/ media

The Problem with Palahniuk

Such a plague, motion pictures.

Oh sure, movies are capable of portraying the fantastic. From the ethereal grain of film to the crisp edges of a computer animation, massive explosions to brilliant sunsets, wheat-fields to parking-lots, we get war & peace. Passion & ambivalence. (And sex, of course.) Hollywood et al. have taken all manner of stories and boiled them down into—on average—one hundred and three minutes of images and sound, perfect for human consumption. They use the medium of film to deliver these images and sound to a paying public, and we line up and pay and watch.

As entertaining as they can be, and as amazing as the effects have become, there’s one fundamental flaw in film. You can’t use film to trump what our imaginations do with a maniac’s story.

I saw that “Fight Club” a couple years ago. Not impressed. Seemed over the top, and besides, I think Brad Pitt’s best work was in “Kalifornia” (yes, it’s spelled with a K), opposite David Duchovny and of course Juliette Lewis as the trailer-park trash character Adele Corners. The scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton knocks the living shit out of himself in his boss’ office comes to mind. The blood, the violence, it seemed to move forward and hog the spotlight instead of the brilliance of the situation that was spiraling out of control. I dunno. At any rate, I walked away thinking the movie was just another overly-hyped Pittmobile, though I did think the story was interesting, the point of the story.

But this past November, while browsing a cool old bookstore in the sleepy little artistic community of New Hope, PA, I came across a book with a white cover and a cute illustration of a dead bird. It was Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel, “Lullaby”. “Hmm, the Fight Club Guy”, I thought to myself. Well, it WAS a good story. Maybe I’ll give him another chance.

I did. I loved it. Then I got “Choke” for Christmas (and I had no idea at the time how appropriate THAT was until I read it), and I just finished that last night, and I plan to start on Survivor just as soon as I’m finished with you here. You see, I bought Survivor this weekend, knowing I was about done with Choke. I didn’t want to run out of my Palahniuk stash.

So what’s the big deal? He’s more cynical than I am, for starters. I take comfort in that. But he’s got a way with the meter of a story that I enjoy, and he’s not afraid to spin a tale that requires some serious demons to be present. The minds & situations of his characters are seriously damaged goods, and society did the damaging. In order to fully get into the minds of these characters, you need to be left alone with the words to craft your own images. His characters are so interesting, it’s almost an affront to have some director and casting agent decide what these people look like, for some actor to tell ME what their mannerisms are.

Take Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, as another example of a writer whose work should remain typed on a page and not subject to mega-million-dollar film deals. Here’s a protagonist who is seriously screwed up. An animal, a demon. The things he does are sick enough, but what’s truly powerful is the complete lack of emotion in his his head as all his self-inflicted madness is going on. How do you show that on film? You don’t. Oh they tried, of course, but it was shit.

So, I’m off to read Survivor now. Of course if it comes out on film, I’ll watch it, fully expecting to be disappointed.