By Angela Slezak
When I was younger I lamented often about the excessive violence in American film and was often told, “It’s essential to the story.” I understand movies about violent elements or events will have violence. However, much of the violence I see in movies I consider as titillating to the American psyche, a way to experience violence voyeuristically. While experiencing negative states voyeuristically can prevent us from acting out, it can also feed the energy and demand release.
There is one movie, however, where I find the violence extremely meaningful – Fight Club.
Fight Club is sort of like mindfulness noir – noir being a dark and dismal path to awareness – the opposite reflection of the kind and loving path. Mindfulness noir is the mindfulness you experience when you live in a place where there is no safety or, ironically, as the movie demonstrates, a place where there is too much safety.
As we meet our protagonist, played by Ed Norton, he hasn’t slept in six months. He describes his existence to us while sitting on the toilet ordering from a catalog (an uncomfortable image of our modern self). Our insomniac works for an auto company and helps decided whether it’s cheaper to recall faulty cars or cheaper to let people die. This is an empty and meaningless profession that is only available in a modern life full of guardrails. As he admits in his narrative, buying from Ikea and decorating his apartment provides some relief from the harsh reality of what he does for a living.
More relief is found when he discovers support groups and cries on the shoulder of a man with testicular cancer. Crying provides such comfort that our character becomes a support-group junkie attending nightly groups with for those with illnesses he doesn’t have.
Crying brings sleep to our somnambulist hero until he meets two others who change his world – a woman who is invading his support-group space and a bold and audacious male who lives in a run-down house, makes soap, waits tables and, most importantly, starts a fight club.
In Fight Club, the men simply engage in fist fights – no Star Wars lasers or remote drone fighting – old fashion fist fights. The first two rules of Fight Club are that you don’t talk about it. The third rule is that if it’s your first time in attendance, you must fight. In Fight Club you are a participant, not an observer. You are going to feel it.
Fighting is to be alive.
Think about what’s missing in our movie Fight Club that would be present in a fight club held by the males in our society. There is no competition, no trophies, no teams, and no winner.
In what movie where there is violence is there no winner and no loser?
This is not a movie about violence. It’s a movie about returning to the present through extreme sensation. The body is present. The mind (winning, losing) is not present.
In one particularly noir scene, our protagonist receives lye to the hand which is agonizingly painful. In response, he tries to use the guided imagery taught by his support groups when his buddy, who is pouring the lye and holding him down, tells him to “stay with the pain” and not deal with it the “way those dead people do.”
He adds, “This is the greatest moment of your life and you’re off somewhere missing it.” “What you’re feeling,” he’s told, “is premature enlightenment.”
In sitting on a mat, you stay with whatever comes from a mental and emotional sense. The noir of the film presents it as a physical agony. It certainly can feel that way.
The Real You
While there are many intense scenes in this movie, one of my favorite scenes is quite low-key and is when the protagonist begins to go to work with bruises all over his face. He’s saying, “This is who I am and I’m not embarrassed by it. How you feel is your problem.”
As the bruises increase, so does the confidence. He’s arrived at work as he is – both pained and confident. Our hero now has a messy life, not an Ikea life, living in a broken-down house with a bruised, bloodied body.
Yet he’s okay with it and has no desire to hide what he is. I’m alive; this is how it is.
Many times letting go of control is emphasized in the movie. In one scene it’s obvious when, as a passenger, our narrator is being driven toward a moving car and told to “let go.”
During the burn scene, we hear that only when you’ve “lost everything are you free to do anything.”
The narrator’s condo being destroyed at the beginning of the movie is the beginning of the letting go and the start of being alive.
What are we holding on to?
In contrast to mindfulness noir, in mindfulness “blanc” where you sit on a mat for years you’ll discover the myriad of thoughts and feelings that you hold.
The noir at the end of the movie involves the demolition of several skyscrapers. Here I must reference the tarot card entitled “The Tower.”
The Tower tarot card (Rider-Waite deck) shows a tower on fire and two persons, a male and female, jumping from the building. It’s a terrible image that can evoke images of recent real-life tragedy and victimization.
In the tarot deck it refers to core energy – that of losing the ego (the tower) and having to let go and jump for freedom. The Tower card is the 16th card of the major arcana (energies), three cards after the Death card.
Death isn’t the end and neither is the Tower.