Fight Club, a Love Story?

I knew I was only scratching the surface of the film Fight Club when I commented on it earlier in 2003 (click here to read that article). Turns out there are Fight Club fanatics who have made this dark, funny, paranoid film into an eminently re-viewable text, with new nuances and meanings peeling off on successive viewings. Who knew? Well, Paul Smaldino did and does, and shared some of his appreciation and analysis with me via e-mail. -Adam Blair

GRIN WITHOUT A CAT: How many times have you seen Fight Club?

PAUL SMALDINO: I've probably seen it about 10 or 15 times. Probably closer to 15. I saw it twice in theaters when it came out, and then four days in a row when it came out on DVD. And then every so often. I haven't seen it in about four months or more, it may be time to see it again.

GRIN: Why the repeat viewings - is it a group or audience participation thing like The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

SMALDINO: It's certainly a bonding experience with my friends. Most of my male friends, at least the ones from college, also love the movie and I saw it with a certain group of guys often. I enjoy showing it to people who haven't seen it, and I've watched it alone a couple of times as well. As far as Rocky Horror goes, (side note: The Internet cafe I'm in just began playing "Road Runner" by the Modern Lovers. Niiiiiice....) it's nothing like that. I think of Rocky Horror as something theater nerds in high school watch and call out to, maybe one notch above singing along to the Les Miserables soundtrack in cool. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed that movie, especially Meatloaf's big number, but it's apples and oranges.

GRIN: What stands out for you on repeat viewings, or what do you see now that you didn't see on first or second viewing of the film?

SMALDINO: I mean, it was definitely different to see it knowing the plot twist. And what a great movie just as far as viewing pleasure goes. It looks amazing - David Fincher is a genius - the soundtrack kicks ass, the dialogue is snappy and interesting, it's got action, just a pleasurable experience. I also can pick out details that I missed, or even after that, I can re-examine the larger themes with a knowledge of the details, which I think aids one in interpreting it.

GRIN: Does the violence overall bother you? The physical violence in the fight club(s)? The destruction of the buildings at the end?

SMALDINO: Real violence certainly bothers me. I am disturbed when I see real life physical violence. About a month ago I saw a dog get hit by a car in the morning, and I was devastated the whole day. Movie violence is a whole nother beast however, it's just a show, you know? I love fights and explosions in movies, it's cathartic. I'm a big fan of Hong Kong Kung Fu movies, and I love Tarantino's stuff. I don't know if you saw Kill Bill, but that movie kicked ass. Plus, the end of Fight Club, when the building blows up, and Jack and Marla are standing there, hand in hand, and Jack's bleeding from the hole in his cheek and all beat up from fighting himself, and that Pixies song plays, I just think that's such a beautiful way to end the movie. I like movies that end with a character at a transition point, as opposed to just having everything end happily ever after.

GRIN: Do you think the film is saying that this is the only way to be genuine in a society obsessed with image and possessions?

SMALDINO: Not at all. I think the film points out that society/media/ school/government/the suburbs has streamlined what one is supposed to achieve to make oneself happy, that material things cannot fill the void created by loneliness and impotence. I think in large part the movie is about the quest/need for love. Jack needs love, he pretends to have the diseases the support groups are for in order to feel loved, but it's pity really, and not all that fulfilling at the end of the day, when he's faced with someone who's probably doing the same thing. Marla's lie exposed his own. But here's his chance. Marla is a person like him, in fact, further along than him, because she's closer to "hitting bottom." But basically he's still being strung along by society's rules and he shuns her. The fight clubs are a release of his frustration, sort of, but it's still not love. He goes around running around getting further and further away from his previous life toward what he thinks being a man is, but because he's not really complete without love, the other half to complete him, he's endlessly frustrated.

He can't even admit to liking Marla like he would, so he lets Tyler have her, that way it's manly, purely sexual, abusive, just some T and A. When he tries to turn himself in, he's given orders to demasculate himself - castration - because he views this confession as weakness, not worthy of being a man. He basically is destroying everything he has as a man, letting Tyler take the place of his other half. The end is the resolution where he can accept Marla and get rid of Tyler. It's a much more personal story than most people realize, I think.

GRIN: What do you think of the film's treatment of/view of women?

SMALDINO: Like I said, the film addresses pretty heavily what being a man in modern America embodies for a lot of people. It's a movie about being a man alone. I think its treatment of women is pretty sparse, definitely, but I don't think it's ever degrading or demeaning to women. I love the character of Marla, the cigarettes, the tough attitude, and in the end she's just as upset and fragile as Jack.

GRIN: What's the oddest interpretation/analysis you've every heard about the film?

SMALDINO: I don't know. I hate when people think it espouses support for fighting and violence. I don't think that's the point at all.

GRIN: If you had to describe Fight Club to someone who had never seen it, what five words would you use?

SMALDINO: Come on Adam, what five words would you use to describe a book by Nabokov or Garcia Marques or a film by Jim Jarmusch or Wes Anderson? I just wrote like over a thousand words to just brush the surface of just one theme of many in this movie. But here you go, off the top of my head: Dark, sardonic, beautiful, intense, masculine. There's a lot being said in this movie. In addition, I think the movie is really funny at times and its comedy is often missed. When he's in the cave and his power animal is a penguin - a flightless bird that waddles about - that's pretty funny. OK, it's ridiculous to try to describe in writing funny scenes from a movie. I recommend seeing it once or twice more, and then taking it for a spin with the various and excellent audio commentary tracks included on the DVD. Or not.

I think one of the most important functions of art, to steal a line from Kurt Vonnegut, is to feel that some person somewhere feels the same way about something as you. Like, "Hey, me too." I love this movie, and other favorites are Dead Man, The Big Lebowski, My Dinner with Andre, High Fidelity, Wonder Boys, Sullivan's Travels, Starship Troopers. If you can relate, awesome, if not, so be it. I think just questioning everything around you, and especially your own self and your place in the world and the universe and all the big and little philosophical questions are a pretty good way to spend one's time. There are those that disagree, and at this point, all I can say is "Fuck 'em." OK. I've rambled long enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I like movies that end with a character at a transition point, as opposed to just having everything end happily ever after."
-Paul Smaldino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I think just questioning everything around you, and especially your own self and your place in the world and the universe and all
the big and little philosophical questions are a pretty good way to spend one's time." -Paul Smaldino

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