Religion in Film: a Comparison of Fight Club and Antz

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At first glance, David Fincher’s “Fight Club” and Dreamworks Studio’s “Antz” could not be more diametrically opposed to each other in form and genre. One is a dark commentary on the vacuity of modern life, fraught with homoerotic subtext; the other is a brightly animated cartoon where the bad guy dies, the good guy gets the girl, and everybody lives happily ever after. I intentionally chose these two films, however, for their thematic similarity, to examine the recurring motif of striving for identity in a society of conveyer belt roles where the value of the individual is quickly depreciating toward extinction. By analyzing both films through a theological and Freudian lens, I intend to reveal the tension that has always existed between possessing the freedom of choice and submitting to an oppressive, delineating structure. “Antz” opens up with a disembodied voice announcing its anxieties. As the camera penetrates layers of New York underground, the voice is revealed to belong to a lonely ant. He is in therapy. We soon learn that his name is “Z” and he is a disgruntled worker ant, airing his frustrations over working all his life and never quite feeling satisfied. One is expected, as an ant, to devote all his efforts toward the good of his colony and deal with his needs being ignored. This is a common grievance, felt among the spectrum of classes and races. Regardless of status, hardly anybody ever feels he is getting his. Before we have time to dismiss Z’s grouchiness as trivial angst, the camera pans out and introduces us to the “gung-ho super organism” of ant life. What we see is a hyper complex built by and on millions of bodies that link together to drive the meticulous engine that runs and perpetuates the system. It is impossible to make out any one creature from the swarm of activity. We see elevator pulleys marked with phrases like “Let’s Work” and “Conquer Idleness,” a chilly reference to the Nazi motto that likewise drove millions of human souls to a state of dejection reflected in the demeanor of the worker ants, as well as Ed Norton’s character from Fight Club. We see ants producing their bundled babies for appraisal, where they are systematically (one might say, arbitrarily) assigned a role in the microcosm. Roles like “worker” and “soldier” are shouted out at random and these tiny cocoons, before even having a sense of their individuality—what Freud called recognition of self as separate from the mother (colony)—they are deprived of it. They are then designated a place in the hierarchy that will forever determine their value by output. This systematic allocation of significance by measure of the whole in turn leaves the individual feeling utterly insignificant (Brintall 303). This is the way of life and up until now it went largely unquestioned. As everybody will tell Z, one ant is meaningless. It is not about him it’s about “us, the team,” working endlessly to build and acquire more, and he would do best to content himself with it and be happy. Don’t think too much. Thinking leads to rogue individualism that puts the whole microcosm in jeopardy. There appears to be no room for pleasure in this life. Even activities intended to relieve pressure and stress, such as dancing and drinking, are normalized, structured. Socializing too has its place, as the ants are transferred from one ghetto to the next. Ants dance in a group and any who desist are either bullied back into submission or removed entirely. If one may speak of computerized ants in a sexual nature, we can observe how the libidinal economy is so tightly controlled in their environment that all drive toward freedom and creativity is squelched. Inner desires have been buried under dirt and exhaustion and thus, if Freud was correct and our energy drive must be pointed somewhere, the eros is redirected toward work, ungratifying as it may be (Brintall 296). It is transferred into idolizing the strength inherent in uniformity, as...
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