American Beauty Vs. Fight Club
The year 1999 was a milestone and turning point in film history. Cinema attendance was up mostly at multi-screen cineplex complexes around the country. Including David Fincher’s dark satire on manhood, Fight Club (1999) and Sam Mendes’ suburban satire American Beauty (1999). Both movies played an important role in the film history. Making it one of the highest revenue contributors of the year 1999. With an upbringing performance of reality versus illusion.
On the surface, American Beauty embraces the idea of a dysfunctional suburban family trapped in societal pressures in order to become successful. Whereas, the protagonist Lester Burnham realizes how illusionary his life is. The film depicts each of the characters’ inner worlds then revealing their confining reality. As it seen throughout the movie each of the characters’ are driven to find salvation towards their own motivations. This portrayal depicts that their lives are filled with empty rituals where it becomes hard to separate among reality or illusion. Which makes the protagonist to create his own illusion of beauty. Turns into a fixation towards his daughter’s friend Angela. Whereas, his wife is oblivious to all this, chasing her only concern of being successful. The main plot conveys that their illusion is actually an alternative lifestyle to their oppressed and decayed life. Which also counters with the movie Fight Club by David Fincher. Fight Club depicted a significant role in many aspects of cinematography in the year 1999. The movie starts with a daring opening shot that was unable to conceive before 1999. Adding up to its violent nature Fincher knew how to provoke the audience. After being released, Fight Club has tanked in the box office later on becoming number 10 on IMDb’s “Top 250” best movie list. Fight Club was one of the most controversial films of the 1990s. The movie was recognized as an innovator in cinematic form and style since it exploited new developments in filmmaking history. Following Fight Club’s release, several fight clubs were reported to have started in the United States (Wikipedia). Adding it up to its abrasive and daring story left viewers appalled due to its complex ideology towards anti-consumerism. The underlying themes of rebellion markedly affected the viewers point of view against violence depicted in this movie. The visuals of Fight Club matches with the caustic theme of the movie. This movie is another example of reality is an illusion. The protagonist Tyler Durden is seen being stuck in his subconscious mind where he’s “never really asleep, but never really awake.” Which contributes to the schizophrenic nature of the protagonist portraying his degenerate life. To catch a glimpse of an idea of both the movies, the usage of the ideology draws the audiences’ attention. Both stories involve the protagonists achieving the American dream representing their so called reality. While the ideology crumbles them to ultimately seek a meaningful and purposeful existence in today’s worldly beliefs. In terms of premise these two movies could be similar yet, its distinctly visible how they use to vent their frustration.
As, both the movies are an aesthetic achievement, the formal elements of the these movies what makes them unique. For instance, American Beauty is an example of how directors can use these artistic tools to form certain themes and messages without needing explicit dialogue. Such as, the mise-en-scene show us the protagonist being stuck in a routine life cycle. Where its clearly stated in one of the first shots where the camera slowly tracks towards him giving a sense that he is actually trapped in this refined white picket fenced house. The scenes tend to have a slow mosey flow including the narration. Professedly conveying how repetitious and dull their lifestyle has become. Mendes had something truly important to illustrate in this movie through imagery. The movie exactly pinpoints the issues with just “existing” and people must find their own satisfaction in things that are intangible. On the other hand, Fight Club uses harsh lighting and darker colors to help portray the theme of the movie. To take a closer look of the formal elements being displayed, Fight Club actually uses predominantly low-key lighting. Narrator’s mental illness is represented by a higher placed lighting creating an illusion of him being two dimensional relating his condition. In addition, the narrators’ costume is shown as having a lavish wardrobe, indicates how he embraces consumerism and materialism. Moreover, the director uses the elements of the camera and the music to recreate a schizophrenic effect.
This movie had an disturbing effect to many of the viewers. Especially, the scene where the narrator Tyler Durden starts beating himself, the camera was placed beneath the main character making him appear larger to give the audience a more realistic approach in a disturbing way. While filming his so called reality over illusion the lighting seems to be more neutral and softer portraying his miserable degenerate life. Which is very contrasting with his illusionistic half dream world the lighting tends to get very intense and realistic making the audience question that his illusion is the actual reality. Due to its violent and brilliant nature this movie is an interesting example of how a film can impact the audience directly. One of the funniest aspects of the movie is that the narrator is obsessed with someone who does not exist. Which can be portrayed as his way of salvation, similarly seen in American Beauty’s Lester Burnham’s fixation towards another character which existed yet, exaggerated. It was a material of his subconscious mind. Fight Club carries significant messages through realistic shots of the illusions represented as the so called reality. Some punchlines from the movie aligns with the miserable narration of the protagonists’ humdrum life. Such as, “destroy everything you own”, ” you don’t want what you own to end up owning you?” (Columbia). These self-actualization anarchist lines can resonate much like the theme of the American Beauty where we see Lester trying to avoid the materialistic feature of his wife.
Arguably, these movies could be similar in premise yet, they resonate with a bigger picture of the united states’ situation in the nineties. Especially, Tyler’s Project Mayhem is a direct approach to the materialistic existence in America. The figurative demolition of the buildings mirror the figurative decimation of the financial system. Which makes Fight Club’s revolution seem too extreme however, the movie metastasized into real life 21st century America. These movies serve as a paradigm for American culture by presenting a contemporary perspective of what it means to be fulfilled in life and avoid the materialistic nature of the current era.
As these films suggest, achieving societal norms or conformity is not the best solution sometimes and that trying to find salvation is the real key to enlightenment and happiness. Even though, these movies didn’t have a particularly happy ending -overall, they helped to spread a universally conventional message through imagery and other artistic tools. What Mendes and Fincher was actually trying to portray was to find the beauty in the world by prioritizing your life first. Fight Club was probably one of the first story taken towards representation of an oppressing society in the last segment of the 20th century. It is a critique towards post-modern society, which is based on the reassuring deception of achieving the American dream- in this case the so called reality. But reality was only an illusion that was created to form a counterfeit happiness for people, so they could grasp the accustomed way of living. In this case, this two 1999 production movies showed a tale of liberation cultivating that one cannot achieve real happiness by applying all the cultural norms in their distinct ways.