Comparing Fight Club and The Sixth Sense
The fact that more people like something is never a reason that it is better. The Sixth Sense, while fun and very well done, was in essence a magic trick. It was, as well-made as it was, purely entertainment with no outwardly applicable themes, ideas, or statements at all. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does draw a distinction between a film like Sixth Sense and Fight Club. The Sixth Sense was all about the surprise of "oooh, I didn't see it coming" when it's kind of arbitrary what happens anyway. It reminds me of junk like Patch Adams (which I haven't seen) where the doctors are made to be stuck-up snobs that Patch makes fun of and is better than. It makes me think "But you [the filmmakers] only made the doctors snobs SO THAT YOU COULD MAKE FUN OF THEM!" It's not earned. It's totally arbitrary and self-serving and easy. Fight Club is far more complex. Look at the narrator's relationships to Marla and Bob. These are complex relationships, but he sort of starts off looking down on them. The movie reveals, however, how things are not as easy as they first appear and both relationships make deep, powerful impacts on the main character.
The Sixth Sense isn't as lazy as, say, Patch Adams, but there is still this element of "Look we created this situation out of the blue and then revealed that the situation was not what we first told you. Surprise!" Haley Osment was amazing and his acting and characterization were really astonishing and real and that drove that film. Without him it would be nothing. The premise is just a premise. And the real surprise should have been "I see dead people" anyway, except that the ads ruined that for everyone. Anyway, it was ripped directly from another film.
Fight Club doesn't have plot holes and inconsistences. It doesn't operate on that level. It has concepts and themes and those themes work. They are smart, complex, and ultimately they are powerful. They don't lose sight of the goal.
This is how I got so excited about Fight Club in the first place, after hours and hours of discussion grasping for some answers. That is the mark of a great film, not simply that more people liked it.
The suicide attempt is not to excise "evil". If anything, we have learned that the ideals that Tyler stands for are within the narrator (after all, he set up the bomb in his apartment BEFORE he "met" Tyler on the plane). Rather, the suicide is about absorbing Tyler back into his own consciousness and becoming a whole person. As I see it the movie ultimately is not about any of the external factors like consumerism or fascism. It tells us that before we can make the rash social changes that Tyler suggests we need to find balance in ourselves. The film is about the differences in gender identities, what is masculine and feminine and how we all have both these within ourselves, regardless off our gender (I discussed my take on this in these very pages back when Fight Club was in theaters). The narrator has a violent reaction to the feminine side of his life. He is unbalanced. He is living by what is simply described as feminine in our society: Consumerism, subservience, and other such traits. This is identified in a number of ways: The men without testicles being one of the most unusual ways. When Marla is introduced she threatens his identity and drives him to create a new identity, this time an overly masculine one. Ultimately when he accepts Marla as someone that he cares deeply about he finds a balance between masculine and feminine and that balance allows him to start over.
While not a happy ending in the usual sense, the ending of Fight Club is very hopeful. You're not supposed to think "Oh, the space monkeys are still out there." You should look at it as the lead having worked out some extremely complicated crap in his life and can now start over with someone he really cares about. It is actually very romantic, like watching fireworks and knowing that your life is about to get a whole lot better, not for any easy, lame reason, but because you now understand what's important. The logistics of it are inconsequential (like him not having a home or a job) Those things are small in comparison to the emotional journey he's made and he knows it.
I thought long about the idea that Project Mayhem is "bad" but the ending (with the buildings blowing up) is "good". When the movie disproves an idea, like Project Mayhem or Fight Club it doesn't negate them. That is, when Project Mayhem is proven wrong it doesn't mean that capitalist institutions like credit card companies and Ikea are good. Notice the movie makes a point of not saying that killing people is right. That is not because it wants to avoid gratuitous violence but rather because the point is not to kill the bad guys but to erase the institutions that are compromising us all. By blowing up the buildings at the end the goal ultimately is not to cause grievous public damage but rather to erase the financial debt that enslaves us. This symbolically is the same as the narrator wiping the slate clean and starting over with Marla.
The Commentary Tracks
One good example of why commentary tracks can be misleading is the issue of whether Jack and Marla die in an explosion in the end. In the beginning, when the camera shows the bomb in the basement, the bomb is clearly in the building with Jack and Tyler. So on a practical level, that building does blow up as the final image flickers out. Whether or not Marla and Jack die in the end is kind of unimportant since the movie is more about the way that Jack develops emotionally than it is about any given plot point. And whether or not Tyler plans to kill them is not hugely important, even though it speaks to his motivations. What is important is that screenwriter Jim Uhls gives a half-assed explanation of how some lame logistical situation prevented them from dying. That's a kind of cheap excuse that you wouldn't expect from the writer of such an intelligent and complex script. After seeing the film I argued that Jack and Marla died and that that represented a cleansing and renewal, sort of a rebirth where they started fresh, linked together, made whole, symbolic of the joining of the masculine and the feminine, rather than Jack's confused Jack-Tyler split which was wrong. I was wondering if they would address that at all on the commentary tracks but instead got an incorrect and inconsistent excuse. It doesn't matter ultimately, since I stand by my conclusions. I've now seen it a bunch of times and each time I watch it I discover something new. I like the idea of commentary tracks, but when it was on LD I think they were treated more as a historical record. Hearing Scorsese talk about Raging Bull in a cultural context makes sense. Now every movie it seems has commentary and people are practically only getting their ideas from listening to the commentary. I like a good commentary but I also applaud filmmakers like Woody Allen who refuse to do them. He basically says "When I'm done with the movie there is nothing else to say. Obviously everything I wanted to tell you is in the movie so just watch that and you'll get it." There are good reasons for Fight Club to have commentary but people are not having the full moviegoing experience of figuring things out for yourself. Trust me, with this particular movie you are cheating yourself if you think you got it all the first time around.
The ideas and images created in Fight Club are original and feverishly intense. This is a film that requires at least three viewings. Give yourself a chance to develop your own ideas and theories and decide that everything that I've said is wrong. The only real message of the movie that everyone can agree on is that all people should be able to think for themselves and not follow the norm blindly. That outlook can easily be applied back to the film itself and you should give it the attention it deserves.
Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.E-mail Gil at firstname.lastname@example.org