Life Through the Lens: 20 years of mischief, mayhem and soap

“The things you own end up owning you.”

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I was a normal teenager — and by “normal” I mean backward, embarrassed about everything, fixated on the wrong things, concerned about appearance, dumb-struck around girls, a tad too sweaty. You know the type.

Sporting my pined-after and pit-stained name-brand-shirts, I was a frequenter of the movie theater. I remember it being a social thing more than a legitimate expression for me. I loved the “going out” more than what happened inside the theater. I enjoyed the movies, don’t get me wrong, but I loved the formality and community most of all. A reason to do my hair and clean my shoes.

Then something happened. No, not the graduation to armpit hair and a mustache (although that was quite the party at Chuck E. Cheese). This was better! In my first semester of college, I was searching. I’m not sure I knew I was, but I was. I needed something foundational. Then one day — BOOM! — there it was. Boxes and boxes full of movies.

The explanation for the movies is still in question. My sister had a friend who was moving or was kicked out or was transcendental. I don’t know his story; what I do know is that he asked my sister if he could keep his movie collection safe at our house. When I came home from college for a weekend visit, there they were. 1000 movies just appeared at our house, a gift from the wandering college boy gods.

That moment began a fascination that has grown over the last seventeen years. Those movies developed a taste and appreciation in me. Those movies inspired me and challenged me. In those boxes, transplanted from their home to ours, lived true beauty and authentic art.

Over the next few months, I absorbed as many movies as possible. I’m sure my grades reflected this fact, but it was all for the sake of culture! Every trip home returned a new box of movies. One movie in particular has continued to shape me to this very day: “Fight Club.” Upon first viewing, it spoke loudly where other movies remained silent. It landed punches where other movies pulled them. It was unafraid, unapologetic and unlike anything I’d ever seen before (or since). “Fight Club” scolded me, it entertained me, it encouraged me, it taught me. “Fight Club” staked its claim as my favorite movie that moment and has never relinquished that title.

On its twentieth anniversary, it is my pleasure to write a movie review on “Fight Club.”

Meet our narrator: for the sake of ease, let’s call him “Jack” (Edward Norton). Jack’s life is in shambles, he just hasn’t recognize it yet. It is a life full of comparison, consumerism and no conviction. He has nothing but things — things are what he works for, searches for, and saves for. It is, literally, keeping him awake at night, this emptiness.

On a routine airplane trip, Jack is seated next to a charismatic yet slightly-off-balance man. Tyler (Brad Pitt) is Jack’s complete opposite. As the conversation flows, Jack becomes enamored with his new single-serving friend. It even becomes a little sad to say goodbye as Tyler hops into a sports car and squeals away, never to see each other again…

Until Jack reaches his apartment which is ON FIRE! Now Jack is homeless, thing-less and friendless. It is only Tyler, whose number Jack grabbed off a business card, that Jack can think to call. With one simple call, Jack’s life is transformed.

In the midst of disaster, destruction and disorder comes release, rest and resurrection. Jack loses everything but now stands to gain everything. “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything.”

This movie is in touch with something truly timeless: humanity’s desire to replace people with things. To replace connection with appearance. To replace freedom with bondage. To replace joy with comfort. To stack trivial things up and call them monumental. “Fight Club” recognizes this flaw and refuses to accept it any longer. We are asked, we are begged, to live a life apart from popularity. Apart from insecurity. We are, instead, invited into an authentic life lived for what really matters. In the wise words of Tyler Durden, “Just let go.”

No other movie expresses itself so clearly. It is funny and eccentric. It is smart and witty. It is dark and gritty. It is sharp and poignant. It is graphic and subtle.

Director David Fincher is at the top of his game. His striking visuals, his relentless pacing, his sharp yet shadowy tone…no one tells a story quite like Fincher. He has done an unprecedented thing, as well: making a movie that surpasses its original novel. Even Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, agrees the movie adds something the book could never quite get across: a deep and real understanding.

The screenplay by Jim Uhls is a masterpiece, full of meaning and mirth. It helps redefine a generation of men wanting and pursuing false masculinity. With precision it pinpoints the problem: “The things you own end up owning you.”

This movie has two of my all-time favorite movie performances. Edward Norton as Jack the narrator is flawless. He is equal parts victim and victor. He shows vulnerability and helplessness provoking our sympathy while still retaining his edge; it is quite the complicated character! Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden is revolutionary and unforgettable. His depth and power are unparalleled. It is one of those roles where you ask yourself, “Could anyone else have played this part?” He exudes this redefined masculinity; he is practically dripping with it.

The look of it, the feel of it, the quotes, the characters, the progression… and don’t even get me started on the ending! From start to finish, “Fight Club” is a piece of art. Unmatched now for 20 years!

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Report Card

Grade: A+

Comment: Moviemaking at its finest

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