Film Club / Are We Supposed to Be Cheering?

Fight ClubFight Club
Directed by David Fincher


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Tyler Durden: Now, a question of etiquette – as I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?

Oh boy. Fight Club.

There’s a quote from David Fincher. I can’t remember where I first heard it but is basically goes something like this:

“My daughter had a friend named Max. She told me Fight Club is his favourite movie. I told her never to talk to Max again.”

And that’s from the guy that made it. Because well yeah: I don’t quite know when it happened – but Fight Club is definitely one of those films where how you’re supposed to view it and think about it and what it means has been kinda cemented. And even more so than the Christopher Nolan Batman films, even more so than Predator, even more than motherfucking Scarface – Fight Club is very much a bro kinda film – you know what I mean? And the only two stances are pretty much to love everything about it and just having to deal with the fact that everyone else is gonna roll their eyes at you all the way over or well: to be one of those people rolling their eyes. It’s peak Brad Pitt. Peak Edward Norton. Peak Straight White Guy First World Problems kinda thing. Which a dated soundtrack and gloomy orange and black visuals. Plus Meatloaf. And some token anti-Capitalist thing that’s pretty much only skin deep – right?

As much as I feel like the Film Club has already mentioned Film Crit Hulk enough already I’m gonna go ahead and mention Film Crit Hulk. I’m sorry.

Like: I don’t know if I’ve said this already: but full disclosure – I used to be a massive massive Hulk-sized Film Crit Hulk fan. If you haven’t read his article on Tangible Details (HULK ESSAY YOUR ASS: TANGIBLE DETAILS AND THE NATURE OF CRITICISM) then I totally recommend that you go and read it straight after you finish this – because not only will it make you better at understanding movies and movie criticism but it’ll also more importantly (less importantly?) make you better at understanding other people and life itself you know?

But well yeah – as much as it pains me to say it: I guess I’m more of a “yeah I preferred his earlier stuff” kinda guy because pretty much everything he’s written in the past years has either made me yawn or shake my head so fast that I look like I’m one of those demons from Jacob’s Ladder.

Case in point – a few weeks ago: Film Crit Hulk did an interview with the two directors of Josie and the Pussycats: Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Looking Back at ‘Josie and the Pussycats’: A Perfect Picture of 2000’s Music Revolution). And it was such a nice and glowing write up that I thought – huh. Oh ok. I guess I’ve give that a watch…

(OH MY GOD PLEASE DON’T. IT’S A TERRIBLE POO OF A FILM THAT THINKS IT’S UNCOVERED SOME CRAZY NEW LEVEL OF INSIGHT BUT BASICALLY DOESN’T DO ANYTHING MORE THAN REHEAT A JOKE THAT WAS MUCH FUNNIER WHEN IT WAS DONE IN WAYNE’S WORLD – WHICH CAME OUT LIKE NEARLY TEN YEARS BEFORE: AND THAT’S JUST REALLY SAD).

Holy fuck Rob Lowe looks so young.

But wait – what am I mentioning Josie and the Pussycats for? Oh wait yeah – there’s a big part of the interview where they just start laying into Fight Club. Which well yeah I’ve copy and pasted here for your reading pleasure (here we go):

Look

But that also gets into this whole thing that I try express about being a white teenager in the ‘90s. We had this insanely privileged space in pop culture. Everything was so easy and great. The economy was booming. I actually talk about it in terms of Fight Club, a movie about how terrible it is to have a job, a nice apartment and security—but now young people have so little money, so little security, the cost of living has skyrocketed, it’s a radically different world and outlook than in the ‘90s. So it’s hard to explain “No, we thought this was the important stuff!” But we were being so young and myopic about certain things.

HE: We referenced Fight Club a lot when we were talking about it actually…

DK: And I have to say, it’s strange thinking about that now, with the macho, sexist underpinnings of that movie.

HE: You watched it recently?

DK: Yeah.

HE: And it didn’t hold up?

DK: It’s certainly clever, but it’s just just so graphic, full of itself and self-congratulatory.

Yeah, I don’t like the ethos. So many remember it as this brilliant, cool movie, but there’s this deep juvenile element to it. It’s about disaffected young men who, in the end, are just being jerks. Even in the commentary track on the DVD, there’s a moment where Brad Pitt is ranting about cancer patients and the meetings with “healing balls of light” and he’s like, “I don’t get why people would ever do that!” And it’s like, “Oh, you’re just being a young man who just doesn’t have empathy.”

DK: Right, and I can’t speak to the filmmakers, but it’s a movie that seems like it’s [about] people who have never actually had anything bad happen. It’s all fantasy about wanting to have those bad experiences. But it’s still young-bro-white-guy-rage that’s really about nothing. And looking back at it now with my feelings about that? In today’s society?

topless brad

It’s Twitter.

DK: But through the fever dream of bare knuckle fists in a basement.

The repressed masculine fantasy.

HE: Oof, and the next step is white polos, khakis and tiki torches.

Yeah, and when it comes to that fantasy, as a young man in Boston, I totally bought into that stuff when it came to fighting. Everybody grows up learning to box and fight, but it’s toxic. I look back on it and I’m like, “Oh that was all horrible.”

HE: I don’t think you could make Fight Club today.

DK: I don’t think you’d want to.

point

There are several things I could say to all this but frankly I’m not sure if I’ll have time (but maybe I’ll circle back in the next few weeks): but well shit – I like being able to have everything all clearly stated to understand the points of views which are different to mine (which well yeah you know: is part of the aim of the Film Club so…). And I mean yeah sure – you don’t have to like Fight Club and you can say that it doesn’t appeal to you and it’s a shitty movie and whatever (we all have different tastes right?) but there’s a lot of the above that – I’m sorry – is just kinda… dumb?

(This me).

First up: giving yourself a pat on the back and saying that “and the next step is white polos, khakis and tiki torches.” THAT’S IN THE FILM DUMMY. I mean – when I first watched Fight Club as a younger version of myself I remember getting irritated that the early coolness of Project Mayhem got turned into everyone wearing black and forgoing their identities and subsuming themselves into the whole in a way that seemed kinda… oh wait… seemed kinda facist? (Thinkingface.emoji it’s almost as if that was the point? Like perhaps perhaps everything in the film is not just there to be emulated or whatever but is somehow a bit more – circumspect and ambiguous? You know – almost as if the audience were adults who could make up their own mind?)

ed

Or if you want it in slightly more flouncy terms: Fight Club is a movie that already contains its own self-critique. Which is maybe something to keep in mind before well…

Re: “a movie about how terrible it is to have a job, a nice apartment and security” – I find this almost insane. Yes being unemployed and not being able to find a job is a thing that totally sucks. But having a shitty job that feels like it’s slowly killing you is not that much of a step up. I mean it’s almost like there should be a term for it or something.

A small confession – I did Media Studies for A-Level (yeah I know I know) and for my dissertation I actually choose Fight Club and The Simpsons as my items of study and I wrote a thing about the interesting little möbius loop of mass-produced anti-capitalist entertainment. i mean – you sit and buy a ticket to watch a thing that tells you how buying thing won’t make you happy. And then when it comes out on DVD you make sure you get the special edition. Makes you think. (Although thinking about it now – all I can think is that I think I was a pretty smart kid lol).

But yeah – fuck. I mean: will this all do as a starting point? A few extra things: How good an actor is Bradley Pitts anyway? Overrated / underrated / perfectly rated? Why don’t more films look and move in the same way that Fight Club looks and moves? That bit when the camera just drops down the side of the building? Holy fuck I remember seeing that for the first time in the cinema and it felt like my whole world changed or something: like the bottom just dropped out of the floor and everything was now possible. Also: for a film about masculine alienation in late 20th Capitalism: it’s pretty funny right? And oh – did I say that the soundtrack is dated? Fuck that. THE SOUNDTRACK TOTALLY KILLS.

And oh yeah – best twist ever.

Which in conclusion I guess makes me a Fight Club fan. And I haven’t even got to the point where I’ve started quoted every single damn line from it yet so.

Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?
Narrator: What?
Tyler Durden: Being clever.

If this is your first night etc etc


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

So when I suggested that I may have reassessed my view of Fight Club since it’s release Joel distributed some disgusted side-eye before going on at length about Film Crit Hulk. I forget the rest of the conversation but the thing is I did have a small problem with my relationship to the movie.

When people say that Fight Club is held in high esteem by a certain type of entitled white boy who can’t relate to women I have to admit that when I saw the film that was a fairly accurate description of me. When Fight Club came out in 1999 I was 20 years old working in a range of tedious service sector jobs while phoning in my humanities degree and reading a LOT about anti-capitalism. And when it came out I absolutely loved it. I saw it 5 times in the cinema. I took my flat mates to see it, I took a girl I fancied to see it, I took my band to see it, I took someone else’s flatmates to see it, and then went again.
Maybe this is the same hit people had when the Sex Pistols came out or Catcher in the Rye, but even though it was kind of on the nose “the things you own, end up owning you” (wince) I hooked that sweet anti-consumerism straight to my veins.

When I went to see it the first time, I assumed that it was just going to be a chance to see Ed Norton and Brad Pitt beating the shit out of each other, which was reason enough in and of itself. I think in my mind it was gonna be the Ed Norton of American History X and the Brad Pitt from Se7en and both those films feel like spiritual predecessors to Fight Club, sharing a “where is your morality now in this harsh decaying world?” outlook. But instead of huge plate of gritty rust belt America despair Fight Club serves up a fastidiously prepared 4 course meal where every minute of film is filled with great one liners, visual jokes, actual jokes, gorgeous photography all washed down with a massive glass of contempt for modern life.

dunk

As a 19 year old questions such as do I want to work in an office for my whole life? Do I want a wife and kids? Do I need endless pieces of furniture and what furniture represents me as a person? Should I be trying to get buff? Should my life have some sort of meaning and what would that even be? Were all swirling round my head. What can I say, Fight Club met me at a very strange time in my life and brought some useful perspective. Although looking back it was a bit rich to have Brad Pitt snearing at male models.

Fight Club (1999) Edward Norton and Brad Pitt (Screengrab)

Another film that came out that year was the Matrix and the messages of that were not too dissimilar – is this reality we are presented with just an illusion? If we just refused to accept it like Neo or Tyler Durden would we suddenly become powerful revolutionaries freed from the seductions of modern living to realise our real dreams and take what is rightfully ours? Nothing wrong with questioning the status quo but perhaps not surprising that this self aggrandising narrative appealed to angry, alienated Jonathan when he wasn’t practising manic street preachers songs in the basement of student halls.

manic

So maybe people look darkly at Fight Club because it does speak to the angry youth, but also I guess if you made that film in 1999 and your punchline was “we blew up some skyscrapers for the lols” you might look back a couple of years later and maybe think you your material looked a bit crass. In that context it looks bad that the protagonists of Fight Club are terrorists but in the bleak soulless Fight Club world who could argue against either praying for death or wishing that you could tear society down brick by fucking brick.

So yeah, whoever I was 19 years ago, I’ll allow it, it’s still appallingly relevant. There is the cliche that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, but Fight Club dares to imagine and end to capitalism with credit wiped out and everyone back to zero. Albeit a weird survivalist/agrarian vision of post-capitalism:

In the world I see – you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway… Labour will have transformed itself into meaningful many-fold activity, making possible all-round development of each individual’s human personality and the separation of town and countryside, will wither away.”

OK the last sentence may have been Marx 🤷‍♀️

PS who says the soundtrack isn’t great? From the incidental music to Where is My Mind it’s flawless.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Oh god – am I really going to type a whole more bunch of words about Film Crit Hulk?Yes. Yes I am.

I am Jack’s wasted life. etc.

Like: of course I could reply to all the cool things that Jonathan wrote but I think that mostly I’d just end up agreeing: and my whole damage means that I’m more attracted to trying to understand (and take apart) the points of view that I disagree with… (It’s the path to knowledge!)

After I included the link to the Tangible Details article I thought I’d actually go and do a reread of it (I seem to be doing a lot of rereading these days) and yeah wow I was totally impressed over once again by the succinct juiciness of his ideas. Like: yeah he writes long stuff but I’m pretty much of the opinion that if you really want to understand something then you have to go deep into the nitty gritty and examine every small screw of the engine to get a sense of how it works.

 

Glasses
So erm yeah: maybe it’s like relevant that he wrote a whole big thing on David Fincher and – most particularly – a film you might have heard of called Fight Club?

This thing here: Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. FIGHT CLUB (AND THE WORK OF DAVID FINCHER?)

If you’ve got the time you should go and read the whole article because you know: it’s well written and says something pretty interesting stuff. And yeah of course I disagree with pretty much all of it: but in a way that I think gets to some cool places…. But let’s see.

The Problem with Fight Club as Mr Crit Hulk sees it: is that it doesn’t really have – a point.

(Always use the indefinite article: a dildo – never your dildo).

And ha! – there’s a part of me that kinda agrees with this. Like: in the final analysis when all is said and done and the buildings fall and “you met me at a very strange time in my life” and flash-cut of a dick / fade to black – what is the Fight Club treatise? What is its moral stance? And what is it trying to say?

Mr Crit Hulk makes a very good point here about most people’s emotional reaction to Fight Club the first time they see it (and I would include myself here): in that at the end when Tyler Durden is all “What’s that smell?” and drops down into nothingness – it’s a major disappointment. The way the movie sets it up – Tyler is basically the hero and pretty much from the off we’re willing him to succeed. If after the lights came up in the cinema and someone handed out a sign up to the Project Mayhem email list – I’m know I would have put down my details in an instant.

But then there’s also supposed to be the part of us that roots for Edward Norton too. He’s the protagonist. And even tho he’s a little bit geeky and a little bit hapless and also a few steps behind – he’s the one whispering in our ear throughout the whole movie and it’s his moral stance which is supposed to align with ours. But then yeah when he finally wises up towards the end and is all: “this has gone too far” we’re left in a bit of a quandary. Basically: whose side are we on? And which side does the film want us to be on? And when Edward fails in his mission to stop the destruction and those building explode and fall: are we supposed to be cheering? Or weeping?

Is the point of Fight Club – Capitalism is bad: but let’s not get too crazy? Or: ANARCHY NOW? Or somekind halfway house in between? Or what? Should we be Team Tyler or Team Ed? Mr Crit Hulk feels like it’s a fault of the film (and it’s director) that we’re not really left with a clear idea of what to think. But well yeah – I guess I’m a lot more of well: maybe that’s the point?

Do not fuck with us

 

Obviously what we’re disagreeing about here is how a story is supposed to work. Mr Crit Hulk as far as I understand appears to be of the opinion that all stories should have a clear kinda moral message at the end (“And that’s why you always leave a note.”) while I guess I’m more of the opinion that that’s… kinda dumb. Like I get that stories can be very good in terms of making a moral or political point or whatever. And I do enjoy films that do have a particular message that is communicated in a very clear and precise kinda way (insert your own favourite example here) But In terms of how my calibrations are set: I’m also quite into stories that aren’t just about delivering a Chinese Fortune cookie view of world but instead are quite happy to deliver a series of provocations just for the sake of it.

And yeah – I get that maybe that sounds kinda “bro-y” or whatever so I should probably explain a little more…

You know that there’s this idea (I think I maybe read it in a Hitchcock interview or something?) about how a movie is just a machine that’s designed to play on your emotions? And in the future you could also do away with the movie altogether and just press a button marked “SAD” or whatever and you’d have the same response? I mean: I like movies that do that kinda really well. That makes you feel things and think things and provoke you in all sorts of strange and interesting ways that you can’t even describe – but by the end of it you very much feel like you’ve had an experience you know? It moves you and transports you and messes with you in ways you don’t even realise…

soup
(Mr Crit Hulk also has the same problem with Black Mirror: which is just the same song in a different key. If you want to know what each episode of Black Mirror “says” then yeah – in my opinion – you’re trying to read it in the wrong way. It’s like wondering why Toy Story doesn’t have more swearing in it or why Jaws doesn’t give you a good look at the shark – you know?).

So yeah: although it’s true that Fight Club maybe doesn’t really have an overall point and as a work of anti-capitalist philosophy it doesn’t really stand up (although maybe more people would read Das Kapital if it had Jared Leto in it?) but as a rush of pure sensation filled with (like Jonathan says) “great one liners, visual jokes, actual jokes, gorgeous photography all washed down with a massive glass of contempt for modern life” – it’s very very hard to top.

Like one of the Josie and the Pussycat directors said: “It’s certainly clever, but it’s just just so graphic, full of itself and self-congratulatory.”

It’s not an end – but you know: it’s a start…

Who is Tyler Durden?

I rewatched Fight Club on the weekend and was very pleasantly surprised to see that – oh hell yeah – it’s all still really really really… good. How many movies have you seen where you can recall how the opening sounds? (That sound of crackling vinyl and the smallest hint of classic music and then POW the Dust Brothers doing their crazy manic pumping 90s dance music thing).

That bit in the bar (Lou’s Tavern) tho – Tyler sitting across from Ed Norton. Drinking pitchers of beer. Discussing the state of the world and pontificating like a mad thing (“I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let… lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”) that bit made me cringe a little on the inside – I mean… even tho I agree with the sentiment – the way he kinda comes across he just seems a little bit like… an ass?

hair

You know – his red leather jacket, his hair, the frilly shirt and the artfully composed cigarette hanging off his lips… Holy shit – is Tyler Durden a hipster?

I remember being at uni, all of his sitting around a table chatting about stuff and one of my friends made a comment about how casting Brad Pitt as Tyler as like a contradiction in terms man (or as Jonathan has it: “it was a bit rich to have Brad Pitt snearing at male models.”) but I dunno – for me it works 100% all in: especially when that finally twist rolls around: where it turns out that the one railing against the adverts was in essence – just another advert himself (if a billboard could speak it would sound just like this: “All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”).

Does that mean Tyler Durden is just an advert for Tyler Durden? Just there to remind all of us Ed Norton’s how trapped we are? (FUN FACT! Brad Pitt got paid $17.5 million for playing Tyler Durden. Ed Norton got $2.5 million).

After they do the Raymond K. Hassel gun to the head scene (“The question, Raymond, is what did you want to be?”) Ed Norton is all like “You have to admit, it all made sense in a Tyler sorta way.” Altho I’m not quite sure I agree… Like: when they start giving all the Fight Clubbers homework and Project Mayhem starts to take shape – I’ve gotta admit I was a little hmmmmmm. Like: I can understand destroying stock of billion dollar corporations and even wiping the DVDs in Blockbusters kinda makes sense (you know: go out and enjoy your lives and stop watching films kinda thing) but some of the things they do just kinda makes them seem kinda like… douchebags?

did you know

Like: how does getting people to kill their lawn make the world into a better place? Or changing spikes around to slash people’s tires? Or smashing cars with baseball bats? Or turning a building into a smiley face? (Although I’ve gotta admit that did look kinda cool / reminded me of the Dark Knight poster…).

I mean: yeah I get it. It’s a movie. And so it doesn’t have time to go into the ins-and-outs of whatever. And articulating intelligent and empathetic responses to late stage Capitalism in short sharp bursts might be a little beyond what the movie has the time or the inclination to do. Plus: well – everything is about psychology right? (Movies especially so) So: the point is to reveal in the badness and the transgressing of the social norms etc (“Hehe aren’t we so naughty” etc) and yeah you know – the frisson of watching people do all the things that you never would (“I am free in all the ways that you are not.”) but then once again I’m asking myself: who is Tyler Durden? Is he just a bro? Stunting for the sake of it?

(“The first rule of Project Mayhem is you do not ask questions” is also the kinda thing that sends a shiver down my spine being that asking questions is all that I basically do plus also: I thought the whole point of Tyler Durden was to ask questions… You know: Capitalism and who does this system benefit and what are we being sold and all of that stuff…).

car

And that scene when they’re in the car hurtling down the motorway and Tyler does the whole taking the hands off the wheel thing and then severely castigates Ed Norton for being a fucking pussy about wanting him to actually hold the wheel I mean: ED NORTON IS IN THE RIGHT HERE. If your philosophy of life is that we should just drive cars without touching the wheel and our feet on the accelerator I mean yeah – I get how it seems really cool and everything (especially with that Dust Brothers track playing like a curled up leopard) but it’s actually pretty fucking moronic – you know? (Yes. You know).

So yeah: maybe Film Crit Hulk is right: that Tyler Durden is completely pointless and incoherent and doesn’t really stand for anything apart from Tyler Durden and yet and yet and yet…

I mean: shit. I think it’s fair to say that Fight Club changed my life. And I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. Because yeah – even tho it’s all scattershot and mean with the political attention span of a 5 year old: it’s still well – it’s still pointing in a direction that most films don’t tend to point towards… The idea that our entertainments are selling us a lifestyle that isn’t good for us, that maybe our system doesn’t work, that our jobs sanction death and misery and that maybe – just maybe – another world is possible?

the end

So yeah – maybe the film doesn’t have a point. But it still kinda points to one: you know?


FRANKIE
The Amazing Frankie
Twitter

I don’t think it’s fair to say Fight Club doesn’t have a point. Maybe it’s just not the point you’re looking for?

It’s not especially anti-capitalist. Tyler Durden and Project Mayhem aren’t against capitalism. They don’t like their place in it, but they could just as easily exist as subversives in a communist system.

It flirts with nihilism, but always rejects it.

I feel like the movie glosses over something that’s much more explicit in the novel.

It’s a love story.

The narrator is in love with Marla, but the only way he knows to connect with Marla is by becoming Tyler Durden. We can talk about toxic masculinity or whatever, but in the end, he did it all for the love of a woman.


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

It’s interesting that Joel mentions the Dark Knight because I think it’s clear that Christopher Nolan is a big Fincher fan. Indeed I am sure I am not the only person who thinks Heath Ledger’s Joker is a good a stand in for Tyler Durden’s agent of chaos.

the boys

“Their morals, their code; it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see- I’ll show you. When the chips are down these, uh, civilized people? They’ll eat each other. See I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.”

“Fuck off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns, I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let… lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”

Mmm, I kind of want some chips now you repeatedly mention it. So yeah I don’t think it’s a particularly amazing leap to connect Dark Knight Joker’s brand of social Darwinist liberation through terror to Tyler Durden – although Tyler’s meticulous plans to bring down civilisation are considerably more sophisticated than the Joker’s ridiculous exploding boat scheme. Indeed he is so far ahead of the Police that they refuse to question his orders even to him. He’s an excellent super-villain.

eyes

However there are two drawbacks which limit Tyler Durden’s impact – firstly of course he doesn’t exist. He’s not even a physically different side of someone like the Hulk or Mr Hyde. He’s at best Two Face’s erm other side of his face. Secondly despite being an asshole in some respects, as villains go he is actually too nice. He doesn’t kill anyone, not even close, he even uses blanks to threaten Raymond K Hessel! He saves Marla’s life (after the narrator head left her for dead) and looks after her despite his relationship with her threatening Project Mayhem; he empty’s the buildings he blows up; and all the crimes before that were largely pranks. So yes he’s a revolutionary leader with a lot in common that the Joker, but apart from punching a police commissioner and spitting blood at the owner of Lou’s tavern, he not that much of a badass. And of course while he was doing all these things his “conscience” Ed Norton endorses all these actions.

I am not saying this would necessarily be better (in fact I can already see a massive plot problem it would cause) but it feels like Fight Club never goes as dark as it could, and maybe there could have been a whole level of dramatic punch if Tyler crossed some actual ethical lines. As is suggested if the actual point of the story is love then of course the pay off for holding back is that there’s no story reason why he and Marla shouldn’t be together (although seriously would anyone advise her to stick around?) And I guess to some extent the narrator has to love Tyler – so much that he wants to be him – so maybe Tyler can’t kill anyone. That being said if Hollywood, or indeed Harrison Ford has shown us anything, you can love a guy who shoots people in cold blood. Regardless the choice means that while Fight Club makes hints at edginess it is actually fairly squeamish. Ironically it pulls its punches.

haven't

Weirdly, back in 2000 or so Empire Magazine named Fight Club as one of their must watch horror movies. Now this is ridiculous of course, and was presumably because they couldn’t think what other genre box it could happily live in but maybe it could have made it to “proper” horror in the third act, which as Joel says, is a bit of a let down. It would have been straightforward to have made Tyler feel like a real threat. Not only does Tyler knows everything that The Narrator knows but the entire service sector seems to be working for him, so unleashed he would have had an Agent Smith like ubiquity. Add to this a Jokeresque attitude where he kills people just as a prank, or with the revolutionary zeal of a man with a plan and the film could have built up some real menace. If the audience are worried that Tyler is a pitiless killer than suddenly just by having Marla and The Narrator in the same room is pure 80s slasher, her begging him not to fall asleep, as Project Mayhem kicks off out the window. Instead because he’s not prepared to kill people for his new world, it feels hard to take him seriously.


ILIA
The Gap between Panels
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages

The ambiguity Film Crit Hulk points to as a problem is for me encapsulated by two moments in the last 30 minutes of the film. The first is when Ed Norton’s narrator tries to stop Project Mayhem and is attacked by his acolytes, who try to castrate him. On a rewatch the scene loses some of its power, but when I first saw it the sense of panic at being cornered with no way out was palpable. For many young men swept up by Brad Pitt’s pronouncements, that moment serves as a bit of a wake-up call. It’s when your grand theory comes to almost literally bite you. If I was a better person, that moment should really have been earlier – when Meatloaf dies and Norton is the only one in the room who grieves like a normal person – everyone else woodenly accepts that his death was for a noble cause and deserves to be honoured.

Which is why all of the hand-wringing about how Fight Club unleashed a monster, and that it’s not critical enough (even tonally – which is what Hulk majors on) of Tyler Durden philosophy just feels weird to me. Brad Pitt is transparently the villain in the final fight with Ed Norton – Fincher shaves his head, makes him grin in this sinister way, and has him pummel our hapless hero into submission.

But then the ambiguity – because while I think the film successfully shifts your perspective on Brad Pitt, it remains the case that the final moment in the film, when the towers fall, is cathartic. Norton exorcises the demon on his shoulder, but that demon’s aims are accomplished. And that feeling also rehabilitates some of Durden’s criticisms of modern life as valid. Re-watching again as an adult I don’t actually find the description of Durden’s utopia particularly attractive – it’s a post-apocalyptic survivalist nightmare, where Nietzsche’s noble race remains to hunt elk, scale towers and lord it over the little people.

Wake up

And where there are no women. Perhaps the triumphalism at the end of the film isn’t about civilisation crumbling from our inherent contradictions but about our narrator growing up and discovering other people. Norton’s bathetic last line (“you met me at an interesting time in my life”) kind of suggests that the stuff happening outside the window is an accident – his neuroses running away from him. The fight clubs are male-only zones. Durden’s thesis is that men’s violent creative activity isn’t channeled into great wars and struggles but back onto themselves – “our war is a spiritual war, our depression is our lives”. Women seemingly don’t have this problem, except that Bonham Carter is just as messed up as Norton is – he just can’t get out of his own head to see it.

I think Clem separately raised the undeniably homoerotic nature of Norton and Pitt’s relationship. Given that Pitt is a figment of the imagination, this has a slight auto-erotic quality. In both cases there are some iffy ideas that flow from this, in that the fights almost become more disturbing proxies for casual sex or masturbation, deviations which are healed when heteronormativity is restored and a relationship blossoms between Norton and Bonham Carter in the last scene. Such a reading is unintended I’m sure, but Imo a brave remake would have Norton saving Jared Leto instead.

What jumped out at me upon rewatching this now is how the meta elements in the film (the cock-flash at the end, the direct address to camera, the outre special effects, showing the reel of the film as you’re watching it) emphasises the deception being pulled on the audience. This was brought home to me in the final climactic fight, where the camera keeps cutting to CCTV within the film – which shows what’s really happening. Everything else we see isn’t actually real. I mean it doesn’t even look real. Real abandoned houses don’t actually look like gothic cathedrals. Real Tyler Durdens don’t wear awesome jackets and have six-packs. We’re in the mind’s eye of Norton’s character (it’s no accident that the beginning credits sequence is a digital depiction of his brain and face). All of these meta elements are signals that emphasise that the film in general and Tyler Durden in particular is a massive lie.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

I’m not sure that I agree that Fight Club is a love story. Or well if it is: it’s not a particularly healthy one…

This should go without saying: but I fell in love with Marla Singer when I first saw Fight Club. I mean: I was a horny teenage boy – how could I not? She was funny, interesting, cynical and looked exactly like Helena Bonham Carter and it seems like she knew everything about everyone (“I saw you practicing this…”).

The thing I’m just very convinced about is – what’s the relationship between Marla and Ed Norton like? Especially – from his point of view. I mean at the start when we’re doing all the therapy groups and stuff – it seems very much like he’s not really a fan of her (“This chick Marla Singer did not have testicular cancer. She was a liar.”) and he seems genuinely glad to be rid of her and then – well – and then after that things get murky…The next we hear from her she’s on the telephone having just taken an overdose and the Ed Norton part of Ed Norton puts the phone down and leaves it there which well – doesn’t seem very nice? And ok yeah the Tyler Durden part goes over and rescues her and manages to save her life by erm: well – I think it might be my favourite cut of the movie…

MARLA
                 If I fall asleep, I'm done for.
                 You're gonna have to keep me up all
                 night.

     INT. KITCHEN - MORNING (RESUMING)

     Tyler chuckles, shakes his head.

And so then erm – they then have a relationship where Tyler “sport-fucks” her and then in the morning Ed Norton behaves like an arsehole. I mean: this barely needs to be said – but this doesn’t seem like a very healthy relationship from Marla’s point of view but the real tricky question is: when does Ed Norton fall in love with her? And you know – why? (Is it just because she looks exactly like Helena Bonham Carter?). Like: I kinda suspect that part of the reason why it seems like a love story is that all movies kinda train us to see all stories as love stories. And we know from repetition that the male lead will always end up with the attractive female co-star and yeah – that fabulous final shot kinda sells us in terms of the imagery even tho: well – I mean – after the buildings fall down and the credits finish and Where Is My Mind finally fades out: what the hell are Ed Norton and Marla Singer going to do? (“Erm – do you wanna go and get a bite to eat or something?”), What’s the line from Speed? “Relationships based on intense experiences never work.”


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

I used to think, up until this morning that I often want the bad guys to win in movies. But I realise I guess that good or bad I just want some sort of moral complexity. I’m not talking about Thanos who is not a sufficiently interesting bad guy – although damn his winning has meant that Infinity War is taking up valuable real estate in my head in a way that few movies have – but of course I was on the side of Kaiser Soze, Bane, Hans Gruber, Robert Deniro’s character in Heat. They were just cooler than the goodies who were largely whiny irritating killers themselves.

But I thought this morning about Fight Club and I guess the thing is that it’s poor class analysis to think about goodies and baddies. Hans Gruber, the thief in Heat, Kaiser Soze, maybe even Bane just wanted to be free from capitalism, to be sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent. Meanwhile the cops protecting the status quo will spend a month sifting through rubble, working out what went wrong.

This is why Fight Club is so cool, because the goody and baddie are the same person, because they both recognise the system is deeply flawed, indeed almost everyone in the movie does. The argument isn’t system versus status quo like almost every other film, it’s just about the personal sacrifices required to change the status quo – how far down the road of becoming a self-sacrificing foot-soldier of the revolution are you prepared to become?

angel
In Buffy the Vampire slayer she moans a lot about how she can’t be “normal” and the drama and comedy often derives from the conflict between the “real” world and slaying. Angel (the spin off series which is set in LA) doesn’t really delve into that and acknowledges early on that it’s too late to save the world because we already live in hell. The final series is kind of genius because Angel actually joins the evil law firm who represent the bad guys, with the final episodes centred around the banality of evil and seduction of power. It’s interesting to get under the hood of how the bad guys function on a quotidian level.

I guess this is kind of what the Godfather/Goodfellas films do where it forces you to understand the economic and social pressures on violent gangsters. Like it would be great to look into how the Cult of Cthulhu goes about their day to day business, what are the social and logistical pressures they have to deal with “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a faceless assassin for Yog-Soggoth.”

Yog-Soggoth
So while Project Mayhem is a bit of a let down, because it feels like an afterthought, it still builds a vaguely credible revolutionary army entirely from the point of view of a lonely insomniac insurance adjuster. Of course the struggle of the future won’t be alienation versus capital but well organised intergenerational warfare. Fight Club’s pranks will seem quaint in a few years when Generation Z rightly turn on us. These “glow eyed psychopaths who play murder simulators all day” are already way past Fight Club.


CLEM
Twitter

All of the following are what I think about Fight Club and jostle for space in my brain.

  • I think its a great, thought-provoking, visceral movie. It’s very funny, exciting to watch and has an incredible twist. It’s beautifully shot, and very, very cool.

  • When I saw it for the first time when I was 17, I didn’t get that it was a satire.

  • It’s a favourite film of some people who think by virtue of my sex organs, I’m inferior. They definitely don’t think it’s a satire.

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/paeg89/how-fight-club-became-the-ultimate-handbook-for-mens-rights-activists

See this YouTube thread for less extreme hatred:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi9ivZL7vmA

There’s a whole load of lost, unhappy men – very sadly, lots of people who prey on them use fascist appeals, and massively mysogynistic ones. And they quote Fight Club a lot. “You are not a special snowflake” is quoted by the rightwing a lot, and it’s odd they’re quoting Tyler Durden without really contextualising that.

Now, we can’t burn everything to the ground just because hateful people are dickheads but it’s good to acknowledge how easily people can misread Fight Club. There’s no point debating intentionality but I think there’s an interesting question about artistic responsibility.

BIG CAVEAT: This is my personal view for what I want to make, not for banning/censorship/what art should be. I think the more politically relevant/inflammmatory the subject matter, the more ambiguity is irresponsible because propaganda works on everyone, even clever people.

Starship Troopers I think gets around this by embracing that it is a propaganda film, and that propaganda/fascism is inherently seductive, even if you are very smart, that’s one of the reason’s its so dangerous. I don’t think Fight Club quite grapples with how seductive it makes Tyler. Or maybe it does.

topless brad

My very cynical view is that this ambiguity is deliberate and for money. Fight Club appeals to those who get that its a satire and enjoy that feeling and those who don’t. Ambiguity around these issues lets you appeal to the left and the right, and make more money.

Fight Club has sold 13m DVDs.

  • Fight Club structurally makes a point about vulnerability at the start and then gets carried away with how fun nihilistic destruction is, tacking on something about how women are the answer, even though you don’t like them. This is basically Film Crit Hulk’s argument, but I’ll expand a little.

    • Jack can’t sleep, he goes to support groups to feel less shit about his life. The dialogue is sneering contemptuous about men crying (“bitch tits”)- you can argue this is in line with the character, and not the view of the film. Depiction isn’t endorsement, but, see above for those who get a bit confused with devastating consequences for half the world.

    • It starts to work, he finds his spirit animal (still withering contempt though) – his spirit animal seems to be Marla, and then his apartment blows up.

    • He explicitly has a choice and calls Marla, and then goes off with Tyler instead.

    • Cue nihilistic sexy Tyler fun, joining a fascist cult, some minor vandalism and Jared Leto

    • Trying to fix Project Mayhem

    • At the very end, you kill your dark side and marry a woman you don’t seem to like very much. WHAT A LOVELY TREAT FOR MARLA, SHE CAN DEFINITELY DO BETTER.

So I guess this is a solution to vulnerability, although it seems to assume inherently men can’t be vulnerable, which I disagree with, and is one of the major issues politically we’re grappling with. But again, this could be made much more deliberately clear, and given Fincher’s reputation for detail, it’s a odd choice.

From Marla’s POV of course, the twist means she never got to have sex with Brad Pitt when he looks like this.

topless brad

  • So why else might you not want to marry women, and who else might want to have sex with Brad Pitt when he looks like this, assuming you’re not a woman? Yep, time for the queer reading of Fight Club which is very near the surface. Evidence:

    • What Brad Pitt looks like. I mean, my god. I won’t repost the picture. Oh, yes I will

topless brad

    • On their first real date, they talk about how they don’t love their dads, and then, er, fight. Afterwards they have a cigarette and suggest they do that again sometime.

      • Dialogue like “we’re both virgins” “about what you’re both capable of doing against another man” “flat hard packing sounds”

      • Lines from the script like “their eyes are glazed with endorphin-induced serenity” after they’ve had a fight which is about as post-coital as you can get.

    • All the sexy violence as shirtless, somewhat toned men hurt each other.

    • The narrator has acute mentionitis of Tyler, he is massively into him.

      • They move in together very early.

    • The narrator is very jealous of Jared Leto even speaking to Tyler and his pretty face so he destroys it.

I mean, it’s all very Mean Girls. Which, ahem, is about realising you are capable of being as shitty as those who oppress you, and then choosing not to. Let’s add it to the list!

Yeah. I’m still thinking about the “point” of Fight Club… But meaning is a funny thing right?

Of course you can make the point if you want about how it’s just a film for bros and Tyler Durden is a bit of an ass… (see above) but when I did my little rewatch I was kinda struck by other things…

I’m not sure that I understand when people say that Fight Club is a satire (if it is then – erm: what exactly is it satirizing? Thinkinface.emoji) but I do like how – kinda porous is it?

Speaking as a 30-something disaffected man I’ll admit that the idea of pretended to have a life-ending disease and going to a support groups and/or taking part in an underground Fight Club and doing some masculine bare-chested punching both hold a strange pull over me: not to mention taking part in a Project Mayhem style rebellion that ends up toppling the Capitalist system… But I guess it all depends on how you think about it and how you translate those meanings and de-code them. Because yeah – I wouldn’t actually go to a support group or join a Fight Club or do any Project Mayhem smashing but I have recently been doing things that come from the same kinda place…

There’s a Philosophy Club that meets every other Monday that I’ve been trying about which has actually been pretty interesting, on Tuesday I went to a local Labour party meeting and on the weekend I’ve been handing out flyers for the UberEats strike that’s happening today plus – at the risk of sounding like a complete and total cliche: I’m started doing yoga too (yeah yeah I know I know – shut up already): and well yeah – I don’t know if this is a stretch too far but watching Fight Club I was like: oh wow – maybe it’s one of the those things that taught me those lessons long ago?

You know – how basically it’s not very good to be vegging out in front of a screen like a mindless passive consumer.. like well: this guy:

couch

(I think this might be my favourite shot of the film).

And you know it’s better to:

1. Go out and find other like-minded people.
2. To talk about your problems.
3. To do regular exercise.
4. Take part in local groups that make a positive difference to society

Like: I can say honestly with zero bullshit that I think that these are things that Fight Club has taught me. And you know – I’m grateful to it. And yeah yeah ok: you can say it’s toxic masculinity or whatever – but that just presupposes that things only have one meaning and well: that’s not something that I believe (and you’re wrong – sorry!).

I mean: also I think Fight Club talks about the important of touch quite a lot too (when those two guys hug after that fight and Ed is all like “When the fight was over, nothing was solved, but nothing mattered. We all felt saved.”): which yeah makes me think that maybe fighting would be a step better yoga maybe: but it’s still a displacement perhaps? There was a cool article I read on the internet a while ago (I can’t find it now damnit) that talked about how our society teaches men not to touch so much to the point that basically the only safe outlet is horseplay and fighting and all of that – which yeah: you know I can relate to a lot. Back when I had a girlfriend I used to love to hug her and touch her a lot and now – well – I don’t really have that and it is something I miss – but yeah: healthy and socially-acceptable ways of having an outlet for that are few and far between (oh well – sadface.emoji).

But yeah again that final shot – what can I say? Even with all that stuff I said before about how their relationship is obviously obviously completely doomed – it’s still pretty kinda powerful you know? As an advertisement for well: something that seems quite cool.

the end

So fight club.

I feel like growing up is accepting that fight club is an incredible, era defining work – just maybe not the be and all end all achievement of cinema/the end of capitalism courtesy of 20th century fox.

Joel made a great point that we cant even choose the dream that fight club rejects. In the long run, Fight Club didn’t blow up consumer capitalism the way teenage nihilists hoped it would. It didn’t even stop consumerism overrunning popular culture. What it did do, was offer the last nail in the coffin for baby boomer aspiration (when it was still a choice) and offer anyone who watched it a blueprint for the cost and reward of a transgressive act.

Even the ending of Fight Club has been aged out by it’s successors. Durden’s plan to wipe the debt to zero was seen through in Mr Robot – only for the banks to come back the next season and say “we have no records – so we have no record that you’ve ever paid – we’re taking your house”. What hasn’t aged is that exploration of holding to an individual perspective in the face of society, which inherently pushes for standardised behaviour.

drink

“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight”

– is an ageless line. It’s the heart of the film. It’s about transgressing the social contract and it’s what makes the film ageless.

How well do you know yourself if you’ve never broken the social contract? How much do you know about yourself if you’ve never done a willfully transgressive, primal act? At it’s ageless core, this is Fight Club to me – the emotional cost and consequence of rejecting a norm everyone else is fine with.

True, appreciating Fight Club, has become a deeply debatable thing. What is it to enjoy this film? A faux transgressive act that we paid for and with it bolstered a Rupert Bloody Murdoch financial statement? But then – is enjoying it any different than enjoying the couch gag in The Simpsons where homer tears off the fox logo and stomps on it? Maybe we all just pirate it and pat ourselves on the back?

fox

That’s the film though isnt it? Its you paying Hollywood to watch Hollywood tell you that Hollywood is stupid so you ignore how stupid your being by thinking your clever about fight club. (Which this piece is an extension of…). Is it an Orson Welles piece of rebellion that expertly survived the studio system or is it intellectual property anarchists buying V for Vendetta masks from Warner Bros?

Weirdly Jonathan, Id been thinking along similar lines to you about Brad pitt. Theres a beautiful irony in him as Tyler Durden. Its as beautifully absurd as a Damien Hirst sale. The ultimate in conventionally attractive, the definition of the modern Hollywood hunk – presented and happily accepted by consumers as the unquestioned leader of rejecting consumerist ideology, bitching out the Calvin Klein models he spends no small efforts maintaining a similar standard to.

But then I wonder – when we talk about Fight Club, for the most part, people talk about the Ikea furniture monologue, the Manson-esque charisma of Tyler and the debt wipe plan at the end. We forget a major part. We forgetting the shocking horror of being wrapped up in Tyler Durden’s world and the desperate means needed to escape it. Durden’s world is a slavishly organised militia hellbent on the goal of anarchy. It all takes place in a forgotten hell hole house, a deeply likeable man is killed and buried in the midst of a botched operation and Jack eventually destroys the whole thing. The latter half of the film dedicates itself to stretching out the Durden brand of anarchy to a terrible place. I guess that ties in a bit with what Clementine is saying – there’s a “bro” culture that’s emerged around appreciating the film and it’s so called idea, none of it really reckoning with the cultish horror of Durden’s anarchist militia.

I guess why the film resonates goes deeper. Its a story about a man dissastisfied with the cult of consumerism realising that he’s trading it for a new and equally fucked up one. Maybe the ending is just saying – think your thoughts and be yourself. It’s important that the film ends on Jack finally talking to Marla in an open communicative way. No bullshit. Just “You met me at a very strange time in my life” as the buildings go down and the Pixies play (you know that 90s band that built a major cult following).

Marla in a way – is the ideal of Fight Club. She’s introduced as horrible and unlikable – but as it goes on, it reveals From frame 1, she stands beyond the norms and initially she’s terrifying, because we’re terrified of transcending norms – but by the end of the story, by the time the bullet passes the cheek – we love her, because at a core level, we’ve gotten the lesson about individual identity in the homogeneous cultural demands of society. Marla always thinks on her own terms, she doesn’t lie and she doesn’t feel the need to conform – and she’s happy like that – and eventually so are we.

marla

It’s important that the most weighted beats of the film are – the first fight, the scarring by Durden, the motor car scene, the gun shot victory. All of them difficult, all of them violent, all of them honest – all of them essential in the character journey. It’s the redemptive violence of transgressive acts. How seismic and difficult it is to be honest about who you are and what you need when society needs us to fit pre-ordained slots.

I mean, it takes a death threat for that poor guy to become a vet.

Fight Club is absolutely a satire of consumerism and a hilarious, knowing one at that. But it resonates past the inescapable hypocrisy of a 20th Century Fox film telling you that “you bought this, you’re a clever boy” by it’s arc, emotionally being about what it takes, and what happens when you trust yourself above the bullshit jumble sale that the social contract expects you to accept wholesale.

Actually, this is all monstrously overrated.

Fight club is powerful because it’s about individualism, not in a neo-liberal sense, but in a genuine, unflinching and interrogative manner about what it takes to think for yourself when we exist in a system that wants us to never talk about Fight Club – and Fincher and Palahnuick put that feeling in a lightning plot bottle.

If we were in Karl Marx land and FC came out – Brad Pitt would be persuading us to define ourselves by Ikea Furniture and stolen fat – but we’d still learn why we need to be able to tell everything where to go.

I still don’t get how Fight Club is supposed to be a satire (!?). Maybe someone could explain it for me? Bit by bit?

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement.

So what exactly is it that is being ridiculed? Consumerism? But erm – Tyler Durden saying “everything is shit blah blah and check out my lovely hair and bare manly chest” is hardly ridiculing it. It’s just a straight up critique (dressed up in lovely clothes).

Like (best example): Airplane! is a satire because it’s satirizing the genre of airplane disaster films (oooh: should we do Airplane! as a Film Club film?): and the type of humour it uses is vastly difference to anything in Fight Club because well: it’s ridiculous and way less realistic… Although like: if you want to go out on a limb then maybe you should say something like Starship Troopers is a satire of America’s Fascist tenancies (which are obviously a lot more pronounced now than they used to be – oh dear): but again it’s the ridiculously and the fact that you’re not really supposed to be taking it seriously…

afraid

And well yeah: Fight Club is darkly humorous of course: but (for this viewer at least) it’s pretty serious in it’s convictions…. Maybe you think blowing up buildings and wiping out the debt is a silly idea that no one could ever think is realistic in which case: well – I’d say we’d have to agree to disagree?

There’s been so much good stuff that’s been written by lots of different people on this thread and damn I wish I had time to reply to everyone and pick up every cool point that’s been made but just briefly: I think Ilia’s comment that “Brad Pitt is transparently the villain in the final fight with Ed Norton – Fincher shaves his head, makes him grin in this sinister way, and has him pummel our hapless hero into submission” is a little wide of the mark… Like: I get that Tyler gets a little bit more sinister towards the end (he literally swaps his rose-tinted specs for darker ones) but I’m not convinced that he goes full blown bad-guy… I mean: he’s literally a part of the protagonist which means that the final fight is less someone fighting an evil outside agent and more: well – fighting themselves. And yeah: again maybe this says too much about me – but I find it hard to reject Tyler’s philosophy and stated aims… It’s interesting actually comparing Tyler to Erik Killmonger from Black Panther. For me – Tyler always stays in the realm of “well actually: I see where’s coming from.” while Killmonger starts off from the same kinda place (everything he says and does makes sense) so of course halfway through – he has to kill an old lady (for erm: some reason? Or something?) just so everyone watching at home knows that he is unambiguously the bad guy (Black Panther would have been a much more interesting movie for me if they’d taken that part out: but then maybe that’s the point etc).

Also: the idea that Tyler Durden is a “massive lie” hmmmmm I say and hmmmmm again. I mean: I think the twist of the whole film in all of it’s fourth wall breaking and pointing out the cigarette burns on the screen is all about elevating Tyler Durden to the point where he’s almost a movie character that’s aware that he’s a character in a movie: which means that yeah ok – he’s a lie but (ho ho ho) he’s a lie that’s aware that he’s a lie: which might not sound like much – but I’d argue is way preferable to lies without that degree of self-consciousness…. And you know in terms of my own tastes: the films which have the meta-elements and are most up front in terms of their cinematic-ness are the ones that feel the most true.

huh

Quiet you.

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