Ever since I got a DVD player my VCR has lain idle. I should give it away. I sure can't sell it, since new ones are going for about $50. The difference in quality between the first and second machine is a quantum leap. And the DVDs! Ten dollars, and they last for decades! A far cry from when VCRs cost $600 and tapes, $60.
I've actually started buying movies again. It's no longer worth renting them. I recently picked up a movie people have recommended, but which I missed when it came out in '99 -- Fight Club.
It was a lot better than I thought it would be. It dealt with alienation, the desperate and instinctive desire to belong to a group (which is the basis for fascism), and emotionally dead people who can only feel alive through violence.
Critics have claimed it pro-fascist, anti-capitalist, pro-violence, Marxist, anarchist, libertarian, and who knows what else. Political labels are pretty much irrelevent. What it's about, ultimately, is alienation.
The unnamed protagionist is an emotionally dead man who cannot find any meaning through materialism. In fact, the movie cleary states materialism leads to this emotional deadness -- all the SUVs, DVD players, big houses and money will never bring happiness.
Our "hero," such that he is, is, quite literally, a "split" man. He's alienated from everything -- his job, the society, the government, life, and most of all, himself. He is, for all practical purposes, a walking dead man.
He ends up starting a Fight Club, which other emotionally dead men join. Unfortunately, for such zombies, the easiest way to feel anything is through violence. You can see that in any society which cheers for war.
Chris Hedges wrote about it in his book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.
"The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life," he wrote. "It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent."
That quote is what Fight Club is about. It's about alienated men, with meaningless lives, who finally find themselves part of a group. And groups based on violence, the movie tells us, easily degenerate into fascism. They find themselves "spiritually cleansed" through violence. Or so they think.
The men involved thought they were ridding themselves of the "oppression" of society and capitalism. They ended up even more oppressed (although they did not know it) by becoming fascists, and by worshipping one of the false gods who started Fight Club (and he really was a false, indeed nonexistent, god).
There is a religious aspect to the movie. Even though it is a violent, bloody film (only because of the fisticuffs, though) there is exactly one death, when one member of Fight Club takes a bullet in the back of the head.
Our unnamed protagionist tries to remind his followers he was a real person. One of the group replies, "I get it. His name was. . ." (I can't tell the name without spoiling some of the movie). The rest of the group starts chanting his name.
The message? A charismatic leader can be deified with relative ease and how true believers think they find salvation only in sacrifice or death. Only then do they cease to be cogs and become human, the same way the unthinking speak of soldiers "making the ultimate sacrifice."
Americans are not immune to this disease. I was astonished to find Americans referring to Bush as "my President." What exactly is the difference between someone like that and someone who 60 years ago said, "Mein Fuhrer"? For all practical purposes, there isn't any.
For the thinking, this movie is anti-fascism, anti-religion, anti-consumerism, anti-anything we do just because others are doing it. Because the group is doing it. What it praises, more than anything else, is love.
The members of Fight Club thought they were returning to the Garden of Eden. Instead, they were heading straight to Hell.