You Do Not Talk About Fight Club (book cover)

A Copy of a Copy of a Copy

The Matrix, American Beauty, and Fight Club as Retellings of Pink Floyd’s The Wall

A Sneak Preview from You Do Not Talk About Fight Club: I Am Jack’s Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection

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1999 was the year that everything changed. It was the year the dot.com bubble burst, a year after the Internet became a mass medium, and the year Entertainment Weekly said all the rules of cinema were reinvented. It was a year of overmediation in one medium and reflection upon that very fact in another.

Entertainment Weekly was calling it the year that changed everything in reference to new special effects techniques in The Matrix and new narrative techniques in films like Being John Malkovich and Run Lola Run. But it was also, in retrospect, a year of incredible movie-making that included films like Fight Club, American Beauty, and Magnolia. I think that no small part of that cinematic greatness came from a merging of two forces that had been gathering steam for the previous century: 1) the increasing tendency of cinema, as both a medium and as a physical environment, to replace the cathedral in its place, purpose, and meaning in daily life, and 2) the increasing fear, loneliness, and alienation that Americans felt as a result of their increased wealth, technology, and supremacy in the post–Cold War order. I believe these two trends collided to create a cinema of profoundly honest spiritual yearning that was surprising, beautiful, and powerful. You could almost feel how powerfully embarrassing it was when, not two years later, the teen-angst satire Not Another Teen Movie created a Ricky Fitts (from American Beauty) parody character dubbed “The Beautiful Weirdo.” The parody character was necessary because Ricky Fitts had been a little too beautiful, a little too honest, and in retrospect many felt like it had to be gotten over quickly. An alternate reaction was the near-instant commodification of the spiritually-yearning movie formula, which produced such transcendent clunkers as J.Lo.’s Angel Eyes, among others.

But still a deeper trend ran through many of these films: instead of a generic spiritual search that the protagonists were put into, three films stood out as particularly revealing in their willingness to address the specific historical moment of our spiritual crisis as it intersected with the family, with mass media, and with gender roles. In order of their appearance, The Matrix, American Beauty, and Fight Club (released between April and October 1999) all dealt in some way with the following three themes: overmediation, fatherlessness, and homosexuality. These three movies both articulate these themes and present them as intricately but often subtextually interconnected. Ironically, these three films also have something profoundly familiar in them when compared to Roger Water’s 1979 classic, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, made into a film by Alan Parker in 1982. If cultural texts come and go like fashion, it was almost as if the three authors of the 1999 films produced their most creative work by unintentionally recreating their favorite movie from adolescence.

All three films, like The Wall, had phenomenal soundtracks. All three films, like The Wall, showed a man fighting a system against which he had no control but towards which he felt incredible rage and anger. And all three films, like The Wall, ultimately dealt with the fact that it was not Big Brother, but rather “big mother” who was watching you, and presented the world as a system in which the psycho-social and psycho-sexual consequences of fatherlessness are played out to the nth degree in the life of the male protagonist.

Each film has its own take on the subject, but in every instance the male protagonist has to fight physically against an overfeminized system as a key to achieving his identity. From a media effects point of view, these films are all not merely fictional manifestations of Neil Postman’s 1992 thesis in Technopoly—that culture had surrendered to technology—but to the idea that the feminine image had so replaced the masculine word that men were beginning to feel effeminate as a result. That the result was either homosexuality, rage, or a combination of the two in the lives of the authors or the protagonists, is telling. A culture-wide technological conditioning of homosexual inclinations, predicated on the absent father and the domineering mother in the form of mass media, may partially explain why Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club was so popular. From a marketing point of view, writing a gay novel for a straight audience is a sure way to lose 90 percent of the market, unless the market comes from a culture that has already been feminized. As Weezer sang, “Everyone’s a little bit gay,” and so the story strikes the audience as normal, or even documentary-like, in its presentation of gender and gender roles.

In Fight Club and The Matrix, the protagonist is a single, white, male, urban professional at or around age thirty. In American Beauty, the protagonist is a married father, aged forty-two, but he is also accompanied by a secondary lead male character in the form of Ricky Fitts, the teenage son of Marine Colonel Fitts, the new neighbors of Lester Burnham’s family in suburban New Jersey. So immediately, we are watching movies about Generation X, the post-boomer generation who were too young to serve in Vietnam, and whose lives were largely untouched by any horrors larger than media spectacles and tragedies from space shuttle disasters to the roughly-once-a-year horror of the nineties from Waco to Oklahoma City to TWA Flight 800 to the Unabomber to Columbine. Fight Club makes specific reference to this ongoing sense of malaise when comparing luck: Tyler Durden says to Jack after his apartment blows up, “It could be worse: you could have had your penis cut off and thrown out the window of a moving car.” This reference to Lorena Bobbit, and the emasculation of her husband John on the one-year anniversary of her abortion, makes it clear that the film is subtextually about the emotional and psychological emasculation at the hands of either a woman or a highly feminized system.

One of the teaser posters for Fight Club was simply a giant-text headline that says, “Wash your feminine side clean off.” This becomes the dominant background metaphor against which all three male characters in all three films struggle. In The Wall, as the film progresses, we see the link between the smothering mother of Pink, whose father died in the war, and the wall of social isolation and alienation built up brick by brick by endless consumer choices that serve as distractions from life’s more pressing realities. Interestingly, as the animated portions of the film take over, the Wall itself becomes symbolized by the mother, by feminine flowers that morph into ravenous female genitalia, and these are in turn analogized into the endless array of consumer products. The song “What Shall We Do Now?” accompanies this animated wall sequence with these words:

What shall we use to fill the empty spaces?
Where waves of hunger roar?
Shall we set out across the sea of faces
In search of more and more applause?
Shall we buy a new guitar?
Shall we drive a more powerful car?
Shall we work straight through the night?
Shall we get into fights?
Leave the lights on?

Drop bombs?
Do tours of the east?
Contract diseases?
Bury bones?
Break up homes?
Send flowers by phone?
Take to drink?
Go to shrinks?
Give up meat?

Rarely sleep?
Keep people as pets?
Train dogs?
Race rats?
Fill the attic with cash?
Bury treasure?
Store up leisure?
But never relax at all
With our backs to the wall.

In American Beauty, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) makes an explicit reference to Pink Floyd when visiting Ricky Fitts’s home. He speaks almost directly to the Pink Floyd imagery in the song above when he says to Carolyn, “This isn’t life, it’s just stuff!” in reference to their four thousand dollar sofa. And not coincidentally, the filmic image of human figures in front of walls is one of the recurring visual motifs each time a significant change happens in American Beauty. These are 1) Lester smoking pot against a white wall with Ricky outside at night, 2) the white plastic bag against the bricks of the red wall that is “the most beautiful thing” Ricky Fitts has ever filmed, and 3) Lester’s red blood against the white tiles of the kitchen wall after he has been murdered at the end of the movie. Thus, the wall in American Beauty implodes inward on the mind of Lester Burnham—whose sacrificial death atones for his own sins and the audience’s projected sins—releases the audience to see life as he sees it, with the inability to feel “anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.”

Lester Burnham, who is trapped in a loveless marriage to Carolyn, must struggle against his wife who keeps not only his “dick in a Mason jar,” but who also keeps everything in their life perfect, static, and spiritually dead. The screenwriter Alan Ball shows us this by associating Carolyn with the death of plants in the film, and by extension with her death-like effect on any element that is wild in nature. The film’s opening introduction to Carolyn’s character shows her snipping off a rose just below its stem with a fantastically glazed look in her eyes while her husband’s voiceover monotones, “See the way her gardening shears match her clogs: that’s no accident.” The rose, of course, is the American Beauty, a species grown to be visibly flawless and perfect, except that it tends to rot from underneath and within (and produces no smell, I’m told)—Ball’s restraint in not revealing this detail within the script itself makes it all the more delicious when we learn it later on, because it confirms all that his film has been saying—that a life led this way may as well be cultivating plastic flowers as anything real. Carolyn later discusses the root formation of a tree that the old neighbor has let grow into her yard, which is one reason she cut it down and why Lester secretly believes they moved out of the neighborhood. Finally, Carolyn is shown with a lesbian couple trying to sell the house when they complain that the backyard is not a tropical jungle, that it doesn’t have nearly the plant life they had been led to believe it had, and Carolyn weakly suggests, “I’ve got some Tiki torches in the back of the car . . .”

Under these conditions, the viewer is encouraged to be more sympathetic to Lester’s nonetheless pathetic condition in slavering over his daughter’s teenage girlfriend—Lester fantasizes about Angela as the sexual essence of a rose, who bathes in roses, and who kisses him so that afterwards, he pulls a rose petal out of his mouth. In the original script Lester does in fact have sex with Angela, but in the final version he only barely resists the temptation upon discovering that despite her horny cheerleader vulgarities, she is in fact a virgin.

Alan Ball, the screenwriter of American Beauty, so perfectly documents the dysfunction of middle class suburban perfectionism that one wonders if another, straight screenwriter could have had the aesthetic distance from which to perceive these hypocrisies. If it means anything that Alan Ball (American Beauty), Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), and at least one of the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix) are not completely heterosexual, then it may simply be confirmation of the truism that a cultural outsider is often the best one for analyzing the inside of a culture. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out, we don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t a fish.

For Tyler Durden in Fight Club, the question is not one of an emasculating mother, but of an absent father. In the course of the film, before we discover that Jack and Tyler are the same character, the two of them discuss their respective fathers, who, in hindsight, are of course the same person:

Jack: I never really knew my father.

Tyler: Me neither.

Jack: My father divorced my mother when I was about six, moved to another town, married another woman, and started having kids with her.

Tyler: Fucker’s setting up franchises.

Later in the same conversation, Tyler says, “We’re a generation of men raised by women: I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” The two men go on to form the fight club, which is essentially a form of primal scream therapy in which men vent their rage at the world (and their own failures) by physically pummeling each other. But throughout the film there is a phenomenal amount of homosexual subtext and inside jokes, from Tyler and Jack’s Ozzie-and-Harriet relationship to Jack’s dildo in his luggage to various clues that Marla Singer (and by extension, Jack’s heterosexuality), is also a figment of his imagination.

That Fight Club was originally a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, and that all of Palahniuk’s work deals with themes of homosexuality, are not surprising once you’ve read it, and especially not once Mr. Palahniuk himself came out publicly in 2003. But it is a complex and particularly honest portrayal, if Camille Paglia is correct in her assessment that a large part of explaining the rise in male homosexuality in the last three decades can be directly attributed to the divorce rate, and the subsequent rise in fatherlessness. But part and parcel of this feminization is the willingness to feed at the teat of consumer culture, and Tyler Durden soon evolves fight club into Project Mayhem, in which he takes on Adbusters-style culture jamming techniques as a means of social upheaval, rants and raves against consumerism and television, and ultimately attempts to blow up credit card buildings in order to restart the human race at the beginning by erasing the debt record and presumably making everyone truly equal again.

For Thomas Anderson, the protagonist in The Matrix, the problem is manifold. His storyline gives him neither a mother nor a father, and yet in his technological dystopia that he comes to learn is not science fiction but actual reality, he learns that he is in fact a baby inside a large pod, and that this system that is his true “parent.” That the matrix is meant to symbolize the feminine is evidenced by the fact that the word “matrix” itself is Latin for womb, and by the camera angle at which we first encounter the protagonist. We first see Mr. Anderson in an overhead shot asleep inside his home cubicle that has been arranged in an ovular shape. He is surrounded by his computer and his stereo, with his words, music, and images flickering by electronically around him as he sleeps, blissfully unaware of how profound this mediated reality parallels the true metaphysical nature of the world he is about to be introduced to.

The constant electronic hum of mass media and communication technologies, from music to telephone to Internet searches, indicates that in his relationship to mass media, Anderson has become infantilized. For the Matrix is a strange fulfillment of both Huxley’s and Orwell’s warnings about the nature of a government-enforced totalitarian future. As Neil Postman saw it in Amusing Ourselves to Death, it was Huxley and not Orwell who got it right: we would be enslaved by what we loved far faster and easier than by what we feared. In the world of The Matrix, the citizens are largely happy but passive consumers of the corporate-entertainment complex who do not question the nature or legitimacy of its existence. Morpheus leads a crew of “known terrorists” in fighting this system, and in killing as many agents of the system as possible. Neo is essentially a spiritual orphan in this brave new world, and his ultimate lesson is that it is he who must cut the umbilical cord to a media matrix that would forever seek to keep him infantilized in the simple creation and satisfaction of exclusively carnal desire in electronic culture. In freeing himself, he becomes the film’s savior figure, and then offers others the chance to free themselves.

What is significant is that while the agents and enemies in the film are almost all played by men (representing various forces of the law), these men are ultimately protecting a black widow’s nest of incubation. At the same time, The Matrix counterbalances this gendered enemy of a dominatrix with the all-knowing wisdom of the Oracle, a black female character whose role is to tell Neo his ultimate destiny. And while Neo’s sexuality is not questioned in the film, it is worth noting that he is played in style and manner as a very androgynous male, while his female heroine is played by an equally androgynous female. Visually, he seems to be a very feminized man while Trinity is a very masculinized woman, and the film’s sequels make it clear that the directors see that gender is as much of a choice and a cultural performance to be played as it is a sexual identity at birth. That the Wachowski brothers’ previous film was the lesbian thriller Bound, and that Andy Wachowski has been reported to be a cross-dressing sadomasochist, photographed with a dominatrix at his side, also corroborates this idea.

Family trouble, fatherlessness, and gender confusion all lead to spiritual desire. Or, as G.K. Chesterton put it, “the man who knocks on the brothel door knocks for God.” In all three films the protagonists are asking questions of ultimate meaning, and looking desperately for an answer. In American Beauty, Lester Burnham says, “I’m forty-two years old and in less than a year I’ll be dead. Of course, in a way, I was dead already.” In Fight Club, Tyler Durden says of his generation: “We are history’s middle children; we’ve got no great war to fight, no Great Depression: our great war is a spiritual war; our great depression is our lives.” Jack describes his addiction to self-help groups and then to fight club in increasingly explicitly religious terms. After group therapy he says, “Every night I died and every night I was resurrected; born again.” After fight club he says, “Fight club wasn’t about winning or losing, it wasn’t about right or wrong. It wasn’t about words. Because nothing mattered . . .” the camera offers a close-up of spilled blood on the floor while Jack says, “Afterwards, we all felt saved.” Hebrews 9:22 spells this scene’s meaning out explicitly: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” In the novel, fight club originally takes place on early Sunday mornings only.

In The Matrix, Thomas Anderson ultimately chooses to overcome his doubting Thomas nature and believe he can save Morpheus, which leads him to accept that as Neo, he is The One. For American Beauty’s Ricky Fitts, a dead bird, a homeless woman who has frozen to death, and a plastic bag blowing in the wind offer him access to beauty of such a kind that he feels like he can stare into the face of God. He says he is reminded “that there’s this entire life behind things, telling him never to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, but it helps me remember. And I need to remember.” Martin Luther said almost this same thing five hundred years before: “We need to remember the gospel every day because we forget the gospel every day.”

In addition to the larger theme of men attempting to define themselves against an overfeminized system, there are other smaller—but deeper and more detailed—connections between these three films of 1999 and Pink Floyd’s The Wall of 1982. Below are some of them. If you watch the four films back to back, you’ll find others.

Does the movie have a lover’s triangle?

The Wall: Yes, Pink, his wife, and her peace-activist lover

The Matrix: Yes, Trinity, Neo, and Cypher

American Beauty: Yes, Lester, Angela, and Carolyn

Fight Club: Yes, Jack, Tyler, and Marla

Does the film feature a black four-door Lincoln?

The Wall: Yes, Pink’s limousine, a 1982 Lincoln Continental

The Matrix: Yes, Morpheus’s 1965 Lincoln Continental

American Beauty: No, the closest we get is a 1989 Cadillac Coupe DeVille in the funeral procession scene, but Carolyn’s Mercedes ML 320 SUV is a key element

Fight Club: Yes, Tyler’s 1990 Lincoln Town Car in which he and Jack have “a near-life experience,” which is also the same make of car that Jack investigates at the beginning of the film

Is the film incomplete without its highly thematic soundtrack?

The Wall: Yes, Pink Floyd

The Matrix: Yes, electronica

American Beauty: Yes, classic rock and Thomas Newman’s haunting score

Fight Club: Yes, The Dust Brothers’ electronica

Does the film show its protagonist to be metaphorically “imprisoned”?

The Wall: Yes, Pink is imprisoned by the Wall

The Matrix: Yes, Morpheus describes the Matrix as “a prison for your mind”

American Beauty: Yes, we see Lester Burnham imprisoned by a row of columns on his computer screen that bracket his face

Fight Club: Yes, Jack describes his apartment as “a filing cabinet for widows and young professionals”

Does the film have a bathtub or bathroom scene?

The Wall: Yes, the groupie who says, “Wanna take a bath?” and Pink’s shaving scene

The Matrix: Yes, when Neo is “born again” out of the Matrix and into the water

American Beauty: Yes, when Lester encounters Angela in a bathtub full of roses in his fantasy sequence

Fight Club: Yes, when Tyler and Jack are discussing their fathers in the Paper Street house

Does the film have an overhead shot of the protagonist sleeping and/or in the fetal position?

The Wall: Yes, Pink curls up after realizing his wife isn’t answering the phone

The Matrix: Yes, we first encounter Neo in a fetus-like womb of electronic gadgetry

American Beauty: Yes, when Lester is seen in his bedroom throughout the film

Fight Club: Yes, when Jack tells us, after a self-help meeting, “Babies don’t sleep this well”

Does the film contain a scene in which the protagonist destroys part or all of his living space?

The Wall: Yes, Pink trashes his hotel room

The Matrix: No, though Neo does do domestic damage to lobbies

American Beauty: Yes, when Lester throws the asparagus plate against a wall hung with framed art

Fight Club: Yes, when Jack blows up his entire apartment

Does the film contain “head trips” and/or fantasy scenes?

The Wall: Yes, the animated sequences

The Matrix: Yes, the Matrix moments all “feel” unreal until we learn otherwise

American Beauty: Yes, when Lester Burnham fantasizes about Angela

Fight Club: Yes, the entire film can be considered a “head trip”

Does the film give starring roles to newcomers?

The Wall: Yes, Bob Geldof

The Matrix: Yes, members of Morpheus’ crew

American Beauty: Yes, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, and Wes Bentley

Fight Club: Yes, Jared Leto and Meatloaf were both newcomers to film

Does the film show scenes within it of a classic war movie?

The Wall: Yes, The Dam Busters playing in Pink’s hotel room

The Matrix: No

American Beauty: Yes, This is the Army playing in Col. Fitts’s home

Fight Club: No

Does the film include a scene in which the protagonist must face his boss?

The Wall: Yes, if you count Pink’s manager screaming at him for the drug overdose

The Matrix: Yes, when Neo’s boss tells him he “has a problem with authority”

American Beauty: Yes, when Lester bribes his boss for a year’s salary

Fight Club: Yes, when Jack bribes his boss for a year’s salary

Does the film’s storyline require the protagonist to become physically violent in order to succeed on his quest?

The Wall: Yes, he must tear down the Wall

The Matrix: Yes, he must destroy the agents of the Matrix

American Beauty: Yes, sort of, since he must die by violence at the end

Fight Club: Yes, he has to fight

Does the film deal with spiritual deadness as one of the protagonist’s main issues?

The Wall: Yes, Pink is “comfortably numb” and must peel his face off in order to become real

The Matrix: Yes, Thomas Anderson is in a self-induced coma

American Beauty: Yes, Lester Burnham has never felt “this sedated” and says, “In a way, I’m dead already”

Fight Club: Yes, Tyler awakens Jack to the reality of his auto-pilot zombie consumer lifestyle

To counteract their deadness, do the film’s protagonists have to be “born again”?

The Wall: Yes, Pink must shave his entire body, babylike, in order to be saved

The Matrix: Yes, Thomas Anderson must be born out of his Matrix pod, and arrive pink and hairless into Morpheus’ ship, the Nebuchadnezzar

American Beauty: Yes, Lester Burnham says, “I feel like I’ve been in a coma for twenty years. And I’m just now beginning to wake up”

Fight Club: Yes, Jack experiences support group therapy and fight club as religious salvation: “Each night I died, and each night I was resurrected, ‘born again’”

Does the film rely heavily on the flashback technique?

The Wall: Yes, to Pink’s former life and childhood

The Matrix: Sort of, since the entire film can be considered a continuous series of flashbacks between the protagonist’s dead life (corporate drone Thomas Anderson) and his living life (Neo, The One)

American Beauty: Yes, to Lester’s life flashing before him just as he dies

Fight Club: Sort of, since the film can be considered a continuous series of flashbacks from the waking self (Tyler’s actions) to the sleeping self (Jack’s actions)

Is the film rated R?

The Wall: Yes

The Matrix: Yes

American Beauty: Yes

Fight Club: Yes

Does the film’s protagonist smoke?

The Wall: Yes

The Matrix: No

American Beauty: Yes, marijuana

Fight Club: Yes

Does the film show or reference the influence of television on the protagonist?

The Wall: Yes, Pink watches, then smashes, the TV

The Matrix: Yes, Neo first understands the Matrix through a TV presentation shown to him by Morpheus, with the words Deep Scan on the back of the set

American Beauty: Yes, Jane and Ricky are on television simultaneous to videotaping each other, and Col. Fitts’s family watches television

Fight Club: Yes, Jack refers to life in the Paper Street House with the line, “After two weeks, we didn’t even miss television,” and yet, at the end of the film, the members of Project Mayhem watch TV to see how much media attention their latest prank has garnered

Does the film deal explicitly in product placement or its issues?

The Wall: Yes, we see images of BMW and other corporate logos in the animated Wall sequence

The Matrix: Yes, from Nokia phones to FedEx

American Beauty: Yes, the Mercedes 430 sedan is given prominent placement, while at the same time Lester Burnham says he has been “a whore for the advertising industry for fourteen years”

Fight Club: Yes, despite being an anti-consumerist film—“the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Krispy Kreme Galaxy, Planet Starbucks”—the film nevertheless has product placement in the form of Pepsi products, Busch beer, Calvin Klein underwear, and others

Does the film have an unrequited love interest?

The Wall: Yes, Pink never sees his wife again

The Matrix: Yes, Neo and Trinity do not consummate their relationship in the first film

American Beauty: Yes, Lester and Angela never consummate, though the original script said they did

Fight Club: No, unless you consider it a yes by virtue of the fact that Tyler and Jack never consummate

Does the film make an implicit or explicit reference to fascism?

The Wall: Yes, Pink is essentially a neo-Nazi rock star

The Matrix: Yes, the agents and the Matrix are essentially mind controllers who speak only the language of power

American Beauty: Yes, Lester Burnham refers to his job as fascist

Fight Club: Yes, fight club’s members obey Tyler in a somewhat fascist manner

Is obedience to authority, propaganda, and mind control part of the film?

The Wall: Yes, and the protagonist tries to break free

The Matrix: Yes, and the protagonist breaks free in order to free others

American Beauty: Yes, and the protagonist tries to free himself

Fight Club: Yes, and the protagonist tries to free others after demonstrating his own freedom

Does the storyline see the protagonist destroy his world only to (wittingly or unwittingly) rebuild it in his own image?

The Wall: Yes, at the end, after the wall is torn down, we see small children with dump trucks playing at construction

The Matrix: Yes, at the end, Neo tells us that this is not the end but the beginning, and The Matrix sequels confirm this

American Beauty: Yes, sort of—Lester Burnham destroys all that he has and is, and in the character of Ricky Fitts there is an implied rebirth of wonder and beauty

Fight Club: Yes, and the film does this better than the book. The story takes us from “Planet Starbucks” to “In Tyler We Trust”; from anti-corporate propaganda—“When deep space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that run everything”—and an anti-television philosophy—“After two weeks, I didn’t even miss television”—to watching Project Mayhem’s exploits on a TV in the Paper Street living room with both a Busch beer and a Pepsi Cola product placement shot

Does the protagonist wear black, symbolizing in some way either the state or the church?

The Wall: Yes, the neo-Nazi uniform worn by Pink and his band

The Matrix: Yes, the black leather trench coats worn by Neo and Trinity, which become full monastic collars in the sequels

American Beauty: Yes, sort of, in the character of Ricky Fitts, of whom Angela says, “Why does he dress like a Bible salesman?”

Fight Club: Yes, Project Mayhem’s clothing requirement for each applicant is the new Benedictine habit of “two black shirts, two pairs of black trousers, one pair of heavy black boots, two pairs of black socks, two pairs of plain underwear, one heavy black coat”

Does the film have a crucial telephone scene?

The Wall: Yes, when Pink tries to reach his wife on an overseas call and is hung up on

The Matrix: Yes, and the land-line phone becomes the means by which the heroes can exit the matrix

American Beauty: Yes, it is through the phone that Jane learns her dad has a secret crush on Angela

Fight Club: Yes, it is through the phone call to Tyler Durden that we first see Jack “split” his personality, and we later see Tyler having a similar phone call to Marla Singer

Does the film have a crucial gun scene or scenes?

The Wall: Yes, the war scenes with Pink’s father; Pink finds Dad’s gun, places bullets on railroad tracks

The Matrix: Oh yes, “Guns: lots of guns”

American Beauty: Yes, Caroline learns from the King of Real Estate that “Nothing makes me feel more powerful than shooting a gun,” and then she purchases one; Lester Burnham dies at the hand of one of Col. Ricky Fitts’s Nazi guns

Fight Club: Yes, the story begins and ends with a gun in Jack/Tyler’s mouth

More specifically, does the film give the protagonist a gunshot to the head?

The Wall: No, though suicide is attempted

The Matrix: Many shots are fired at Neo, but none hit his head

American Beauty: Yes, Lester’s head is blown off at the end

Fight Club: Yes, Tyler’s head is blown off at the end

Does the film make an implicit or explicit reference to Ronald Reagan?

The Wall: Yes, implicitly, as the film was released during Reagan’s first term in office

The Matrix: Yes, explicitly through Cypher’s “real” name of Mr. Reagan, which we learn about during his steak dinner with Agent Smith, when he agrees to betray the Nebuchadnezzar’s crew

American Beauty: Yes, explicitly when Col. Ricky Fitts and his wife are watching television on which the 1943 movie This is the Army, starring a young Ronald Reagan, is playing

Fight Club: No, neither implicitly nor explicitly; the only president referenced is Abraham Lincoln

Does the film take longer than the standard screen time of 90–120 minutes?

The Wall: No, 95 minutes

The Matrix: Yes, 136 minutes

American Beauty: Yes, 122 minutes

Fight Club: Yes, 139 minutes

Prisca Sondrie of L’Abri described The Wall as “the scream of modern man” for its movie poster, which was a visually thematic update of Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting of anomie and existential angst against a blood-red skyline. The Matrix, American Beauty, and Fight Club each have their own distinct primal scream. These three films of 1999 still resonate with us today, perhaps in part because their screams have yet to be answered. :::

Read Mercer Schuchardt is publisher of Metaphilm. This essay is an excerpt from You Do Not Talk About Fight Club: I Am Jack's Completely Unauthorized Essay Collection (Benbella Books, 2008), the new collection of essays he has edited on Fight Club, with a foreword by Chuck Palahniuk.
posted by editor ::: August 10, 2008 ::: pheatures ::: (8) Comments