Insights from two movies

SATURDAY, 24 APRIL 2004

Insights from Fight Club

[Fight Club is a 1999 movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in which they/he starts a fight club where men can be men again, as the saying goes. The fight clubs – many branches were later opened – eventually developed into an urban terrorist organization that wreaks havoc, including blowing up credit card companies’ head offices.]

Handy comment on identity: “I flipped through catalogues, deciding which dinner table would best define who I want to be …”

Says Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden: “I say ‘never be complete!’ I say ‘Stop being perfect!’ I say ‘let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may!’”

Comment: To do so – to throw your hands in the air and “letting go” – would inevitably affect how the “chips” would fall. You thus still manipulate the outcome of your “evolution”.

Always a good one: “… working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history – no purpose or place, no great war or depression. Our Great War is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives.”

And a good question (perhaps more specifically for men, but the same can be asked about a good debate or argument with someone else): “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

The point, initially, is that participation in fights, win or lose, gives the men self-respect. This is why, when a sizable guy gets on a bus and shoulders the two main characters as he is passing them – deliberately, and with complete disregard, they do not respond, because it does not inflict any injury to their self-esteem.

“Tyler Durden” is also respected by the other men not because he is the best fighter (everyone loses from time to time), but because he can endure physical pain, and because he does not fear physical conflict.

However, there is no way that lack of fear of physical conflict can still be the only standard for manhood, right?! But why is it still so important? (I ask this with heartfelt acknowledgment that I am myself grouped among those who do not drool in anticipation of a good fist fight.)

It is still important because a) we are not that far removed from our primitive genetic ancestors, and/or b) fear of physical conflict suggests something else, namely fear of pain, and the end result of unbearable pain, death.

Know that you will die … yet we hold on to life for as long as possible.

In the final count, fear of physical conflict undermines a man’s image as one willing and able to protect. It also indicates a fear of embarrassment – the inevitable result of the inability to sustain yourself in physical conflict. This would also expose the man, as it were, as the powerless figure he probably already believes he is.

Insights from Altered States

[Altered States is a 1980 science-fiction movie in which the main character, played by William Hurt, uses various methods to return to his original genetic form. In the process, he also spends one night as a hominid. The first quote refers to the night in question.]

“I was utterly primal. I consisted of nothing more than the will to survive, to live through the night, to eat, to drink, to sleep. It was the most supremely satisfying time of my life.”

[The second quote is from the end, after he succeeded in reaching his primal form.]

“I was in that ultimate moment of terror that is the beginning of life. It is nothing – simple, hideous nothing. The final truth of all things is that there is no final truth. Truth is transitory. It is human life that is real.”

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