Published on February 7th, 2022 | by Keegan Barker0
Don’t Talk About (The Ending of) Fight Club
If you’re watching Fight Club in China, you’re watching an altered ending, even more insane than the original. Keegan explores the corruption of artistic expression.
Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for Fight Club.
The Narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person.
“You met me at a very strange time in my life.”
The strident wailing of “Where is my Mind?” by the Pixies.
The explosion of bombs planted by anti-capitalist anarchists.
And burning buildings tumbling down.
This memorable finale is yet another victim of the Chinese censorship board, and continues the government’s totalitarian acts of altering art for the sake of social order.
Apparently, Chinese streaming service Tencent Video has recently added the 1997 cult classic Fight Club to its roster of foreign films. However, in a shockingly blatant act of censorship, the film had its finale completely removed, and replaced with a black frame with text stating, verbatim:
“Through the clue provided by Tyler, the police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.”
The poor grammar and writing style are the least egregious elements of this statement.
It’s not known which arm of government insisted on the change, but it doesn’t change how degrading it was to the film, and how terrifying it is that it would be altered to support government ideals and policies. In the alternate ending, the police are the heroes and we (the audience) should disregard everything the movie has expressed. According to sources, even Chinese viewers were confused about the ending of the film because there was enough collective knowledge of the actual ending, due to the film’s proliferation in the Chinese bootleg film circuit.
Now this is not a lashing out against the Chinese government or any other diatribe concerning radical political institutions. Rather, this is about the corruption of artistic expression.
The Chinese government has always had a solid grip on their media, and this has impacted the importation of Western media, like Hollywood films. Arguably, this issue has gotten better in recent decades with more Hollywood films playing in China, and with China’s self-produced film industry starting to take off. Even Hollywood films are starting to incorporate more Asian elements into their films (actors, settings, etc.) to increase exposure – and box office return – in China and other East Asian countries. While it feels manipulative to place those elements in films to appeal to the wallets of East Asian audiences, I do believe it’s beneficial to have that amount of representation in modern cinema.
However, this appeal to Asian movie-goers, and their governments, has the drawback of culture shock. Plenty of films from the West do poorly in Asian markets because of cultural differences, or a lack of historical and cultural significance; Star Wars is a great example of this. When the Original Trilogy was released in the 70’s and 80’s, China did not allow them to be shown. Thus, China doesn’t have the same cultural reverence for the Star Wars universe as it does in the West, and box office returns for the New Trilogy have reflected this.
With the Chinese government calling for an altered ending to Fight Club, it is important to note that this is not the endgame; rather, this is just another step in a continuing trend. And there is no foreseeable point of conclusion for this trend. It’s a realistic possibility that China could alter more Hollywood films to better suit the agenda and beliefs of their government which would have an impact on China’s citizens and their perceptions of the world. I’d hope the Chinese population which consumes Hollywood films is not totally left in the dark and has opportunities – perhaps less than legal opportunities – to experience films as they were meant to be seen.
Ultimately, there is one question that came to mind when I read about this whole debacle: Could this happen here in North America? We already alter films to remove unsavory elements such as racist depictions and sensibilities, and if they can’t be removed, they are at least acknowledged and appropriately condemned. Even though I think acknowledging this history is important, it does feel slightly disingenuous to treat films like they have skeletons in their closets – even if we can understand those skeletons within a historical and cultural context.
While movies can be altered to suit modern sensibilities, it is up to film studios, distribution companies and streaming services to make those decisions. I also believe that these entities would make those decisions quite readily and happily, if they were persuaded by a sizable, vocal and reasonable faction requesting those changes.
However, it is important that governments, which have every right to weigh in on such issues, should not be in any position to mandate those alterations. That is political censorship on a severe level, and it can only lead to further declines in the freedom of artistic expression.
When it comes to movie scenes or ideas we want altered, it’s not the government who should swoop in and eradicate their existence. It’s up to us to see and embrace the emotion and beauty, or to acknowledge the pain and trauma of those elements.
This isn’t Fight Club. We can talk about this.