entering as well, Hamlet is happy enough to see his friends that he elatedly embraces as well as joking pushes them. In the same instance, these visitors can casually walk in on Hamlet who is alone in a room, but in other versions others are around and Hamlet appears out in the open.

Zeffirelli’s Hamlet first appears in a field and in a pensive state by himself, not talking aloud like Glen’s Hamlet, to show that this Hamlet is more reclusive. From this, it becomes evident that Mel Gibson plays a very different Hamlet in Zeffirelli’s Hamlet from the same year. His manner is casual, but in a more relaxed way that correlates to the sunny and pleasant outdoors setting. The manner of speaking exhibited by this character takes a natural tone when greeting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, so lines—such as, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (II.ii.247-8)—do not become overdramatized as in other versions. When the prince says, “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams” (II.ii.252-4) he even laughs.

Mel Gibson as Hamlet prior to going all Polonius crazy in real life

Mel Gibson as Hamlet prior to going all Polonius crazy in real life

Even so, Gibson’s Hamlet is passive aggressive, like when he asks to leave with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because he “cannot reason” (II.ii.263), which characterizes this Hamlet as one who suppresses what he really wants to say to maintain a polite decorum (since his relationship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is indifferent, so it would be rude to treat them otherwise within minutes of their arrival), and that eventually erupts into actual aggression when he kicks Rosencrantz in a hostile outburst. The point of this is to show that by initially trying to mask his anger, this Hamlet makes it clear that his relationship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is not one in which he is good friends with them, because if he was, then he would not be bothered or uncomfortable with expressing his thoughts or feelings openly.

In fact, of the three films in question, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet is not as close to or friendly with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in this version. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive, Hamlet struggles with recalling their names. The tone projected upon the visiting friends is one of attempted toleration rather than a warm welcome, up until he gets so frustrated that he actually kicks one of his “good friends” (II.ii.223). The two extremes, of Hamlet acting so indifferent toward the arrival of his guests to the violent outburst on one of them, emphasizes the remoteness in the relationship between the three characters, especially since Rosencrantz even has to be fearfully defensive when Hamlet accuses him of disagreeing by laughter over Hamlet’s displeasure with man. In this scene, Rosencrantz would not be so fearful if Hamlet was more of an upset friend rather than an angry stranger to him, but that is not the case since Hamlet never acknowledges his guests in any way to suggest that they are anything more than casual acquaintances.

Another way in which Hamlet is distanced from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is through close-up shots. The element of close-up angles while Hamlet gives his speech create a sense that he is talking to himself and as well as a pseudo-sense that Hamlet is the only one around because others cannot be seen reacting to him, and when they are seen, it is often through long shots and the few individual shots are quick and brief. When Hamlet’s speech begins, he is seen up close, looking at his hand, and then walking forward without the camera zooming out. Not until he addresses Rosencrantz does the camera show any other character. Therefore, in this film’s scene, Hamlet is evidently the central character.

The British fellow who does all the Shakespeare

The British fellow who does all the Shakespeare

Alternatively, Branagh presents a very different Hamlet. Branagh’s Hamlet is one in which Hamlet is outdoors during the arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The weather is cold, and less comforting than that of Zeffirelli’s film, which is how this scene also contrasts since Hamlet is highly erratic. His tone changes as quickly as it does frequently from being overjoyed to see his friends to speaking in a grave tone when he says, “Why, then, ‘tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (II.ii.247-248). Similarly, his enraged “you were sent for” (II.ii.276-7) changes by the time he gives his very placid and composed speech on the curiosity of man, and tranquil music is even used to accompany this speech. The effect this has on viewers is that Branagh’s Hamlet is the most unpredictable, so the question regarding his sanity yields a more ambiguous answer.

Also, Branagh cleverly makes Hamlet seem questionably irrational with other components as well, such trudging his guests through the snow with haste only to slow down, then run rapidly and stop abruptly. The atmosphere is frantic, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show that they are capable of remaining in-synch with the Prince of Denmark and the camera follows all three as central characters. When Hamlet interrogates them to know their purpose of visitation, close-up shots alter evenly between all three characters and in Hamlet’s abrupt halt, he faces the camera while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can still be seen clearly, yet Hamlet is also shown from different angles even though he is standing in one place. This unconventional method effectively creates discomfort for viewers to see so many angles and each different angle highlights different parts of his personality (angry in one shot and constrained in another) to show how complex this Hamlet is.

Yet despite his complexity, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can follow Hamlet’s dialogue and walking pace. As Hamlet runs around for the whole scene, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern keep up. They chase after him when he says, “Shall we to th’ court?” (II.ii.262-263), they slowly walk up the stairs with him, and they stand still when he does before informing him of the players. To have a friend who acts out of the ordinary, and still manage to keep up with him, means that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have an ability to anticipate what Hamlet does, and that comes from being more than mere acquaintances or friends that do not know each other enough. This is not to say that they are not thrown off by the Dane’s unbalanced behavior, but they are able to go along with it, as if to amuse their friend before they can figure out why Hamlet is acting in such a way.

Also, the returning friends, unlike the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Zeffirelli’s film, do not show reactions of nervousness or blatant fear when Hamlet asks if they were asked to visit him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern could be competent liars in search of information for the king, but if this were the case, they would be able to find some way to evade giving Hamlet the complete truth that they were sent to monitor Hamlet. Though having brief looks of concerned, minor facial expressions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not too fazed by an angry Hamlet and Guildenstern responds to him with a guiltless tone in saying, “My lord, we were sent for” (II.ii.290).

Ultimately, instead of vehemently and persistently denying Hamlet’s claim, Guildenstern would rather tell his friend the truth than figure out some elaborate fib for the sake of Claudius. This further demonstrates the familiarity between the three characters, especially since they also speak in very close proximity to each other (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not try to distance themselves when Hamlet is angry). The proximity also accentuates the fact that all three characters are central to this scene, because when Hamlet gives his speech at the end, all three characters can be seen. This is unlike in Stoppard’s film where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are at far ends of a table, or in Zeffirelli’s film where the characters sit far apart and barely come near each other.

Whether from proximity and distance between each other, or other factors, each of these unique and modern versions of Hamlet deal differently with the individual character of Hamlet and his relationship with Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. In doing so, the directors accomplish different goals and emphasize characters differently. This allows each film, with a mixture of elements, to tell the story of a world-weary prince and his reuniting with two people from his past, or, in the case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being main characters, it becomes the story of their reunion with a princely companion.

Sources

 Hamlet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. By William Shakespeare. Screenplay by Christopher De

Vore. Perf. Mel Gibson. Nelson Entertainment Icon Productions, 1990. DVD.

Hamlet. Dir. Kenneth Branagh. Screenplay by Kenneth Branagh. By William

Shakespeare. Perf. Kenneth Branagh. Shepperton Studios, 1996. YouTube.

Milovy, 16 Sept. 2007. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jy6c4fpZyDw&gt;.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Dir. Tom Stoppard. Screenplay by Tom

Stoppard. Perf. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. T. Schreiber Studio, 1990. YouTube. Hokubi, 6 Nov. 2009. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ6mdtq5oik&feature=related&gt;.

Shakespeare, William, and G. R. Hibbard. “Act II, Scene II.” Hamlet. Oxford: Oxford

UP, 2008. 215-23. Print.

Fight Club Analysis: The Liberating Tyler Durden and the Calamity of Project Mayhem

April 25th, 2012

On April 20th, 1999, two teenagers killed a teacher and twelve other students before taking their own lives in the infamous Columbine High School massacre. August 6th of that same year marked the release of David Fincher’s Fight Club.

Claudia Eller takes note of this in her Los Angeles Times article, “Controversy Could KO or Punch Up Fight Club”:

Despite some critics praising the film as a groundbreaking masterpiece, Fight Club is being released at a sensitive time… In the wake of the Columbine massacre and other violent outbreaks around the country… Fox executives are hoping audiences will look below the surface and connect with the film’s satirical, existential themes and overarching comment on the modern world and the dehumanizing influences of such things as consumerism. (Eller, pars. 2-4)

fight-club-1-182670Pink soap then became the film’s iconic marketing image as opposed to a more violent, bloodied picture. Still, with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction paving the way earlier in the decade, Fight Club itself stays true to a postmodern, remorseless, and highly masculine take on movie violence. In James Craine and Stuart C. Aitken’s article, “Street Fighting: Placing the Crisis of Masculinity in David Fincher’s Fight Club,” they write that, “…the crisis of masculinity is in large part about the marginalization of men” (Craine and Aitken 289). Craine and Aitken acknowledge that Fight Club’s narrator echoes frustration over this emasculation through his vicarious life as Tyler Durden, who tears down the constructs of his feminine, corporate society. For Craine and Aitken, Tyler’s destructive desires and “transcendental“ projects come from the need for revenge on society.

I agree that revenge is prominent in Fight Club and Project Mayhem, but I disagree when in their article, Craine and Aitken say that this is what the “lust” of Fincher’s film is about (290). Revenge is evidently at the violent surface, but the deeper catharsis for these working-class men with their rebellious fighting and mayhem is the search for redemption, justice, and freedom in a society that ironically consumes them by turning them into consumers. Complete freedom is this “lust” while revenge—such as the “I felt like destroying something beautiful” mentality from Fight Club—is simply the manifestation of seeking this freedom. Fight Club is not a film about just power-hungry, vengeance-seeking “marginalized” men. In addition, Craine and Aitken claim that Fight Club evolves into a destructive movement with a greater purpose. This movement is Project Mayhem, and it enables transcendence for the unnamed narrator. However, the narrator makes valiant efforts in the film’s third act–such as hiding Marla and deactivating bombs—for the undoing of Tyler’s destructive plan and leading to the narrator’s ultimate separation from Tyler and the imagined persona’s Marx-like endeavors. This suggests that Project Mayhem’s greater purpose is a misguided one. Taking the Fight Club revolution too far into becoming Project Mayhem leads the narrator into a confrontation between his own personalities, ending with the acceptance of a middle ground that completes his character arch for the better.

At the start of this character arch, the narrator from Jim Uhls’ screenplay reluctantly sifts through his life, which consists of product recall and “single-serving friends.” Edward Norton’s narrator with the humdrum voice-overs is nobody special, yet at the same time he is the everyman.

Craine and Aitken’s article acknowledges these innumerable, underdog males of society:

The crisis of masculinity within Fight Club suggests that men seek reassurance that other men think misanthropic thoughts. The film gratifies repressed rage and resentment simmering underneath men’s civilized chassis—it is a fantasy for the bookish males of the world that, if tested physically, they might surprisingly triumph. The film is about the lust for revenge and the worst kind of masculinity. (290)

Movie-Screencaps-tyler-durden-26311831-1024-576These downtrodden men, as suggested, want victory through enacting revenge. They indulge in this vengeance-seeking attitude through the realization that other men feel the same; Craine and Aitken claim it is a common bond suggesting that revenge is okay if one is not alone in thinking so.

Here lies the cinematic echo of Friedrich Nietzsche’s herd ideas from The Gay Science:

Morality is herd instinct in the individual…throughout the longest era of humanity, there was nothing more frightful than feeling single. Being alone, perceiving as a single person, neither obeying nor ruling, constituting an individual…To be oneself…The inclination to do so would be perceive as madness, for being alone was bound up with every misery and every fear…the more unfreely one acted, the more that herd instinct rather than personal sense expressed itself in one’s action, the more moral one took oneself to be. (Nietzsche 138-9)

Nietzsche argues that following the community relinquishes individuality by enforcing the notion that morality comes from groupthink. Acting as a freethinking individual finds its equivalence in acting as an ignominious dissenter. Human evolution is a constant reminder that groups stick together and protect each other because they share common values. Even so, those in positions of power ultimately control thought. So for the powerless, white-collar workers in Uhls’ script, Tyler Durden says, “Advertisements have us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place.” These men reach a boiling point, but the irony is that the members of Fight Club eventually create a new, proletarian-like herd after breaking from the herd mentality of their emasculating, consumer society.

This herd is still not seeking the mere revenge that Craine and Aitken argue for because it does not wreak vengeful havoc at random by bringing Fight Club to fruition. No guidance or secret, males-only homework assignments are needed if throwing adult tantrums is the sole purpose of the members. The men need Tyler Durden before Fight Club can even exist. This cues the hero-worshiping of Tyler Durden after he rounds up his sheepish crew. In his Chicago Sun-Times review of Fight Club, Roger Ebert acknowledges Pitt’s character as, “…a shadowy, charismatic figure, able to inspire a legion of men …” (Ebert 305). Durden becomes the messiah for the culturally emasculated. The male character most literally reduced to femininity, Robert “Bob” Paulson, refers to Tyler as “…a great man,” and later in the film, Tyler vehemently states his claim on Project Mayhem; “We’re not killing anyone, man, we’re setting them free.” Pitt’s character wears his philosophies on the sleeves of his flashy, red-leather jacket, making him undoubtedly direct in nature, yet Tyler never says, “We are getting our revenge.”  In fact, only once in Uhls’ script does the word “revenge” appear. Freedom is Tyler’s ultimate goal, but first the men—specifically the narrator—must find a certain kind of redemption.

fightclub000-714494Instead of Craine and Aitken’s argument for revenge is a need for this redemption, which manifests at the start of many brutal and voluntary beatings. From what could Edward Norton’s narrator, a white-collar employee with a strong case of insomnia, want redemption? The answer is his life—which he experiences dreary eyed at Xerox machines or with subliminal flashes of Tyler. This indicates that Norton’s character loses his mind to the dullness of his reality; sparks of a new reality, along with a surrogate personality, flicker in his dissociating mind. Until the spark of the narrator’s Tyler personality sets fire to his ostentatious apartment, his very existence is polluted with materialism over necessity. In a surreal and creative mise-en-scène walk-through of his apartment five minutes after the film’s start, the narrator exhibits his dwellings like a virtual furniture catalog, calling himself a, “slave to the Ikea-nesting syndrome.” This scene suggests that material objects define him. When this very apartment becomes the site of a seemingly random explosion, the ruinous setting symbolizes what happens in the narrator’s mind; his overindulgent, consumer subconscious throws itself away into the scattered rubble.fight-club

He then calls Tyler and begins a downgraded life, frequenting the basements of seedy bars and, as Craine and Aitken mention, living in a desolate, “…dilapidated house on a toxic waste site at the edge of town…” on Paper Street where the lights eerily flicker and the running water is as nauseating as the film’s yellowish-green color scheme (290). This setting also reflects the narrator’s newfound state of mind, which Craine and Aitken do not analyze. The house is always dark and in disarray, much like the narrator’s mind and hazy, double life. The setting is isolated and toxic, just as the narrator’s relationship with Tyler becomes. There is figurative meaning to this setting, just as Tyler is more than just a host to the newly homeless narrator. In his review, Ebert writes, “[The narrator] turns to Tyler for shelter…he gets more than that,” (305). As Tyler, the narrator destroys

his own apartment for redemption because material destruction is the instigating act of a man saving himself from the error of his corporately enslaved ways.

This idea of servitude to consumerist culture is why men join Fight Club, escaping from their regular routines. The men are all the same with, as Tyler says while the members encircle him and the camera follows his pacing, “all this potential…squandered…an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars…” The focus is on Tyler because his words embody the psyche of the generation of men around him: men who fight each other in an unattractive basement until blood spews and they bruise internally like the violence is a support group activity that brings catharsis. Tyler the Messiah lays out his Fight Club commandments and illuminates the injustices of society. The camera zooms in on only Tyler’s close-up while he plays directly with the emotions of the crowd saying, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” This cinematography suggests that all attention is on Tyler, without showing other’s reactions, because he speaks for the group. He is not only speaking from the narrator’s subconscious, but for everyone else’s as well. Members then beat each other, fighting what they each represent: the slavery. This is justice. The next step is freedom, where Tyler Durden is Nietzsche’s ideal man from The Gay Science.

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In section 283 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche elaborates on his concept of the “Overman,” discussing how an “Overman” should live:

…This requires many preparatory, brave human beings, who certainly cannot arise from nothing…who have an inner penchant for seeking in all things what is to be overcome in them…more endangered human beings…happier human beings! For, believe me, the secret to reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from existence is to live dangerously! …Send your ships into unexplored seas! …Be robbers and conquerors so long as you cannot be rulers or possessors, you knowing ones! (143)

Taking chances, being a leader, and lacking a fear of death, loss, or self-analysis are essential for an “Overman.” Society should not predetermine the life of the individual. Life is a waste without experiences of merit, so “living dangerously” is the subtext to Uhls’ script whenever Tyler says, “How much can you know about yourself if youve never been in a fight? I don’t want to die without any scars,” or, “God Damn! We just had a near-life experience, fellas.” This “Overman” is Tyler, free in every way and ambitious without being driven by any Christian morals or notions.  Ebert’s attacks the violence of Fight Club in his review, but summarizes Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in saying Fight Club is, “…a secret society of men who meet in order to find freedom and self-realization…” (305). In this way, freedom lies in finally becoming what one always hoped for. This is especially exemplified in the scene where the narrator realizes that him and Tyler Durden are one person.tumblr_mm1g7jLFY71r3gb6ao1_500

In this Fight Club scene, Pitt’s Tyler tells Norton’s narrator, “You were looking for a way to change your life. You could not do this on your own. All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you want to look, I fuck like you want to fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” They face each other in this twisted encounter where the narrator is actually confronting himself while the Dust Brother’s score plays subtly beneath the dialogue, mocking at the narrator’s state of mind and oncoming, head-spinning blackout. In discussing this scene, Craine and Aitken refer to Tyler as, “…the insane ideal ego of the liberal existential subject…” (292). Tyler is this “ideal ego,” but all of his actions come with logic and stem from the narrator’s own subconscious, which rationalizes Tyler as the fulfiller of all that lacks in the narrator’s life. Tyler merely has a strong sense of freedom and complete lack of restraint. When accused of insanity in Fight Club, Tyler wittingly retorts, “No, you’re insane.”

Tyler states these claims on being freer than the narrator, yet Craine and Aitken still refer to Tyler’s efforts as revenge-driven. Specifically, the two turn attention toward Project Mayhem, calling it a revenge mission of sorts by saying, “Project Mayhem is [the narrator’s] revenge, an avenue for anger at a system that contrives, and is contrived by, patriarchally-based hegemonic masculinity,” (293). Craine and Aitken argue that Project Mayhem is, “…more purposeful…escalating mischief…a finale of spectacular urban violence that…fosters a return of the sense of individual power lost to men through their marginalization in society,” (289). I disagree. Project Mayhem does not serve a higher purpose. What does it accomplish? The narrator, in fact, tries to undo the tangled mess of potential damage of Project Mayhem. Project Mayhem is now the Fight Club evolution taken too far.

fightclubCraine and Aitken suggest that this use of extravagant, “…spectacularization of violence” allows the narrator “to transcend…limitations” (291). I agree that Project Mayhem is extreme, since it vanquishes credit scores and gets members killed, but it is not a positive undertaking for the narrator. The only positive outcome of Project Mayhem is that the narrator realizes the absurdity of it and ultimately rejects Tyler. Norton’s character does dissolve habit and break away from his mundane, daily routine, which Craine and Atiken acknowledge, but this does not mean that he transcends because the narrator does not fully become Tyler. By the end of the film, when the financial towers crumble and in the unconventional romance of Fight Club, Edward Norton’s narrator ends up with Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla, the narrator finds an area of compromise in himself. The narrator is not the same man from the start of the film, nor is he at the extreme of being Tyler Durden.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Freedom and Responsibility section of Being and Nothingness, explains this:

…Man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the world on his shoulders; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being…Anyway you look at it, it is a matter of choice…to live this…is to choose myself through it and to choose it through my choice of myself…if it is going to be four empty years, then it is I who bear the responsibility of this. (Sartre 252-4)

If Tyler Durden embodies the ideas of Nietzsche, then here, the narrator exemplifies Sartre.

Tyler SplicedThis Sartre passage suggests that responsibility for freedom is a demanding choice and one is equally as responsible for that choice itself. Applied to the narrator, this means that he cannot continue living a vicarious life through Tyler Durden because he must acknowledge that he is responsible for his own actions. If one considers Tyler’s assignments as levels of a 12-step, support-group program, Project Mayhem should not be the narrator’s the final step toward an ultimate goal. In actuality, he tries separating himself from Tyler’s unconventional therapy as much as he can by the film’s end, leading to a climactic pseudo-suicide as a last resort. The narrator returns to reality without Tyler Durden: a reality that is not filled with a hyper-surreal world of violence and a foggy sense of insomnia.

Fight Club is not a revenge film, nor is it a film that says, “Be someone else and do anything at all.” Fight Club is about fully being oneself, unconsumed by other external factors, and living freely in each of life’s moments, with full consciousness of that choice. There are consequences to actions and avoiding responsibilities, and Fight Club ends with that reminder. Uhls ends Fight Club with a punch line when the narrator, with his bleeding cheek, raspy voice, and hand reaching out for Marla, says to her, “You met me at a very strange time in my life,” while Fincher has the pair stare off into an evening of destruction, signifying Tyler’s last word for society. Likewise, when the film reel, like one of Tyler’s part-time-job tricks, shows signs of needing a projector change preceding an unexpected, obscene flash, the audience is left wondering whether or not the influence of Tyler Durden ever really dies. Then, in the perfectly appropriate Pixies song, “Where is my mind?” Black Francis sings, “Your head will collapse/but there’s nothing in it/and you’ll ask yourself/where is my mind?” The narrator rids the presence of Tyler from his subconscious, but these lyrics in Fight Club’s finale suggest questioning where Tyler disappears to, if he is still lurking in the crevices of the narrator’s mind, and if he will ever make an unconscious return.

Thank you for reading! If you have a few extra minutes, please check out the link for a film I’m working on.

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Sources

Craine, James, and Stuart C. Aitken. “Street Fighting: Placing the Crisis of Masculinity in David “Fincher’s Fight Club.” GeoJournal 59.4 (2004): 289-96. JSTOR. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/41147853?origin=JSTOR-pdf&gt;.

Ebert, Roger. Fight Club. 1999. Writing in the Works. 3rd ed. Boston: Wadsworth Pub, 2012. 304-06. Print.

Eller, Claudia. “Controversy Could KO or Punch Up ‘Fight Club'” Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Times, 15 Oct. 1999. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/1999/oct/15/business/fi-22483&gt;.

Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Screenplay by Jim Uhls. By Chuck Palahniuk. Prod. Ross G. Bell, Ceán Chaffin, and Art Linson. Perf. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. 20th Century Fox, 1999. DVD.

Francis, Black. “Where Is My Mind?” By Black Francis. Perf. Kim Deal, David Lovering, Joey Santiago, and Black Francis. Rec. 1987. Surfer Rosa. Pixies. Steve Albini, 1988. MP3.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. 1882. Existentialism: Basic Writings. By Charles B. Guignon and Derk Pereboom. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1995. 123-71. Print.

Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino. Prod. Danny DeVito and Lawrence Bender. Perf. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. Miramax Films, 1994. DVD.

Reservoir Dogs. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino. Prod. Lawrence Bender. Perf. Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel. Miramax Films, 1992. DVD.

Sartre, Jean. “Being and Nothingness.” 1943. Existentialism: Basic Writings. By Charles B. Guignon and Derk Pereboom. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001. 352-53. Print.