Reaction to Fight Club

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By Craig Joseph

Tyler Durden is exacting his revenge.

I used to love Fight Club, so much so that when Tim chose it this week, I had three versions on my DVD shelf from which to choose (and Palahniuk’s novel close by).  Imagine my surprise, then, on sitting back to enjoy and finding the movie – well – kind of annoying.  Maybe it’s because I’m a homeowner now and have – with pride – done my fair share of nesting.  Perhaps we can blame Helena Bonham Carter; since my last Fight Club viewing, I’ve seen her ruin too many roles with her inherent weirdness and l long for the Merchant Ivory days (see next week).  Likely, I’ve grown weary of the “angry-young-man-who-has-something-countercultural-to-say” motif.  Whatever.  Get over yourself.  If we all LOVE Fight Club, it’s sort of lost its anti-establishment bite, guys.

It left me lukewarm.  The film felt more like a study of mental illness than a revolutionary call to arms.  And I wanted to stand up and applaud Edward Norton when he finally figures out that he’s “cray cray” and attempts to correct all the havoc that his (totally implausible) alter ego has wreaked.  Go to therapy already.

And then, today happened.

I’m sitting at my desktop computer, at work, at 11:31 PM, writing this blog entry because my Mac – which has my original post on it – has been lost by an airline.  (I fully expect to have it returned to me, vibrating.)

I’ve been here since about 8:30 AM – on and off – trying to get through a mountain of work on my desk that never seems to disappear.  And I’m moving very slowly because of interruptions from needy customers, co-workers who insist on having the loudest conversations in the small room we call our work space, and a never-ending stream of technology that doesn’t work (yes: we’re a tech company.)

My plush house with very cool mid-century modern furniture and walls covered with art does very little to calm the bile that rises in my throat every night I go home.  And my cute and cuddly canines only seek to piss me off when they won’t stop licking licking licking.  I’m not generally a rage-filled person, but I find increasingly –on days like this – that not much assuages the desire I have to beat the crap out of something or someone.

In this frame of mind, I long to drink watered-down community center coffee, nuzzle in a pair of man tits, and tell someone the woes of my day, railing about how stupid the world is – and to have them agree wholeheartedly.  And I don’t think I’d be above claiming to have a terminal illness if it meant that someone would slow down for a second and take me seriously.  (What is blogging about anyway?  Speaking into space, hoping that someone is listening and maybe being egocentric enough to believe they are.)

So, Tyler wins.  Tonight I might just do something crazy.  By the time you read this, I may have blown some shit up.

Or at least stolen towels from the fancy men’s restroom at the airport.

 

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Fight Club

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By Tim Barlow

My first experience with the movie Fight Club was in psychology class during my senior year of high school.  There was a project where each student had to write a report on a movie that demonstrated a psychological illness.  I chose What about Bob?  More than a few others, chose Fight Club.  But the notion of multiple personality disorders unnerves me.

I am Tim’s smirking revenge.  After finally seeing Fight Club in college, what I loved about it, is probably what so many others did; those who love the album OK Computer, or have dreamt of admonishing parents with calls to open their eyes, or baaing like a sheep at corporate drones, or telling the huge man using the mobility scooter to shop for Doritos, that maybe the exercise would do him some good. Fight Club offers validity to that sneaking feeling, that the only way forward, when faced with a system or an institution or a behavior or even your own self, that was corrupted from the start, is to tear it all down.

But as time and life have passed, I’ve realized that’s far too simplistic.  No, the thing easily glossed over in Fight Club, is that it’s actually a charming love story.  Edward Norton’s character meeting an equally isolated and desperate character named Marla, played by the enchanting (but still mostly creepy) Helena Bonham Carter, and though their story may be unconventional on the surface, when broken down is quite romantic.  In the end, after everything has run its course, and all that could be destroyed is, they are back to where they started, just having (and just needing) each other.

Reaaalllly, that’s the point? Maybe the point is that you’ve spent your Saturday watching West Wing on Netflix and icing your sore shoulder, as you dread Monday morning.  Maybe the point is that you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time making sure doors and windows are really locked.  I can sympathize that not keeping Fight Club at an arm’s length could be incendiary.  The notion that to be a “normal”, contributing member of today’s society, is to simultaneously have mental illness, is entertaining at level one, stirring at a second, and explosive when taken any further.  But going further with an idea, doesn’t simultaneously discredit it.

But, even if that were it, and nothing more, is this all just a call to anarchy, then?  To put on our black hoodies and throw the gas mask into our Jansport backpacks with its “A” wrapped in a circle, drawn with White Out during 10th grade English?  To go spray paint “FASCIST” on some poor BP gas station owner’s windows?

I don’t think that is the point any more than you do.  And the argument that  “this is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time” while tidy in premise, and a strong point in the stand up for human spirit column, also comes second.  When that all is stripped away, there is still Fight Club’s jarring commentary on the complexity of the human mind.  And everything else is just a vehicle for that process; making it through every day compliments of extreme mental gymnastics. So, given that, what is that point?

The point…?

Say it.  The point is….?

The point is that there are not actually two separate minds, within my head, having a conversation, about just one, 2hr movie.

There, was that so hard?

Guest post – Scream

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By Kevin Miller

One must at least appreciate the effort of a film that pokes sarcastically at its own genre and simultaneously epitomizes the characteristics that define that genre. In one breath, Wes Craven outlines the steps of creating a cheap thrill for an anticipating audience: “They’re all the same. Some stupid killer, stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who’s always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door.” In the next breath, Neve Campbell takes an inordinate amount of time to open a single closet door to check for Ghostface. Cue the swell of overly dramatic, critically acclaimed music.

So here we are. Scream. The Fonz, dead. Knives placed delicately in the foreground of the frame, ever so slightly out of focus. A verbally articulate killer who can never quite figure out how to move the very moveable items that are blocking his entrance to the room. Also note that this is the same killer than can only ever manage to run just behind his prey. Amateur.

Like Craig and Tim, this movie makes me feel a certain reminiscence as I recall its debut during the closing of my high school career. For me, the film was somehow much more frightening in the late nineties than in 2013. When I was asked to watch and write some thoughts about Scream, I immediately remembered what I felt the first time I watched the blonde best friend get trapped in a garage door, as the audience is startled by the crackling electricity of the grinding motors. Kevin in the nineties had a grimace on his face. “I can’t believe what just happened. It’s gruesome! It’s terrifying! I can’t look away.” Kevin in 2013 just chuckled and checked Facebook again. I feel that there is likely a social commentary in there somewhere.

I can’t deny that I have been thoroughly entertained by this film in both the nineties and (slightly less so) today. I can’t deny the influence that this film had on many that followed (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Final Destination, etc.). The film played a part in revitalizing the horror genre and we mustn’t forget that is was the highest grossing slasher film in the US. Nevertheless, I continue to have a difficult time taking this film seriously. In trying to be both gruesome and humorous, in trying to poke fun at the clichés and utilize them, I feel that it doesn’t do any of it particularly well.

Don’t get me wrong, Scream is a fantastically entertaining and mindless film and I know I should relax my judgement – it’s not a film that wants to be taken seriously. Afterall, Scream is “more of a game, really. Can you handle that, blondie?”

Reaction to Scream

Drew Barrymore in Wes Craven's "Scream"

By Tim Barlow

Do you like scary movies?  Nope.  But really, any “scary” things would be more accurate: haunted houses, haunted hayrides, ghost stories, my dog barking at nothing in the middle of the room (probably ghosts), etc…  I have what doctors call an active imagination, which means that after the act of being scared should be finished, my brain takes over and makes life infinitely more shitty for years to come.  For example, when I was in 5th grade, someone just told me about the movie, It, just the basic plot, and I haven’t looked at a sewer the same way since.  Don’t even get me started on the trailer I accidentally saw for Paranormal Activity; shit in heaven, that movie looks horrifying!

But we’re here to talk about Scream, which came out in theaters when I was in High School. I remember everyone going to see it in groups and detailing who was most scared or screamed the loudest in the hallways on Monday morning. But I did not plan on accurately participating in those conversations, ever. Ever. And that’s where Scream posed a problem, it wasn’t just another scary movie playing one boring Friday night at a friend’s house, that I could safely parry away by acting like I spontaneously fell asleep, or feigning a sudden illness or going upstairs to make extended small talk with parents. No, the thing I remember most about Scream is that it didn’t just go away – it’s popularity only seemed to build, and my regrets-only tally was growing.  Until Scream, I could safely avoid scary movies without much trouble, but Scream was different, it was sharp and clever and self aware and funny and scary, and worst of all, popular.

Slowly, as only it can during High School, time passed, and I valiantly maintained my hold out.  Scream moved from the cineplex to the dollar theater and eventually to VHS, and the cause for my alarm seemed to move with it.  But High School is cruel, especially for late bloomers, and when my first girlfriend arrived, wouldn’t you know it, she just lovvvveeed scary movies.  Well damnit the time for being a chicken shit (at least in front of her) was over. I watched more scary movies during that season of life than all the therapy sessions and all the night lights in the world could ever erase, and Scream was one of them.  Did I enjoy that first watching?  Of course not.  But I couldn’t really hate it either.  Yes, it was scary, but it was also hilarious; graciously cutting tension with witty dialogue in one scene and then violently slashing High School students in the next.  Yes, it was predictable, but it was also ingeniously self-aware, as in the way Wes Craven toys with established scary movie tricks like closing doors to a sudden build of music, only to have no killer there at all…the first time.  It was nasty, with dark, disturbing character histories, but also light-hearted and silly, like when actor Jamie Kennedy is drunkenly watching the movie, Halloween, calling out for “Jamie…” (Lee Curtis, acting in Halloween) to “…turn around!”, as a killer also simultaneously sneaks up behind him.

I suspect it’s this duality, adding depth and layers to an often stale and tired genre, that also resonates with Craig.  The ability for the two sides, the nasty and the playful to not just coexist, but to push the other beyond where either could go alone.  The give and take that allows the playfulness to first instill a sense of comfort which in turn makes the nasty all the more nasty, which in turn makes the playful all the more welcome again the next round, taking the viewer on an endless rolling torture.  Leaving me both enjoying the movie, and desperately praying the VCR would just spontaneously break, forever.  No, I absolutely don’t like scary movies, but I guess I don’t mind Scream.

Scream

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By Craig Joseph

At the risk of causing Tim to go fetal, whimpering in a corner, I elected to put one horror film on my list.  Try as I might to maintain an air of elitism about my choices, I must confess: I love slasher-bimbo blood and gore fests.  I will turn off a legit film if the cinematography or script is bad (or if Andie MacDowell makes a cameo), but I will put up with all kinds of garbage from a B-movie with chainsaws and ax-wielding psychopaths.

I blame Scream.  When it was released in 1996, I was not a horror film buff.  But something clicked for me after watching a promiscuous high school girl go to her death, stuck in a doggy door because of her ample breasts, crushed as the killer raises the garage door with her in it.  It’s a fitting way for her to die; she’s been shaking those sisters in all the guys’ faces, and now they are responsible for her demise.  Apologies, but that’s just funny.

And that’s the brilliance of Scream.  No other movie is as successful at recognizing the relationship between terror and amusement, fear and laughter, and then marrying them for a couple of hours.  It’s the same stuff that Aristotle was talking about in ancient Greece: empathy, purgation, catharsis.  Sometimes, it just feels great to be scared out of your mind and scream your head off.  At other times, a solid bout of laughter helps cleanse the palate of a crummy week.  And when you can do both at the same time?  Perfection.

One could make the argument that this happens in every horror film.  The genre is known for ridiculous plot lines, awful acting, lame special effects and predictability.  Most are not scary and we laugh at them derisively, even when that’s not what they’re after.  But Scream was a new beast – a smart horror film intentionally seeking laughs through self-referential humor and by calling attention to the rules of the genre, all the while subverting those rules and scaring the pants off viewers.  I have watched Drew Barrymore’s star turn at least 15 times, and I still suck my thumb (see earlier Robin Hood post for my resonances with Prince John).

Against those who accuse the genre of gratuity, consider this: Scream and its descendants are some of the most “moral” movies out there.  Victims go to their death – punished for premarital sex, coquettish behavior, drunkenness and just being jerks.  Evil is evil – and it gets punished in the end; none of this “we’re all shades of gray” psychobabble.  Those who survive are the ones that follow the rules.  And those who vanquish the killers and monsters do so because they are able to conceive of an invisible world where angels and demons occasionally use humanity as pawns in a larger comic battle.  Believe in God and talk to Jesus regularly – and you have a better chance of making it through the movie alive.

Until the sequel.

Guest post – Kicking It

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By Ben Lindwall

As I first sat down to write my reaction to the movie, Kicking It I went to that place where every suburban-bred privileged white kid tends to go: seeing the homeless people play soccer just made me feel so thankful for having been raised in a family that could afford to put me on a real team, on a real field, in a real league.

Then I threw up on myself, because I deserved it.

If I honestly try to let myself be changed by what I saw, Kicking It was a clear call to action and an opportunity to take my sorry, boring, middle class life and turn it into something meaningful. It was a call to see the world differently, to find commonality and beauty in our shared human story, each having something valuable to offer, regardless of our weaknesses or past.

At first I found the coaches in the movie the easiest to identify with. They aren’t making money. They probably put in hours upon hours skillfully preparing their teams for competition and dealing with unimaginable issues along the way. I found myself thinking, I want to be just like them. Maybe I should become a homeless coach.

Then I threw up on myself, because I deserved it.

If I’m honest about who I most identify with, it was the small old man from Spain. Not because I’m an alcoholic, or because I’ve wasted my God-given talent as a pro soccer player, but because deep down I have a fear that when I reach my metaphorical World Cup I’ll be surrounded by hundreds of people who’s first instinct will be to laugh when they see me fall to the ground. Its been a few days since watching the film and I can’t get the sound of his body hitting the pavement combined with the crowd’s knee-jerk laughter out of my mind. What if I end up like him?

Then I began to see the founder of the Homeless World Cup as the most inspiring. I just need the right idea, the right business plan, and right work ethic. I could change the world. I could grow a classy mullet with a Scottish accent and everyone would look up to me. I could use social media to spread the word!

Then I threw up on myself, again, because I deserved it.

If I’m honest, the man from Kenya who could not score on a penalty kick to save his life, hit it home for me. On the surface, this guy was pathetic. Penalty kicks occur at least once or twice a game because of the small-sided format and each time he was adamant that he be the one to shoot. His coach repeatedly ordered him to let someone else take the shot and finally had to suspend him from play. Yes, the Kenyan was loosing games for his team and probably a little crazed, but his self-assuredness was what caught my attention. Maybe I could use a little “crazed”. I’ve had times where I get so bogged down in my own insecurity I can barely get myself off the couch. I hesitate and hesitate, looking around for someone else to take the shot, frozen by the fear of failure. The Kenyan was in his own world and his focus and determination (albeit a repeated abysmal failure) must have earned him a supreme sense of satisfaction. He came to play and no one was going to get in the way of a chance to score.

As I finish writing, I’m sitting in downtown Minneapolis in the early morning. Homeless people will come into this warm open area at the base of our city’s tallest skyscraper to avoid the subzero wind chill outside. They are sitting on the white benches near the fountain while the corporate folk scurry to their cubicles. There is a man with a ragged coat and scruffy beard staring at me as I type away on my MacBook. I’m realizing how disconnected we are. I’m realizing that regardless of what I think soccer balls or government programs, or some innovative idea might do to solve homelessness, I don’t have any homeless friends.

Shame on a system that has so successfully divided it’s supposedly weakest members from it’s supposedly strongest. This is where I get stuck in the enormity of the complication and the paradox of what is right in front of me. I wonder if the man in the ragged coat could have the life he wants and I wonder if I could let down my guard enough to let others see me for who I am. I wonder if I’ll be surrounded by laughter when I trip and fall. I wonder if I’ll be determined enough to try again and again after failure after failure. I wonder if I’ll let this movie have an affect on me and maybe have a little more compassion for myself, the home-haves, and the home-less. I wonder if there could be a point of genuine connection between the privileged white kid from the suburbs and the homeless man downtown.

Reaction to Kicking It

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By Craig Joseph

 I’ve been thinking lately – as I grumble at my dusk or come alive at play rehearsals – about the differences between an “occupation” and a “vocation.”  This is not the place for my mental meanderings, but one pertinent thought: I believe that much of our contemporary unhappiness stems from the conflating of these two terms.  Though it is not unheard of, many of us expect our occupation – that which occupies our time and earns us money – to satisfy in the same way that a vocation – something we are uniquely wired or “called” to do, something we can’t NOT do – might.  As such, we arrange our lives and identities around our occupation, never asking how our vocation may be something quite different, something which our occupation should provide time, energy and money for us to pursue.  A hunch: much of the stress, fatigue, anger and depression we experience in modern life stems from not pursuing our vocations while killing ourselves at our occupations.

These thoughts in mind, I watched Kicking It – the first film on our list I’d not seen before – which became, for me, a parable about the metamorphoses that can occur in us when we pursue something that give us purpose and meaning – a vocation or calling.  (Too lofty for the film?  Too bad.  I wasn’t about to write another post about a movie that made me weep openly six or seven different times.)

All of life just “clicks” when a purposeful endeavor is being pursued.  Craig, able to exercise his athletic giftings, surrounded by US teammates and coaches who don’t take his crap, slowly gains the presence of mind to grapple with his anger issues, eventually reconciling with estranged family and getting off the streets.  Nanjev, a young Afghani unaccustomed to interacting with unshrouded women, attains a confidence that inspires his first brush with romance.  The Spanish team – arguably the most rag tag at the tournament – are visibly transformed by their single win, and how their coach, Saul, advocates for them is one of the most powerful examples I’ve seen of how doing what you are meant to do enlarges and ennobles a person.  And there’s good argument made for how a few people pursuing their vocation can inspire wider change as we watch the winning Russian team leverage their personal victory into societal reform back home.

We also see some stories that don’t work out.  I was saddened, in the epilogue, to hear that Simon, the strapping, seemingly confident captain of the Irish team, relapsed into drug addiction and death upon returning home.  I can’t help wondering if the removal of purpose after the World Cup was too much to bear.  And I’m intrigued by Alex, the Kenyan, forced to grapple with the thought that he’s not as great a soccer player as he imagines.  He makes me ponder how we come to know what exactly our vocation is or isn’t.

And this is the highest praise I can give this movie: it takes people unlike me – folks who I might be tempted to marginalize and ignore  – and invites me to see our common humanity.  And how we all might just be seeking the same thing – to live lives that give us value and purpose and meaning.