Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fight Club

This movie was one of the critically acclaimed films of 1999. That is an important contextual point, as there were a number of distinctly postmodern and deconstructist movies released that year. It is a powerful film that challenges social and societal conventions and forces deep personal reflection regardless of our worldview (the movie's worldview is antithetical to the biblical worldview).

It opens in a comedic fashion, highlighting the monotonous life of Edward Norton (the unnamed narrator), a single twenty-something accident assessor. He cannot sleep, he has no social life, and spends his evenings as a "support group junkie." Only in these meetings can he cry and get in touch with his emotions. Then on a plane he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a quirky, charismatic soap-maker and his life changes for the "better". Durden causes Norton to realize that life is to be experienced. We are what we feel, not what we own. And this seems to be one of the main messages of the movie. In the beginnings of their relationship, after drinking at a bar, Durden asks Norton to punch him and he does. Why? To experience this pain as pleasure. Durden reciprocates, a group of men see this and a "Fight Club" is born. The movie moves on from here to become a dark psychological social commentary and an ultra-violent portrayal of bare-handed fighting and wrestling, and then onto organized vandalism and finally to economic terrorism.

As the movie progresses towards its conclusion, Norton's character deconstructs from an apparently successful and well-dressed businessman living in an iKea-furnished apartment, to a scruffy and scrappy unkempt fighter/leader who lives in a run-down, poorly furnished house. This journey of enlightenment is a descent rather than the normal ascent. When he has lost all his social inhibitions he is ready to be a savior for a consumeristically-imprisoned city.

The movie's message raises key questions. As humans, are we more alive as we experience pain? Is our journey of (spiritual) enlightenment one of ascent or descent? Biblically, life is the experience of relationships, not simply experiences. A solitary life, apart from all relationships is a shallow life, regardless of the number of experiences captured. In fact, Jesus says eternal life is to know (and by intention experience) God the Father and His Son (Jn 17:2-3). Pain is part of this present life, but God promises to wipe away every tear when we finally get to see Him in heaven. Certainly, we can grow and even mature as we gather more experiences in this life, but true Christian growth is through experience of God. Fight Club is cynical and amoral, and offers no real solution for pain. At one point Pitt kisses Norton's hand and then pours lye (the most reactive alkali) causing an agonizing burn and forces him to endure the pain until he understands the "beauty" of it; of course, it leaves an ugly and permanent scar. This is not an act of love. This is not an act of worthwhile experience. This is an act of sheer stupidity. God did not make us to purposefully harm ourselves. Ethically, we are all either temples of God or potential temples of God, and in both cases we are called to take care of this temple we call our body. Further, though we may disagree with the social injustices we see around us, we are not called to vandalize the property of others.

Our journey through life, biblically, is one of ascent not descent. Theologically, we all start out depraved. That is, we are impacted in every area of our person by sin. We start out not neutral but opposed to God and His gospel. Only as we are enlightened by God can we see what He has done, can we accept what He has done, can we become what He meant us to be. We ascend by accepting Jesus, and from that point we grow in the likeness of Christ. We will never attain perfection or true likeness to Jesus on this earth, but when we eventually see Him we will be like Him. That is our destiny as followers of Jesus, and that is constructive not deconstructive. That is an upwards journey, a positive journey.

Though I found the premise of this movie interesting, the acting stellar, the story intriguing with some major twists that I won't reveal, ultimately I found it somewhat implausible. The movie left me thinking about how things worked out and in retrospect I had difficulty in accepting that they could have worked out as they did. However, there are some serious ethical issues raised and these can and should be reflected upon from a theological perspective.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

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