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When The Party's Over: An Interview with Neve Campbell

Fighting Words: An interview with Fight Club director David Fincher

Michael Moses

In the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy, the Senate passed legislation on the "Juvenile Crime Bill," an amendment that investigates the creative policies and advertising practices of film studios, record companies and video game manufacturers. The purpose of the bill is to determine whether violence is deliberately being used as a marketing hook to bait teenagers. Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a cosponsor of the amendment said, "There's no question there are some in Hollywood who are exploiting urges in young people with ultraviolent images. Those people need to step forward to reduce inappropriate violence." Note to Senator Hatch: perhaps you should avoid Fight Club.

The nihilistic film, which Rolling Stone has already called "an American classic," is about a disenfranchised group of young men who form an underground ring of fight clubs as a reaction against capitalism and conformity. Industry trade The Hollywood Reporter recently surveyed audience members following a screening of the film and apparently many of them felt it was morally bankrupt. According to the article, several theatergoers called the Fight Club "socially irresponsible," saying that it couldn't come at a worse time for Hollywood, which has been labeled the villain in the Littleton massacre. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, David Fincher, the film's director said, "I honestly don't get what the big deal is. I've always thought people would think the film was funny. Maybe I have a different take on funny."

Fincher's always had a warped filter on society: in 1992, while competing studios were releasing bright, colorful pictures like Babe, Toy Story and Pocahontas, Fincher made a killing with Seven. Seven was a not-for-the-faint-of-heart film about two detectives (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) on the trail of a perverted serial killer (Kevin Spacey). Ignoring Hollywood's hit factory formula of happy endings and uncomplicated characters, Fincher crawled under our skin with a dark and disturbing tale of human depravity and suspense.

Perhaps the strongest argument in Fight Club's behalf, though, comes from one of its stars, Ed Norton. "Art has always reflected society," he recently said. "Art doesn't invent violence." All the talk about Fight Club revolves around the film's extreme use of violence...
David Fincher: (Cutting in) The movie is not that violent. There are ideas in the movie that are scary, but the film isn't about violence, the glorification of violence or the embracing of violence. In the movie, violence is a metaphor for feeling. It's a film about the problems or requirements involved with being masculine in today's society. Ed Norton plays a guy in a rut, a guy who has grown up with ideas that were not his. His parents instilled all the typical beliefs in him: wear the right clothes, get a job, a nice house, start a family and make sure you fit in. At age 30, he's bought all the right stuff, but feels completely empty and out of touch with his anger. He's lived sort of an "Ikea existence" and he feels misled. Brad Pitt's character represents every idea--good, bad or indifferent--about what masculinity is. He tells Norton that "Pain is one of our great and memorable experiences of life," and that if we don't understand what it means to be hurt, then how do we understand when we've overcome our fears? They form Fight Club not to win, but to fight and to feel. What do you think about the government's stance toward violence in entertainment?
DF: Violence shouldn't be presented as drama. I think people looking for an easy way out often write scenes where characters come into violent conflict as opposed to looking for the true drama in the situation. That's a shortcoming of a lot of films and television shows. I think certain presentations of violence are not immoral, but amoral. For example?
DF: Well, I find it amoral if you're making a movie where the problem is solved with a guy standing in the back of pickup truck firing a machine at the bad guys. The morality of it is questionable because the repercussions of violence are incredibly far-reaching. Obviously, the grotesque extreme of Columbine is a blight on the report card of mankind. It's not just about movies or video games. There's a real social significance when teenagers say "I'm willing to give up my life to make this kind of statement" that goes way beyond... Manson.
DF: Exactly. And it doesn't get washed away by maudlin footage of kids weeping and leaving mounds of rocks in the snow. It's truly a tragedy, one that will be with us for years and years. You once said, "I'm always interested in movies that scar."
DF: I was very young when I said that, but I do like movies that take a toll on the audience. I want to work the subconscious. I want to involve you in ways in which you might not necessarily want to get involved. I want to play off those things that you're expecting to get when the lights go down and the 20th Century Fox logo comes up. There's an audience expectation and I'm interested in how movies play with--and off--that expectation. That's what I'm interested in.

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