And I’m Just Now Waking Up

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So this realization just hit me like Brad Pitt’s imaginary fist and I had to share it with the word. Both American Beauty and Fight Club follow nearly the same formula, hit the same plot points and have many parallel characters, yet (both being EXCELLENT films) manage to tell wildly different stories. !!!SPOILERS FOR BOTH MOVIES FOLLOW!!!

American Beauty And Fight Club Are The Same Movie

We meet a guy in corporate hell, he hates his life, he hates his job, he searches for meaning in the ideal of the American consumerist dream, but finds nothing there of substance. Just as he hits his breaking point he meets someone (real or imagined) who opens his eyes to his own bullshit. He has a meeting with his boss, almost gets fired, then blackmails his boss for a year’s salary. Free to live on his own terms, he does just that. He strips away the trappings of his old life and begins to pursue joy, meaning, purpose, etc. He turns himself into the person he’s always wanted to be. He starts to see the version of himself he sees on the inside out in the real world (more so in one of their cases). By throwing himself into his new journey, he loses touch with caring for the wellbeing of the other real people in his life. Realizing it or not, he gets in over his head with this new found clarity, get “killed,” THEN has an actual moment of clarity post “death” where he realizes his old life wasn’t as pointless as he’d come to believe, and his new life wasn’t the perfect answer to all of his problems that he’d thought it was. Then a Pixies song plays. Or it doesn’t.

Several people on twitter pointed out that Office Space fits into this theme as well. I’d say it’s a CLOSE match. Maybe 75% of the themes translate between Office Space and the other two. I would also argue that all three of these movies are perfect. I ALSO want to point out that all three of these movies came out in 1999, the year I graduated high school. The year I moved away from home and took control of my own life. What was it about the climate in America in 1999 that was so focused on “WE ARE LIVING A CORPORATE BULLSHIT FAKE FAMILY KEEPING UP APPEARANCES LIE?” I guess it’s because we sort of were.

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43 Comments

  1. Man, your art style has really gotten more polished – subtle things like the light from Eli's monitor and the minor (but intricate) details on the walls in the backgrounds all look great!

    • I know! That's pretty fantastic. I think it's Vince Vaughn's character who actually wears the Tyler Durden jacket.

    • Heeeeeeyyyyyy, I've seen that in a Cracked article. The one about movies that remake or adapt other movies by accident, like Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl more or less copied Secret of Monkey Island. And Black Swan adapted an anime called Perfect Blue.

  2. i remember watching "fight club" and "the talented mr. ripley", one after the other, and my takeaway from that double feature is that it's veeeery important to be true to yourself, because living a lie is awful and does not end well and someone will probably die.

  3. More interesting facts. In 1999 the writers and directors of these movies were:

    Mike Judge, Directed and wrote Office Space – 37 years old

    David Fincher, Directed Fight Club – 37
    Chuck Palahniuk, Wrote Fight Club – 37

    Sam Mendes, American Beauty – 34
    Alan Ball, Wrote American Beauty – 42

    • That's very revealing. Almost like a study on, "What EXACTLY were this age group of men feeling the worst about at this time in America?"

    • Holy Cow! I was about that age in when those movies were out. I really identified with them. The Matrix also.

  4. Mmm, I think the fact that all of these movies came out in 1999, at the peak of American post-Cold War giddy happiness, before the Tech Bubble crash, before 9/11, merely means that human beings cannot handle too much contentment, and must manufacture bullshit reasons to feel miserable to maintain their self-image. This also ties into why men have crises of self-identity at their peak of familial and economic success, AKA the "mid-life crisis".

    • My best friend in Highschool's dad just hopped up one day when we were 15, and was like "FUCK THIS SHIT, IM OUT!" and moved out of the suburbs into a shitty apartment and worked on restoring a muscle car. I think he was back within a year.

    • Haha, good thing those days are over, haha…ha…ha…

      Oh god, life is a miserable limbo from whcih there is no awakening

      • On the plus side, there's some actual adversity to overcome now. The kind of non-crises these movies had would make you look like a wanker in real life.

  5. Wow, that did twist my brain. Also in the 90's was Falling Down and The Game which both feature the theme of "we're living bulshit lives" (and Michael Douglas) though presented in very different ways. In the first one the corporate drone snaps and goes on a killing spree. In the second a corporate executive has his "bullshit life" illusions forcably stripped away by his well meaning brother over the course of a mind-fuck of a "game”.

    And we might as well throw Leaving Las Vegas in there, which can be thought of as a possible alternate ending to American Beauty if Kevin Spacey's character hadn't been murdered and instead his wife divorces him, takes the kids, and forces the sale of his house. So with no job, no family and no place to live he decides "fuck it all" and goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and *spoiler alert?* a hooker falls in love with him, but can't save him.

    All of these films point out a problem (corporate drone life sucks) and several of them point out that the alternatives aren't great (killing spree, violent psychotic break, getting murdered by a neighbor, death via alcoholism) but none of them propose a good answer.

    Probably because "found a way to make a living doing what they love (like webcomics)" isn't seen by Hollywood as blockbuster material.

    • There was a bleakness to it all. Certainly no answer was given other than "then you die." A very realistic approach to all of life's problems, though. "Don't worry. Eventually you'll all be dead."

      I haven't seen The Game. Sounds like I should.

      • It's been a while (over 20 years? wtf, I should probably see it again) but I remember quite enjoying it and being disappointed that it hadn't done better in the theaters. Apparently it's rather polarizing, depending I think on ones suspension of disbelief; people who have trouble with plausibility seem to get upset with it. Funny that some people who can accept a superhero can fly or people can travel through time will balk at this film with "what if he'd gone the other direction?" type arguments without being able to accept "then the game would have changed" as an answer. As if the game was completely fixed from the start rather than guiding but fluidly reacting to the players actions.

        Anyway the usual caveat applies, "your milage may vary".

  6. Everyone lives bullshit lives, the only difference between now and before is that the post-baby boomer generations have enough energy and free time to ponder how miserable their existance is. Before that, people were so physically and emotionally exhausted by their slave labor jobs that they didnt exactly feel like sitting around thinking about their situation even more.

  7. I don't mean to sound like a know it all here, but I've always known those two movies are the same movie. I actually have to concentrate to remember which one is which sometimes. As for the "corporate drone life sucks" sub-genre, dig into anime and you will find so many more versions of that same basic theme. Not really the most common stuff, but if you dig a bit deeper into anime, the "life of a salary-man" gets quite a bit of coverage.

  8. Maybe someone should do a mash-up of the two films and post it on YouTube as "American Fight Beauty Club" (which sounds like an anime title). Who doesn't want to see Brad Pitt contemplate the beauty of a flying plastic bag while rose petals fly out of Meat Loaf's giant tits?

  9. In addition to the others already mentioned, "The Matrix" sort of obliquely falls into the same general category of a film where the main character "wakes up" to see the bullshit all around him or her.

    I observed this trend in contemporary films at the time, thinking I was onto something, but a friend of mine pointed out that this theme has been around a long time, as evidenced by Melville's "Bartelby the Scrivener".

  10. Weird Science is Cat in the Hat

    No really think about it magic being comes into the lives of two ppl whos lives sucks messes there house up forces them to stand up for themselfs then cleans the hose up and leaves

  11. Interesting side note: Watch Lana Wachowski's acceptance speech for the HRC visibility award then rewatch the Matrix. You will have whole new meaning to the movie when you realize that Lana was still living as Larry. Living two lives, one with a future and one without.

    Video of award speech (awesome, all by itself). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crHHycz7T_c

  12. you could start a whole website, picking out the various themes, and finding which ones are recylced….

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