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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Truly Bad Movie Meme: Fight Club

Jim Chen started on Jurisdynamics a Truly Bad Movie Meme -- the "worst film I've ever paid money to see."  (For more on the concept of a meme, see here).  His choice:  Caligula. He then tagged Nancy Rapoport of Nancy Rapoport's Blog, who responded with A Stranger Among Us and tagged Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Professors, who responded with Fatal Attraction and tagged a number of folks, including Caitlin Borgmann of Reproductive Rights Prof Blog, who responded with Dogville and tagged me.

As readers know, two of my main interests are tax and law school rankings.  But I am going to resist the temptation to pick one of the many tax movies (The Firm, Ghostbusters II, Ordinary People, A Taxing Woman) I noted in my discussion of how tax lawyers are treated in the popular culture in  Tax Myopia, or Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Tax Lawyers, 13 Va. Tax Rev. 517, 528-31 (1994).  (For my summary, see id. at 528:  "The tax lawyer is typically depicted as a balding, white, bespectacled male in varying stages of emotional discord.").

I also am not going to pick my movie based on rankings -- although I note that of the four movies picked in the meme thus far, none is ranked as "truly bad" by IMBd -- Caligula is the lowest at 4.7 (on a 10-point scale), and Dogville is the highest at 7.9.

Fight_club_5My choice -- based in part on the fact that I saw it recently with great expectations on the enthusiastic recommendation of my 17-year old son -- is Fight Club.  Although IMBd gives it an 8.7 rating and the critics generally liked it, I agree with Roger Ebert:

"Fight Club" is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since "Death Wish," a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up.

Sometimes, for variety, they beat up themselves. It's macho porn -- the sex movie Hollywood has been moving toward for years, in which eroticism between the sexes is replaced by all-guy locker-room fights. Women, who have had a lifetime of practice at dealing with little-boy posturing, will instinctively see through it; men may get off on the testosterone rush. The fact that it is very well made and has a great first act certainly clouds the issue.

Edward Norton stars as a depressed urban loner filled up to here with angst. He describes his world in dialogue of sardonic social satire. His life and job are driving him crazy. As a means of dealing with his pain, he seeks out 12-step meetings, where he can hug those less fortunate than himself and find catharsis in their suffering. It is not without irony that the first meeting he attends is for post-surgical victims of testicular cancer, since the whole movie is about guys afraid of losing their cojones. These early scenes have a nice sly tone. ...

On an airplane, he has another key encounter, with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a man whose manner cuts through the fog. He seems able to see right into the Narrator's soul, and shortly after, when the Narrator's high-rise apartment turns into a fireball, he turns to Tyler for shelter. He gets more than that. He gets in on the ground floor of Fight Club, a secret society of men who meet in order to find freedom and self-realization through beating one another into pulp. It's at about this point that the movie stops being smart and savage and witty, and turns to some of the most brutal, unremitting, nonstop violence ever filmed. ...

What is all this about? According to Durden, it is about freeing yourself from the shackles of modern life, which imprisons and emasculates men. By being willing to give and receive pain and risk death, Fight Club members find freedom. ...

The movie is visceral and hard-edged, with levels of irony and commentary above and below the action. If it had all continued in the vein explored in the first act, it might have become a great film. But the second act is pandering and the third is trickery, and whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that's not what most audience members will get. "Fight Club" is a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy -- the kind of ride where some people puke and others can't wait to get on again.

I tag Ellen Podgor at White Collar Crime Prof Blog.

Update:  Ellen responded with The Paper Chase, and tagged Paul Butler at BlackProf

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For even more on the concept of "meme," see the 11/30/07 piece by Ruth Walker of the Christian Science Monitor:

Posted by: SAM | Dec 3, 2007 8:20:45 AM

I just saw "Funny Games" and that was definitely the worst movie I have ever paid money to see. I need eye bleach.

Posted by: Michele R. | Mar 22, 2008 7:02:26 PM