What do the movies Fight Club, The Matrix, and Office Space have in common? Two things, actually: They all came out in 1999, and they all offer possible responses to what many people perceived as the soul-killing materialism of 1990s corporate culture. I watched Fight Club for the first time tonight, and the other two movies quickly popped into my mind. They all start out with an easily recognizable Average Guy who is slowly–or quickly–dying on the inside as a result of his meaningless job in a company where everybody wears ugly ties and works in a cubicle. Then comes the inciting incident, widely differing though it may be in each of these movies, and then a spiraling series of chaotic events that bring into vivid life that Goo Goo Dolls line (written in 1998) that says “you bleed just to know you’re alive.” In Fight Club, the blood is quite literal, whereas The Matrix is strangely bloodless for an action movie, and in Office Space the violence is displaced onto a copy machine. (The most violent scene of that movie is also the funniest.) But they’re all about angry men trying to figure out what they’re angry at.
I used the word “men” deliberately. Women are mostly peripheral in all three of these films, even though each has a token female “main” character. They are all three about men admiring, envying, conspiring with, competing with, and beating the crap out of other men…and The Man. I find it a bit troubling that women seem so extraneous and expendable in these worlds, but then again, I’m not sure if I, as a woman, would want to be part of them. I’m content to be a fascinated and sometimes repelled onlooker.
Of the three movies, The Matrix is easily my least favorite, not only because, as I mentioned above, the violence is unconvincing (not that I’m a fan of violence for its own sake, but if you’re going to put it in a movie, it should look and feel real), but also because humor is important to me, and The Matrix takes itself way too seriously. Still, I think you need all three of these films to get a comprehensive picture of how male filmmakers tried to respond to the 90s at the end of the 90s.
Now it’s your turn to chime in: Have I been inaccurate in my recollections of The Matrix or Office Space? (It’s been about a year since I saw either of them.) Can you think of any other parallels among the three movies? Am I missing any movies that could fit into this paradigm? Let me know what you’re thinking.