When a movie has something meaningful to say about the human condition and does it in an entertaining way, it transcends its own inherent limitations and becomes a window into a parallel universe populated, not by mere cardboards characters, but by real human beings, with real existential problems, whose actions can help contextualize and illuminate our own personal travails. This is why I love movies.
My mother has a similar appreciation for this art form, but begs to differ on one issue: she believes that experience can never transferred, it can only be acquired. Hence, movies should primarily be a source of commercial entertainment and not aspire to be much more. Maybe I am being too harsh on my poor mother, god bless her heart, but this is a premise that I must refute with all my being.
Please understand that I am not advocating that one should live vicariously through movies, music or any other art form. The Romantic movement of the 19th century has already traversed this road before and it invariably leads to escapism. What I advocate is a form of self-enlightenment through art as a means of contextualizing and illuminating our own existential dilemmas. Understanding our plight in this world means that we will learn how to pick ourselves up when we fall or, pessimism be damned, even avoid possible mistakes based of the life experiences of so-called fictional characters. This is why I love movies.
Case in point: Fight Club. When I was a college student in the US, I had a brother in arms who refused to watch Fight Club because it supposedly wasn't a Christian movie. Now this is a friend with whom I have lost contact over the years, but whom I will always consider a brother. Someone convinced him not to appreciate a work of art because doing so would presumably go against his professed religious values. Now what if I were to argue the case: Fight Club vs the Art Police, would he have gone to see it with me that night?
As I recall, the movie is about a young 30-year-old American, blue-collar worker in search of his own personal identity in an era were the mantra seems to be: anything can be bought and sold in the market place, anything including your sense of self. The narrator lives a solitary life and works in a job where risk assessment is an euphemism for the concept of masking human misery while maximizing profitability. He progressively loses his mind and becomes numb to the point of insomnia, joining various self-help groups for serious ailments, which he pretends to be afflicted by, desperately trying to bring some human emotion, if not compassion, into his barren life.
The narrator is drifting through life realizing that his adolescence has been left behind, but still longing to establish his own identity as a man. There are so many layers to this movie that could be analyzed, but the point here is merely this: Fight Club has a lot to say about the human condition as it pertains to an entire demographic group in a number of the so-called advanced industrialized societies.
It can also be seen as a slight on the savage, unbridled brand of capitalism that has become so dehumanizing. Purchasing your own human identity through a mail order catalogue? Perfectly acceptable. Universal healthcare for those who cannot afford it? Unconstitutional. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness through a mail order catalogue? This is not what America is all about.
By way of summation, appearances can be deceiving. A movie may be violent at first glance and still have something useful to say about our plight in this world. As so aptly illustrated by the characters in the movie, a life devoid of meaning can only lead to self-destruction. I never read the book, but plan to do so some day. So thank you David Fincher, cast and crew. For the record, my friend eventually watched the movie and liked it immensely. Ricky, if you should happen to stumble upon these words, please drop me a line. ; )