Posted earlier this morning on the IMDb.com Message Board
Entertaining, but pretentious and cliched
Before I get to my criticisms, I have to give this movie its due and admit that it was pretty entertaining. There is not one minute of this movie where you will find yourself bored. OTOH, given how expensive movies are to make, it is rare for a mainstream studio to approve a film, even a mediocre one, which fails to entertain, at least on some level, so praising a movie simply for being entertaining isn’t saying all that much.
But that’s it with the praise. Now on to the complaints. In reviewing an earlier movie from the 1990′s, Roger Ebert (who, incidentally, rated “Fight Club” only 2 stars) took to task another filmmaker for trying to have it both ways in making a movie that was sadistically violent and which featured characters who were basically sociopaths, yet who maintained an attitude of ironic detachment from his own sordid material, as if he were above the stuff he was showing on the screen. And that’s what we seem to have here.
If they were honest, the makers of this movie could have played this one of two ways. One, they could have made it clear that Tyler Durden and his philosophy, not materialism or consumerism or whatever, were the true objects of their satire. They could have made it about the dangers of what can happen when a charismatic character with leadership skills and a message of seeming liberation is let loose among a group of people who are both dissatisfied and lacking a larger purpose in life. And this is especially so if that leader seems to exist outside of conventional law and morality. Or (and this would take real guts), they could abandon the satire entirely, and openly embrace the Durden character and his world view, sort of like a present day Neitzsche, and then take the consequences that come with it.
But the filmmakers take a third (and, IMHO, dishonest and cowardly) way instead. They want to say, on the one hand, we are not endorsing Durden or his ideas and actions, and yet at the same time, for most of the film, they do just that. Durden is constantly spouting off various bits of pop philosophy, and routinely engages in reckless and even dangerous behavior, and none of it is challenged by any of the characters in the movie, nor (apparently) by the people making it. Durden’s various and assorted rants are presented, for the most part, as deep and meaningful commentary on the state of late 1990′s American society, and the role of the young men (whose point of view this movie is mainly about, and to which this movie caters to) in that society.
Which brings me to another point – can there be anything more cliched than to whine about the supposed evils of materialism and consumerism and the supposed effects these have on people whose principal misfortune is to live in a society so peaceful and awash in abundance that your main form of “Oppresion” comes in the form of not being able to decide what items to order out of an IKEA catalog? Really? If these men find their lives meaningless, rather than blindly following an infantile buffoon like Tyler, perhaps they should instead move to a place like Haiti or Ethiopia, where people are fortunate if they can find that most basic of consumer goods, namely, food.
In short, the supposed “Depth” of this movie is purely a crock. To the extent this film has a message at all, it is basically that, if you’re a white, heterosexual male in modern day America, you have every justification in becoming a whiner and a cry-baby. You have every right to feel sorry for yourself and, if your life isn’t fulfilling, rather than doing something hard but worthwhile, like, say, going to med school and working to cure cancer or malaria, instead you can take the cheap and easy way, follow some clever sounding guru, and get high on mindless adrenalin and antisocial behavior.
Indeed, this movie would have been a lot better had it merely tried to be entertainment and nothing more, instead of trying to send a “Message” that is both banal and inherently dishonest.