Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Sublime Ending

            What is the sublime?  In his work On the Sublime, Longinus gives an extended definition of what makes sublimity.  Enumerating specific criterion, he essentially defines the sublime as that which causes amazement and wonder, contending that “emotion plays a large part in the production of the sublime” (148).  While Longinus’ definition of sublimity seems to apply only on written works, a reconsideration of his criteria makes it applicable to visual image.  Certainly, I feel that Longinus’ sublime applies to the final scene of David Fincher’s film Fight Club, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

This scene is the exclamation point to the movie.  Not only is it the point when the protagonist realizes and accepts what he has done and what he has become but rather, it is also the metaphoric cleansing of the protagonist’s mind and heart.  The explosive scene is the protagonist’s work of art, his great masterpiece.  As he stands with Marla (the female character) watching the explosion unfold, he too is affected by his work.  Indeed, the sublime is not only that which stimulates emotion from the audience.  Rather, in its greatness, it too affects the creator.  That is, Longinus evinces that sublimity is marked by an emotional connectivity between artist and audience; sublimity “brings in the hearts of the bystanders the actual emotion of the speaker, and always induces them to share it” (159).
Furthermore, this explosive masterpiece, as a metaphor, expresses all that the protagonist feels.  If sublime words conjure up visual images in the minds of the audience, what Longinus calls phantasia, well then this visual scene conjures up words of emotion in the minds of the audience.  Even without words to explain the moment, this scene affects both the characters in action and those who are watching the film.  It is a great and beautiful moment; a poetic moment intensified not with elevated language or extensive descriptions, lavish scenery or many actions.  Rather, the moment is amazing because of its simplicity, its sheer harmony.  And indeed, the rhythmic explosion of the buildings combined with background music seemingly illustrates what Longinus describes as “a kind of harmony of words” (159).  It is a type of harmony that not only affects a man’s hearing “but his very soul” (159).  The simple harmony of the scene with the black foreground, the shadows of the characters, the intensifying background music and the framed explosions creates for one sublime visual image.
Metaphoric, yes. Stimulating, indeed.  Sublime, it is.

Longinus. On the Sublime. Classical Literary Criticism. Trans. Penelope Murray and T.S.
            Dorsch. London: Penguin, 2000. 113-166. Print.