Monday, March 12, 2001

The existential

"Outside society — that's where I want to be!"
— Patti Smith

I call these films existential because, while they're filled with crime, the point is the liberation the crime leads to, rather than the crime itself.

Deliverance (1972) Directed by John Boorman. Based on James Dickey's novel, this film is all about some Atlanta yuppies who get set upon by buggering, murderous mountain men on a canoe trip, right? Wrong. Forget the surface details, (especially poor Ned Beatty cursed to spend the rest of his life trying to live down that "squeal, piggy!" scene.) Boorman's point is that out on the river, there's no bullshit. Some people are trying to kill you; you're trying to kill them first. Stripped of bullshit, that's what human life is. The yuppies go through hell, one of them dies — but they get to be real. They've been delivered from the usual bullshit, which is why this film is called Deliverance.

Fight Club (1999) Directed by David Fincher. God, I love this movie. Without giving too much away, let's just say there's a 20-something guy (unnamed, though probably "Jack") enduring a typical life of quiet desperation in a Dilbert cube. Typical, except that he suffers from insomnia. His new-agey doctor doesn't believe in pills, though. "If you want to see real suffering, check out the testicular cancer support group." The insomniac does — and becomes a self-help junky, moving from support group to support group in the hours of sleepless night. He eventually finds a woman to have sex with (Helena Bonham Carter as another self-help junky) and good clean male bonding with a guy named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who wants to destroy civilization as we know it. The dude creates a cult of personality centered on illegal underground "fight clubs" — no need to get buggered on a canoe trip to be real when you can beat the shit out of somebody in a basement, right? It's all about instant self-actualization, like the scene where Tyler sticks a gun in the face of a guy working in a convenience store and asks him what his real dream is. The clerk says he wanted to be a veterinarian. Tyler tells him, "If you're not on your way to becoming a veterinarian in six weeks, you will be dead," and takes his driver's license to track the guy down. The fight club begins to look more and more like a mindless militia. Our insomniac eventually wakes up to the fact that he's trapped in a nasty little subculture. He tries to stop Tyler from destroying civilization because that's not what he really wants, is it?

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