CinePunked break rules 1 and 2 as they talk about David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club – an iconic piece that challenged our ideas of masculinity and perceptions of reality. Robert and Rachael meander through its imagery, meaning and legacy.
Sleeve notes are below.
With Robert JE Simpson and Dr Rachael Kelly.
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Episode URL: https://player.whooshkaa.com/episode?id=951368
With The Matrix franchise the subject of the last episode of the podcast, we’re returning to the summer of 1999 for this edition exploring the unreliable worlds of David Fincher’s Fight Club.
Oh lordy, the subject of so many memes and clichés and parodies. Its so obvious, it was tempting to avoid this film, but series 5 so far has all been linked by its representations of unreliable narrators and the confusing lines between fantasy and reality – something which strikes me as being linked to the very essence of cinema itself.
Perhaps, its because I oversee the production of each episode, with the rest of the panel changing from episode to episode, I’m picking up on threads and paths worth exploring. I frequently find myself wondering how you, the listener, finds the conversation over time? Do you watch the films we discuss in the same order? What connections are you making?
Fight Club was already on our radar separate from this altered realities thread. Just a week or so before, we’d included it on Rachael’s Ten Great Screen Performances By Musicians-Turned-Actors listicle, for its significant supporting performance by Meat Loaf. And then Meat Loaf passed away on 20th January 2022 aged 74. There’s not enough of Michael Lee Aday in the film for us to focus entirely on him, but it gave an added incentive to the revisit.
Meat Loaf’s Bob provides an emotional anchor point through the film – the Narrator’s interactions with Bob are deeply connected with trauma, and facilitate significant shifts in the story. We don’t dwell on him overly in the episode, but its testament to Meat Loaf’s acting ability that he leaves the impression that he does.
Much of the film’s interest discussion wise, lies in its self-awareness, its ability to play with the very deceptive nature of fiction film itself. All of fiction film is a lie – a construct of disconnected scenes and people, a fractured dream of construction. Fight Club lays that bare – it breaks down the barrier between spectator and spectacle and invites us in to its secrets. And yet, on a first viewing at least, we remain on the outside, carried along by the deceptions at play.
Norton’s narrator literally talks to us from the projection booth, and tells us how the whole deception is being played, how we – the actual audience – are being manipulated. And yet, somehow we miss it.
There’s also a great deal to be explored in the ideas of toxic masculinity on display in Fight Club. The story is caught up in men and their lack of meaning, their need to feel something, their desire to self-harm. I don’t think we’ve really teased out exactly what’s going on in the podcast itself, but my own re-watch has prompted some personal self-reflection and exploration. There’s a tendency for us to look at the violence, and to see men being cruel, acting as a mob, without exploring the motivations, without us digging under the surface cool.
The conversation itself meanders through various elements of the film’s storytelling. We look at the context of its original release in 1999 and the historical moment that frames it. We delve into its emotional heartbeats, its presentation of masculinity, and its poor representation of the female presence.
I’ve also opened up about some personal experiences which relate to the story itself – my own encounters with self-harm and mental health crises. I’ve talked about these at length in other places, publicly, and elements have come through on previous discussions. Our experience of art isn’t a passive one – we view it through our own experiences, and in turn it informs them. I don’t believe that film criticism should be dispassionate – quite the opposite, regulars will know that we come alive when someone has a personal connection to a film, for whatever reason, and that’s something we should be open about. There is a possibility that the conversation might be triggering for some, so I would refer you to our list of support services we prepared for our Art vs Artist and Gaslight conversations.
As ever, we hope you enjoy the discussion, and welcome feedback via any of our social media outlets, or via the comment box at the bottom of this page.
This episode contains audio clips used under fair use guidelines regarding critical commentary and education from the following:
Fight Club 20th anniversary trailer, (Paramount Pictures. 2019)
Ronson Lighter commercial (c. 1968)
Fight Club is available to buy on DVD, and Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and also via multiple streaming services including Disney+.
The CinePunked theme music is ‘Riding the Synth‘ – © 2020, Ben Blademan Simpson. Used with permission.
Episode recorded via Zoom in Holywood and Newtownards, Northern Ireland on 23 January 2022.
Engineered and edited by Robert JE Simpson. First published on 27 January 2022.