Thursday, 23 April 2009
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Sunday, 5 April 2009
We're shooting the film entirely using kit that could fit inside a rucksack but still maintaining HD quality. We're shooting with a Nikon D90 for 720p 35mm HD video goodness and a Zoom H4 for lovely crisp, sexy HD sound. There will also be a documentary suplimenting the film in true Planet Earth sytling showing how we shot this crafty little bugger with no money and only one little bag on our shoulders. (ignore the grip equipment and crane... that doesn't count... IT DOESNT!! :P) It should be quite interesting and will hopefully be at film festivals winning us lots of beautiful statuettes before the summer. I'm really confident in the script, cast and crew and is about time we made something new. Ex Cathedra is litteraly a week or so from being complete so hopefully we'll start shooting Daisy having Ex Cathedra at the final mix stage and we can all start creaming ourselves and pat ourselve on the back for being so awesome... not at the same time though that's just a bit weird and narcissitic.
Anywho, back to the secret late night project I'm working on.
I know Kung Fu don't you know ;)!!
p.s. watched all 3 Matrix films with Seb and Lyndsey last night and I'll like to say AGAIN that I think the genius of the bullet time in the first film ruined the second too. They were still awesome in my opinion but they'd never have been as glossy as they were had they not been given so much cash based on the success of the special FX in the first film. The look of the first Matrix film and the whole general direction oozes class. The others are just sparkly Hollywood masturbation. Sorry but I needed to rant about that again as I fall more in love with the first film every time I watch it and loathe the others that little bit more.
Sunday, 29 March 2009
So I wrote a whole paragraph here about some current projects and then realised I really shouldn't be divulging such information to the whole world (even if the whole world isn't listening!). Thus, this paragraph starts and finishes with little to no information or purpose.
Woo!! This is simply to render the last paragraph obsolete and just get on with this fucker!!
OK so news that I am at liberty to divulge.... 3 live projects to talk about. Schemers, Dystopiate and as yet unnamed short film, which for now I'll call Stufun :D Basically I'm working on a sitcom, animated comic and a short for film festivals next year. I'm going to be posting about all these three soon but for now I'm going to go work on this idea that's been kicking me between the eyes for the last week.
Good Will Hunting Theme here I come... thank you Danny!!
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel “Fight Club” has become a milestone in American literature and culture. Regarding “Fight Club” and Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis commented, “our generation has finally found its Don DeLillo”. The book’s adaptation to film by Dave Fincher in 1999 starred Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, creating something intangible in its greatness. It has been called “the first movie of the 21st Century”. However, just as many artists are overlooked in their own time, to a degree, so was “Fight Club”. To date it has only made $37,000,000 gross at the box office and cost around $63,000,000 to make. It was berated as a film with excessive violence, sending the wrong messages to our children. In reality the film is a lot less violent than the book and Fincher made several alterations to create a more ‘Hollywood’ friendly version of the story. In this essay I shall analyse the book with brief explorations into the film adaptation.
The film and novel are extremely similar. In many parts the narrative is transposed verbatim. Unusually, the cardinal narrative functions of the book are all transferred perfectly from one medium to the other. In one sense they are very basic. A man has a problem, man finds solace in a friend and the friend takes an ideology to the extreme, creating a terrorist organisation. The terrorists are not stopped. The last line suggests there has been no resolution, which is essential to the story. This could happen. Although this is a work of fiction, Palahniuk has motive behind his writing. It is to scare, to inform and to warn people about the risk of alienating groups of potentially powerful people. Tyler’s main argument is that we are “God’s middle children of history” we have no Great War or Great Depression; God has forgotten about us, he doesn’t like us. The warning is that in such a society we are vulnerable. Palahniuk points out that commercialism and materialism stem from the fact that we have nothing with which to define ourselves so instead “we work jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”. “Fight Club” is an apocalyptic novel examining the evolution of the 21st Century man. The main character is never referred to by name. He is to represent every emasculated twenty-something male in America today. He is nobody and he is everybody. He is a “by-product of a lifestyle obsession”.
The idea of “Fight Club” is to hit rock bottom; that in losing everything we will be set free. Fincher adds the line, “you have to know, not fear, that some day you are going to die” to the film adaptation. Tyler preaches this as he holds the Narrator’s hand still, burning it with lye. He wants the Narrator to embrace the pain. The pain will set you free. The story is thus one of the power of enlightenment. It is a tale of a new kind of class struggle, a struggle that is being born among western cultures across the globe. Yet, the message beneath the surface highlights the limitations and dangers of such powers. Tyler is a monster. He is the psychopathic alter ego of a shell of a man. A psychopath who believes the way forward is through terror and chaos. Amidst the populist anti-commercialism propaganda put forth by Palahniuk, reinforced by Tyler’s charismatic ambience, the reader starts to almost believe in Tyler’s cause. Our role, however, as the reader, is to not get drawn in by this, but to stand at a distance and observe. We are to pass judgement on events only in retrospect and only by focussing on the story as a whole and not its intimate details. Without knowing the end we cannot begin to understand the beginning. Once it is clear that Tyler is the Narrator’s alternate personality, we can then start to see that the dangers of disenfranchising any class are still apparent today’s world. We must then look at the development of the Narrator throughout the story. How he is able to grow into such a dangerous and powerful person.
The only other really interesting character is Marla Singer. In the book she works as a great contrast to the Narrator. At the beginning both Marla and the Narrator attend support groups to help them confront their daemons. However, the Narrator isn’t satisfied. He creates an alternative identity for himself and starts up “Fight Club”. Marla however continues to go to the meetings. This could be seen as a comment on modern men and women in American culture. The Narrator cannot settle for the support groups whilst Marla can. He and all the other men in the story are fighting for a purpose in this world, their own Great War, this self-destruction, their “great war of the spirit”. Marla however just wants to be loved. She goes to support groups because she feels that there is nothing good in her life. She is generally depressed. All she wants is a man. The Narrator doesn’t need another woman. He’s part of a “generation of men raised by women” how could another woman really be the answer? The responsibility for the whole experience is laid upon Marla’s lap. “This all started with Marla Singer”. Interestingly, in both mediums the Narrator is shown holding hands with Marla at the end. Palahniuk may be trying to say that after everything lonely men aren’t any different from lonely women. They are just people. Marla doesn’t find solace in a cult but she still hurts. “Marla’s heart looked the way my face was. The crap and the trash of the world”. However, she finds comfort in people, and tries to hold onto it. Eventually she finds security and protection in the Narrator as everything comes crumbling down.
The high profile of anti-commercialism in “Fight Club” means that it is easy to lose one’s self in the midst of an inane, routine diatribe, yet that is to make a horrendous error. Attacking commercialism and materialism is the role of the characters not Palahniuk himself – or for that fact the reader’s. The mistake is made due to Palahniuk’s style of writing. A disenfranchised, lonely and desperate man takes the form of the Narrator. He, like the other members of what is to become Fight Club, are literally calling out for help – for meaning in their lives of triviality. Thus, when Palahniuk introduces the saviour character of Tyler Durden to this story, we are also convinced by his apparent brilliance. The charming revolutionary attitude that draws the Narrator closer to Tyler pulls the reader in as well. The book is littered with preaching and propaganda. From the first chapter in fact we are attacked by information taken straight out of the “Jolly Roger’s Cook Book*”.
Both Palahniuk’s style and language are, in fact, extremely interesting. The language is almost ecclesiastical at times. Tyler’s speech is similar to that of a prophet or some other religious leader. Correspondingly, the Narrator’s is, at times, that of the disciple. At the end of chapter five, after just meeting Tyler he declares, “Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete”. Although at almost total contrast with most religious teaching, this sentence takes on a familiar Christian form. Merely five pages on there is another link to religion. The more you delve into the intricacies of “Fight Club” the clearer it becomes that this book does not intend only to make you think about consumerism. It intends to analyse people, how we behave, how we interact… what we do when we’re lost. The machismo filled, anti-Starbucks, action-adventure story you thought you were reading slowly disintegrates before your eyes. Palahniuk’s description of men who attend “Fight Club” are men who “look[s] carved out of wood”. During fights “[t]here’s hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved”. “Fight Club” is presented as a Church of fake idols and false hope. The reader, in hindsight, knows that the Fight Club member’s feelings are misguided. They are nothing more than members of a malicious, subtlety created cult.
Another point about Palahniuk’s writing concerns his fascinating use of stream of consciousness prose. The Narrator’s dialogue is vastly enhanced by this technique. Its fast, sporadic, fragmentary nature adds depth and a sense of the unknown to the dialogue. As the Narrator becomes increasingly schizophrenic, Palahniuk’s style echoes the progression beautifully. In particular, Palahniuk utilises this style in the chapter’s after the Narrator has realised he is Tyler. Chapter’s twenty-one to twenty-six take up less than thirty pages. Palahniuk races through the chapters as the Narrator’s mind races through everything that has happened. Palahniuk’s style reflects the Narrator’s fight to understand the true reality of the situation. Fragmented sentences follow apocalyptic tangents of suicide, self-sacrifice and the Narrator’s desperation to be free of Tyler. The lines become shorter and more concise to add pace to the story and each is paragraphed separately creating a disjointed rhythm. Alongside the context of the story these literary tools create great tension and suspense within the narrative. The reader is thus brought closer in to the world of the schizophrenic by having the story told so atypically. The Narrator’s language in the final chapters is no longer that of the disciple. The anti-consumerist ideology and revolutionary goals disappear once the Narrator realises what he’s done. Tyler becomes the “perfection” he vowed he would destroy. He becomes the perfectly flawed and disillusioned male. He is “sitting in the palm of perfection he’d made himself”. Like many revolutionaries he has taken an ideal to the extreme and bastardised it. Yes one can sympathise with the gravity of the problem of consumerism and globalisation but there are limits. Terrorism as a form of propaganda and political canvassing can never be seen as just. Violence has no role in politics.
“Fight Club” can be seen as an existentialist thought experiment. It is the visualisation of the idea that existence precedes essence. Sartre said that a man “first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards (Flew, 1995)”. In “Fight Club” we see the Narrator exit himself and encounter himself in a different form as Tyler and then surge up to the head of an army. However, when he comes to define himself later on he does not like what he sees. He has allowed the stronger, better-looking, more confident version of himself to go too far. He permits him to take advantage of those too easily influenced by aspirations of grandeur and a place in history. Thus, “Fight Club” could be seen as an example of existentialism gone awry. If existence comes before essence then we ourselves are wholly responsible for our actions. As Sartre said, existentialism puts each man “in possession of himself as he is (Flew, 1995)”. So the problem will always arise that if we are to act now and define ourselves later we will always run the risk of not liking who we end up as. In the extreme world of Palahniuk we may even end up with a split personality and the head of one of the most powerful terrorist organisations ever made. The Narrator was blinded by his need to matter, his need to be worth something. So much was his vision impaired that he ended up as a tyrant, a dictator in charge of a whole army. Many have said that “Fight Club” is in fact a neo-nazi vision of the future. Each “space monkey” member of Project Mayhem has a shaved head and dresses all in black… it doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
However, this link is a little more tenuous in the film than the book for the book is far more violent. As it develops, the violence intensifies. In the book the Narrator fights fifty people one night with the hope of being killed and the language is sickeningly graphic. The film received an 18-rating in the UK even though Fincher had toned down some of the more striking fight scenes. The Narrator has a hole in his cheek that won’t ever heal because of fighting and his “teeth snap off and plant their jagged roots into my tongue”. In his third fight of the night his opponent,
Until my teeth bite through the inside of my cheek.
Until the hole in my cheek meets the corner of my mouth, the two run together into a ragged leer that opens from under my nose to under my ear”.
The language is cold and mechanical. Words such as “hammers” and “pounding” imply great force and thus great pain. Fincher manages to imitate such language with a great use of sound in the film. Dull slaps and thuds fill the fight scenes of the film as they fight on hard concrete floors. However, although there is a lot of blood and the sounds are almost as gruesome as the visuals, it is not as shocking as when reading the book. Fincher put less emphasis on the depiction of the actual violence for shock purposes and it works well in the film. It was portrayed as a Clockwork Orange style film with violence for violence sake by the media as it was. If Fincher had included shots of teeth going through cheeks then all the focus would have been lost. Fincher found a clever middle ground to hold the film’s morals and focus in place. Palahniuk however does use shocking imagery but as a novel is a less direct and obvious medium it was able to pass under the radar of ‘political correctness’. In addition, Fincher’s “Fight Club” is a very different world in some respects. Project Mayhem doesn’t kill anyone in the film. The book mentions at least two specific murders and there is the implication of more. In the film they scare the lead detective trying to close down fight clubs but Tyler murders him in the book, along with his own boss. The story ends with the Narrator shooting himself in the face. The reader is left wondering whether he actually committed suicide or not. Palahniuk leaves the novel open just enough to incite discussion and thought. Did the Narrator win and destroy Tyler? Did the Narrator survive? Is the last chapter set in hospital or the afterlife? Did Tyler win? He got his story told. “Where would Jesus be if no one had written the gospels?”
Many believe “Fight Club” to be a modern masterpiece, thwarted by today’s society’s necessity to desensitise people and censor art. It raises some very interesting questions about the state of modern America, its consumer culture and where it will lead. Most importantly it asks where the next social revolution will come from and what will be its agenda? Tyler wanted to erase all debt so that we all go back to zero and thus start again. Equality. Karl Marx predicted such a revolution would one day come, eliminate class boundaries and cause the end of history. Perhaps it is consumer culture that is to be the gravedigger of our society. Perhaps there is some other issue brewing that will unite the masses. Maybe we should have listened more carefully to the true message of "Fight Club", not its violence, but its message. It could come from anywhere… it could take any form.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. London. Vintage, 1997.
Fight Club. Available from:
Dzilna Dzintars. Fight Club: Violence as Yoga. Available from:
Copyright Liam Andrew Wright 2009
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Neo-noir and the consciousness of narration: Fight Club and Memento
‘We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives …. And we're very, very pissed off.’
Tyler Durden, Fight Club
The effects of Modernism on Hollywood cinema have not been more evident than in film noir. Films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955) brought modernist concepts of space, time, human existence and the social meaning art to the forefront of world culture. Usually enclosed in a twenty-year period between 1940 and 1960, noir has since become a cornerstone of contemporary Hollywood. At the turn of the Millennium, two films were released that rekindled its themes, mood and tone: Fight Club (dir. David Fincher, 1999) and Memento (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000). Just as noir first found its way into theatres in a period of global uncertainty, so in 1999, with the coming of the new Millennium, this psyche remerged. In the 40s and 50s, WII and then the prospect of Cold War made people nervous of the future. The ‘always other’ and ‘fractured consciousness’ of noir expressed this fear.
Towards the end of 1999, there was what has been described as a Millennial crisis. The imminent arrival of the new Millennium sent shock waves of uncertainty about the capability of computers to handle four digit years and the possibility of Armageddon throughout the world; an uncertainty that to this day is yet to dissipate. With this uncertainty came a new wave of neo-noir films. This essay will explore their characteristics in the light of the discourse of modernism, concentrating on existentialism, the fractured consciousness, the displaced narrator, and the disjunction of fabula and syuzhet.
“WARNING. If you are reading this then this is a warning to you… Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned… Tyler”
Modernist philosophers such as Sartre, Camus and Merleau-Ponty pioneered the concept of Existentialism. With the key ideology being that “existence is self-making”, existentialism is a philosophical position concerned with bettering human existence. Existentialists see rationalist analysis of existence, even in terms of psychology, as inadequate. They believe that one should devote one’s life to trying to “understand how the individual can achieve the richest and most fulfilling life in the modern world”. Thus, it is clear why such a topic remerged at the turn of the Millennium. The most obvious example of a self-fulfilment quest can be found in Fincher’s Fight Club. Adapted from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name, our unnamed hero and narrator (Norton) faces a battle with his own psyche to overcome the feelings of monotony and insignificance created by contemporary society. The film plots his recession from a ‘single serving’ middle management type to a bipolar terrorist leader, hell-bent on justifying his own existence. The Narrator meets Tyler Durden (Pitt), who is eventually revealed as his alter ego, and follows him down a path of ‘self-making’. Tyler promotes the view that ‘it’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything’; the tenet being that in a world of consumer culture and false advertising we are held captive by our own lives. At the turn of the Millennium, and since, people are deluded by a materialistic society into believing that ‘one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars’. We are programmed to want somebody else’s life. These concepts are very much existentialist in nature and echo the famous Camus quotation,
“Car s'il y a un péché contre la vie, ce n'est peut-être pas tant d'en désespérer que d'espérer une autre vie, et se dérober à l'implacable grandeur de celle-ci”.
The need for a rejection of consumer culture is also presented through visual apparatus in the film. Early in the film the Narrator reads a furniture catalogue on the toilet. The catalogue is presented as pornography and thus offensive and exploitative in nature.
However, just as noir was a subversion of all that had gone before it in Hollywood, Fight Club looks to subvert the subverted. Existentialism is about self-fulfilment, yet in Fight Club Tyler states “self-improvement is masturbation, self-destruction might be the answer”. Camus was chastising the desire to live another’s life but he was not advocating the deconstruction of the self to Tyler’s level. Tyler’s philosophy is a bastardisation of existentialism. The attitude of self-realization is diluted by the fascist supremacy of his teachings. Fight Club is meant as a fable for how such modernist teachings could be distorted by a disenfranchised contemporary society. Fight Club been hailed as “the first movie of the 21st Century”: “Rarely has a film been so keyed into its time” said David Rooney in Variety magazine.
If Fight Club is a warning to the ‘generation X’, Memento is an example of the possible existential isolation for the individual in an extreme and insular environment. The film’s hero, and villain, is Leonard Shelby (Pearce), who has created his own insular world in order to find meaning in his own existence. On first viewing, the film seems to follow the usual canon of the noir aesthetic. Nolan presents Shelby as our hero, obdurate in his pursuit for vengeance. Lacking the ability to form new memories after an attack on him and his wife, Shelby has to rely on conditioning, habit and personal notes to himself in the form of tattoos to piece together his puzzle. The film appears to track his investigation and pursuit of his wife’s killer, John G. However, the conclusion to the film reveals that Shelby has been lying to himself in order to justify his own existence. His wife in fact survived the attack and he, himself, inadvertently killed her with an insulin overdose. Still unable to process new memories, he conditioned himself to believe that his wife had been killed on the night of the attack and subsequently dedicated his lift to her revenge.
The convoluted plot is explained by a hidden feature on the DVD that allows the spectator to view the film in its original chronological order. Viewing the film in this manner reveals clearly how Shelby has been conned by others into believing that he is chasing his wife’s killer. In fact, he is simply the pawn of a corrupt police officer, Teddy, looking to take advantage of his condition and getting him to kill drug dealers by the name of John G for profit. Teddy gets Shelby to murder a John G. and then takes, for himself, the money the dealer brought to the staged drug deal. However, when Teddy reveals this to Shelby, after killing yet another John G, Shelby, frustrated by being taken advantage of, creates a new puzzle for himself to solve. He puts Teddy, real name John Gammel, at the centre of his next investigation in order to enact revenge. He lies to himself in order to be happy. He needs a reason to live, so he gives himself one. ‘We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are,’ he states. For Shelby, John G. is the only mirror with a lasting reflection.
Shelby’s quest of vengeance mimics the journeys of classical noir heroes such as Mike Hammer (Kiss Me Deadly, 1955). Like Hammer, Shelby’s ‘great whatsit’ is what drives him. Hammer, with nothing to lose, takes the law into his own hands in order to discover its truth. Shelby does the same. A noir hero must obsess over his mission. It must mean more to him than life itself, for it is his life. One can presume that Mike Hammer did not retire to his armchair and play scrabble with Velda after the film’s conclusion. He would have sought out another mystery, another puzzle to solve. Shelby lives with the same motivation. His puzzle was solved years previously when the police caught his attacker but then he had no reason to live. Thus, with the help of Teddy, he recreates the puzzle. He gives life to his obsession and thus gives himself a reason to live.
Fight Club’s narrator astutely states that ‘on a long enough time line the survival rate for everyone drops to zero’. This overtly negative comment gains an added subtext when read in relation to the film and its themes as a whole. The obvious message is that someday we will all die. The underlying meaning is that we should make the best of what we have with the time we have. Idolising movie icons and rock stars does nothing to better the human condition. At the turn of the Millennium, one could find no insight into one’s own existence in the works of the cultural icons such as The Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears. Indeed, it would be a depressing thought for existentialists to think that said people were revered as role models. Mainstream culture, symbolised in Fight Club by the focus on advertising, venerates shallow ambition and an obsession with wealth. It has helped to create the “no-dimensional man: the coming of the man without qualities, a personality in which brand-names… become markers of identity and organizers of meaning”.
At the focal point of this Millennial crisis in identity was the sway in world politics and economics. Neo-liberal economics together with neo-conservative politics shaped the extreme consumer culture highlighted in Fight Club. With neo-conservatives such as Tony Blair, and more notably George W. Bush, at the head of the most powerful nations in the world, there was a rapid increase in globalisation. Globalisation, in terms of neo-liberalism, means that free-markets, NGOs and MNCs are protected by state governments ahead of their citizens. The resulting consumer culture reached a boiling point at the turn of the Millennium. “We are what we wear, and what we wear depends on what we watch on the mass media”. Anger at such a controlling and individually non-productive attitude sparked the emergence of films such as Fight Club. Individual identity was lost and thus the real possibility of Tyler’s world loomed large. Fight Club served as an insight into the potential for the coming Millennium.
Fight Club dealt in the macro-prospects for the individual in a global society at the turn of the Millennium. Memento examines the micro-prospects of how one might survive in as an individual at this time. People were afraid of what was before them. In noir, obsession gives purpose to a life lost in modernity. Shelby’s life is yet another example of a disenfranchised male struggling to find his place in a lonely world. Spectators, at the time of the film’s release, could identify with Shelby just as they could with Fight Club’s narrator. Shelby is looking for meaning in his idiosyncratic life. Every day he wakes up to the same thoughts, the same memories, nothing new; a feeling to which many of the film’s spectators could relate. The feeling that nothing anyone does in today’s society amounts to anything. If Shelby did not have his puzzles, he would have nothing, no reason to live. The disenfranchised generation X at the turn of the Millennium had no puzzle to give their life meaning. Memento was a form of escapism into meaning and significance. However, mimicking the confusion of the people of the time, the new breed of noir films brought with them a sense of fractured consciousness.
Displaced Narrator/Fractured Consciousness
The narrators of both Memento and Fight Club impose a form of fractured consciousness upon their respective films for various reasons. Such concepts are reminiscent of the modernist writer and philosopher Henri Bergson. For instance, in Memento, the homodiegetic narrator, he who “appears as an actor in his or her own story”, controls the primary narrative. In most other films with a narrator the “narration is enclosed or embedded within the discourse of the external cinematic narrator”; meaning that the director controls the film with his/her choice of cuts, fades and visual imagery. However, Nolan appears to merge the cinematic and homodiegetic narrator in Memento. The homodiegetic narrator, due to his inability to form new memories, dictates the syuzhet of the film. As a result, the spectator often knows only what the narrator knows and sees only what he sees. Still, for the film to have any sustainability the spectator must be able to form some sort of overall picture, some sense of the fabula. Nolan achieves this by ordering the syuzhet as a reversal of the fabula. As the film progresses, the spectator is able to piece together the fabula by remembering that which the narrator cannot. It is in this sense that Nolan subtly manipulates the direction of the film. Unlike traditional homodiegetic narration, where the on screen images are juxtaposed with the verbal narration, Memento often runs parallel to the narrator’s consciousness. There are only a handful of moments in the film where the visual content makes comment on the verbal content of the narration. One incident that typifies Memento’s ability to keep the spectator in the dark just as much as the narrator concerns Shelby’s first meeting with Dodd. The narration goes as follows:
‘ok so what am I doing…? Oh, I’m chasing this guy… No… he’s chasing me’
Shelby, running through a trailer park, lapses into a moment of short-term memory loss. At the moment he regains conscious thought he is unable to process his current action. As a result, he begins to chase the same person he has just been trying to avoid. The structure of the syuzhet keeps the spectator’s knowledge in line with the narrator. As the fabula is revealed in reverse, the spectator knows as much about the beginnings of the chase sequence as Shelby. This disjunction of fabula and syuzhet is a key tool within the noir aesthetic for creating a fractured consciousness. Classical noir films such as Orson Well’s Lady From Shanghai (1947) utilises this disjunction to create a sense of alienation between the narrator and his on screen counterpart, Welles. Nolan does the opposite in Memento aligning the narrator directly with his on screen persona. Aside, from the above example of Shelby’s chase sequence with Dodd, Nolan often coordinates the narration with his moving images. Shelby awakes in an anonymous motel room completely unaware of where he is. The spectator is presented with the scene in exactly the same manner. Since the film is told in reverse, the spectator has no spatio-temporal point of reference in terms of how he may have arrived in this location.
Shelby’s initial thought is that there will be nothing in the drawers, probably assuming, as the spectator does, that this is his room. However, he finds a gun on top of the motel issued Bible. Next, he discovers a man gagged in the cupboard and frantically searches the motel room for clues. The whole time the camera is focused solely on Shelby. Nolan intends our focus to be on Shelby and him alone. The spectator is supposed to experience the events in the same manner Shelby does. As he awakes and sits up in the bed, the camera tracks his vertical movement. The camera then, housed in a Steadicam, follows him around the room concealing its contents from the spectator. Any clues the spectator could pick up from Shelby’s surroundings in order to identify the same location later on in the film are hidden. The visual images here support Shelby’s fractured consciousness and exemplify the use of homodiegetic narration.
However, the narrator’s dialogue in Memento is occasionally juxtaposed by Nolan’s cinematography. The narration and the visual come apart in order for the spectator to piece together the fabula and maintain a grasp on the film’s progression. Natalie, the femme fatale is another character in Memento to take advantage of Shelby’s condition. She uses Shelby in order to get rid of her tyrannical boyfriend Dodd. In one scene, she confesses her intention to exploit Shelby and calls his wife a ‘whore’. Shelby hits her, giving her a black eye. However, Shelby forgets the episode before he has time to find a pen to write it down. Subsequently, Natalie returns to the house and blames Dodd for her black eye. Shelby, ironically vows to help her take care of him so that he cannot beat her again. In this scene, Shelby, as narrator, tries his hardest not to forget. He tells himself to ‘keep focus… keep it in mind’. Yet, the memories are gone before he can make a record. However, the spectator has no such problems with the information. The spectator is able to “convey something of the past into the future”. He/she able to retain this information and now knows that Shelby should not trust Natalie. Shelby, himself, is left oblivious and naïve. The narration and visual image come apart here in order to advance the storyline. Now that the spectator knows not to trust Natalie, he/she can view later scenes involving Natalie with suspicion.
Bergson’s writings raise an interesting question regarding Shelby’s existence in relation to the above information. Shelby’s obsession to hunt down John G can be said to be self-making and to ratify his existence. However, his inability to form new memories and persisting mental states lays question over his subsistence as a conscious entity. Bergson claims, “for a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly”. Yet, Shelby is unable to change or mature. He awakes each day no different from the last. Thus, according to Bergson’s description, Shelby ceased to exist the night of his accident. This is a remarkable argument, for Shelby does exist and he is capable of conscious thought. He has not succumbed to a vegetative state, he is able to walk, talk, love, hate if only for brief moments. Yet, the only mental states that persist are those that he accrued before the accident. Any subsequent mental states have no existence beyond the time in which they were created. Still, as Bergson states each separate mental state “is borne by the fluid mass of our whole physical existence… they continue each other in an endless flow”. Thus, Bergson believes that mental states are dependent upon our whole history, in part, to determine our existence. This ‘fluid mass’ is still present in Shelby. He awakes everyday with fully existing consciousness. However, his fluid mass no longer continues to flow. He is able to desire, will and act, as long as the subjects of these mental acts were present before the accident. As Bergson says, “it is with our entire past, including the original bent of our soul, that we desire, will and act”. His fluid mass has simply become stagnant. The disenfranchised generation X at the turn of the Millennium could again relate to such a stagnant personal existence. Memento gives an introspective look into the psyche of a man unable to progress his ego. Many people at the Millennial Crisis in humanity experienced a similar concern as to their own existence. According to modernist thinkers such as Bergson, to exist is “the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future”. Yet, if your past contains a stagnant existence, ‘working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need’, then how can one progress?
Unlike the narrator of Memento, Fight Club is narrated to conceal the Narrator’s true conscious states from the spectator. Fincher creates a version of pseudo-diegesis narration. This is where “film begins with the limited perspective of a character-narrator, only to give way to the unlimited powers of the extradiegetic, “image-maker” narrator, who presents information and an overall perspective”. However, Fincher alters this model for the new neo-noir aesthetic of the turn of the Millennium. The film begins with the extradiegetic narrator, who then retells the story in chronological order from his limited perspective as he lived through this experience. The spectator is thus oblivious to the fact that the Narrator and Tyler are one in the same person, that Tyler is the Narrator’s alter ego. Tyler is represented by Brad Pitt on screen and is presented as a real character. The Narrator alludes to the fact that they are the same person in the opening scene stating, “I know this because Tyler knows this”. However, this not enough information for the spectator to even suspect them having a shared consciousness. It is not until the third act of the film, where there is a changeover, that it Fincher reveals to the spectator that Tyler is the product of the Narrator’s imagination. Thus, the sense of ‘otherness’ in Fight Club comes from the total displacement of the narrator throughout the majority of the film. The Narrator’s consciousness is split between two characters.
Classical noir films with a fractured consciousness, such as the previously aforementioned Lady from Shanghai, tend to use the technique to create some form of distance between the narrator and his on screen persona. In Lady from Shanghai, Welles, as first-person extradiegetic narrator, often attributes dialogue to his on screen character that is never visualised. This creates a chasm between the two, a sense of alienation and raises modernist issues regarding the consciousness of Welles’ character. However, in Fight Club the rift is even greater as the consciousness of the Narrator’s character is displaced into one collective consciousness, pertaining to Tyler and himself.
Both the Narrator and Tyler, according to Bergson, could be considered an existing conscious entity. They have their own varying mental states, “continually swelling with the duration which it accumulates”. However, the Narrator’s actual mental states are separate to those of Tyler’s and, for the duration of the film, Tyler appears to have his own consciousness. Still, Tyler’s mental states are dependent upon the Narrator’s ‘fluid mass of physical existence’, thus revealing his existence as, in essence, synthetic. The Narrator brings Tyler into existence through his own personal Millennial crisis of identity. He creates Tyler to ‘look like you want to look, fuck like you want to fuck. I’m smart, capable and most importantly I am free in all the ways that you are not’. The Narrator, looking for a way to change his life, creates an alter ego to be ‘free’. Still, although Tyler and the Narrator occupy the same body, they each have their own individual mental states. According to Bergson, this should mean that they also have their own separate consciousness. However, if Tyler’s existence is dependent upon the Narrator, how can he be his own conscious entity? Fincher plays on this confusion with his choice of shots for the flashback sequences. In the first part of the film Fincher shows Tyler giving the Narrator a chemical burn. Later in the film Fincher reveals the reality that the Narrator in fact gave himself the burn.
Fincher shows the chemical burn again near the end of the film. However, when reshowing the scene Fincher ‘crosses the line’, a term used in filmmaking as a guide for directors to keep on the correct side of a frame throughout a scene. Crossing the line is usually seen as bad practise as it causes the spectator to lose his/her sense of position within a scene. However, Fincher uses this to great effect here, purposely creating a sense of unease by crossing the line and thus putting the Narrator on the opposite side of the frame. By showing the scene from ‘the other side of the line’ Fincher is also allowing the spectator into the Narrator’s true consciousness; the collective consciousness as seen as a whole.
Thus, it seems that they do have a shared collective consciousness. Simply, the Narrator and Tyler have access to different areas of this collective consciousness. The Narrator suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a condition in which “individuals dissociate or "compartmentalize" their subjective experience into alternate personalities ("alters") as a means of coping with the emotional pain of the trauma”. The Narrator creates his ‘alter’, Tyler, in order to cope with the isolation and lack of meaning in his life at the turn of the Millennium.
Set in contemporary times, Fight Club can be seen to be making comment on a society attempting to come to terms with this Millennial crisis in humanity, and indeed it is. “[N]ew realistic tendencies (sense of reality, authenticity, humanism, etc.) have become signs of postmodernist art at the end of the millennium”. Art is used as a method of expression good art, arguably, communicates the key social and philosophical principles of its time. Memento and Fight Club both succeed in doing this. Fight Club illustrates the potential outcome of such a crisis of personal identity on a despondent generation X culture. Memento takes the same personal crisis and examines its potential role on the individual. Between the two, one can go a long way to understanding the psyche of those people living at the turn of the Millennium. It also becomes evident why such films, building on a fifty-year-old aesthetic, made their way into cinemas and DVD players the world over. The sense of ‘other’ and examination of the self are important topics to those going through troubling times in their lives. As Tyler said, they are “the middle-children of history”. “[S]ometimes it takes more courage to live than to shoot yourself”.
My question is this. Almost a decade on from the Millennium Bug, Y2K, or more standardly, the turn of the Millennium, are we still suffering its effects? Will the credit crunch of 2008/9 cause us to wander further down the rabbit hole? And what 'alter/other' will we create when we get to the other side?
Fight Club (1999) Dir. David Fincher, Dist. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (2000), 14254DVD F1-OGB [DVD]
Memento (2000) Dir. Christopher Nolan, Dist. Pathé Distribution Ltd (2004), P-OGB P9016CDVD [DVD]
Allen (2003) Contemporary US Cinema, Pearson Education Ltd, Essex
Barber (2000) Can Democracy Survive Globalization? In Government and opposition, 35(3), pp.275-301
Camus (1971) A Happy Death, Penguin Books, 10th Edition, Middlesex
Camus (1939) L'Eté à Alger in Noces, Editions Flammarion, 1998 edition, Paris
Guignon (2005) Existentialism in The Shorter Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Routledge, Oxford, pp.252-260
Fackenheim (1961) Metaphysics and Historicity, Marquette University Press, Milwaukee
How to Start a Fight (2000) Fight Club, Dist. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (2000), 14254DVD F1-OGB [DVD]
Kolocotroni (1998) (ed.) Modernism, Edinburgh University Press, 2nd Edition, Edinburgh
Lilenfield et al (1998) Dissociative Identity Disorder and the Sociocognitive Model:
Recalling the Lessons of the Past in Pyschological Bulletin, 1999:125(5) pp. 507-523
Lipina-Berezkina (1999) John Barth’s On with the Story: Stories and the Transformation of American Postmodernist Poetics in Journal of American Studies of Turkey, 10, pp. 5-16
Luckas (1963) The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, John and Necke Mander (trans.), 3rd Edition, Merlin Press, London
Mast, Cohen and Braudy (1974) (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Mottram (2002) The Making of Memento, Faber and Faber Ltd, London
Palahniuk (1997) Fight Club, Vintage, 2nd Edition, London
Stam, Burgoyne and Flitterman-Lewis (1992) New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics, Routledge, 3rd Edition, London
 Opening title to Fight Club DVD, 2000
 Frackenheim, 1961, p.37
 Guignon, 2005, p.255
 Camus, 1939, p.47. Translated: “If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and eluding the implacable grandeur of this life”
 Laura Ziskin in How to Start a Fight, 2000
 David Rooney, Variety in How to Start a Fight, 2000
 Barber, 2000, p.298
 op cit, p.295-6
 Stam, Burgoyne and Flitterman-Lewis, 1992, p.97
 op cit, p.98
 Bergson in Kolocotroni, 1998, p.68
 op cit, p.71
 op cit, p.69
 Bergson in Kolocotroni, 1998, p.70
 Bergson in Kolocotroni, 1998, p.70
 Stam, Burgoyne and Flitterman-Lewis, 1992, p.99
 Bergson in Kolocotroni, 1998, p.68
 Lilienfield et al, 1999, p.2
 Lipina-Berezkina, 1999, p.6
 Camus, 1971, p.42
Copyright Liam Andrew Wright 2009