FIGHT CLUB is a movie that came out in 1999 and was directed by David Fincher. The movie centres around an unnamed narrator suffering from amnesia. The narrator is not satisfied with his life until he meets a soap maker who goes by the name “Tyler Durden”; they quickly form a friendship.
One night, both men start a fight club, as that’s happening, the narrator finds himself embroiled in an unconventional relationship with a woman named Marla Singer.
However, as time goes on, the narrator starts to notice that everything is not as it seems. The Fight Club is getting out of control. He is forced to make a choice.
Disclaimer: Keeping in mind that this piece is not in any way claiming to be the definitive interpretation of this movie, I thought to share a quote with you before I begin:
“A Great anecdote doesn’t leave people speechless, it leaves them competing to tell a better version of the same thing”
Also because I see a lot of debates regarding this movie. I’m not here to debate, but I’m more than willing to exchange and critique ideas.
FIGHT CLUB and Gender politics
Saying that FIGHT CLUB is all about gender politics is in many ways a regressive approach. There is far more going on here, I believe. Far more than the appraisal of penises and vaginas; something girl bosses and incels can’t seem to look past.
Yes, there are parallels, I’ll admit that. But I believe that’s stuff anyone can find at the shallow end of the pool. It goes deeper ladies and gentlemen.
Anti-Consumerism In FIGHT CLUB
When we see the narrator at the beginning of the movie, he is trying to buy a new item in a long list of items he uses to “identify” himself. He believes what he buys for his apartment should be an indication of his character. That if someone were to walk in, they should know exactly who they’re dealing with; simply by looking at his possessions.
And despite him having all these material possessions he finds himself unfulfilled and haunted by insomnia. Something is missing, and no matter how many material possessions he owns, they only serve to alleviate the void he feels temporarily. Because he still has to go back to work the next day, eventually being forced to feel the same void again — purchase a new item. Rinse and Repeat.
The fact that the movie identifies this as a starting point is highly indicative of the material culture we find ourselves in. There’s a new piece of tech or furniture every other year, and I know people who lose sleep over it. The absence of said material items makes them feel like they have nothing when they’re in a room full of plenty.
It’s classic shiny object syndrome. I believe the movie’s narrative speaks against relying on material possessions; they only serve to alleviate our emptiness, but it doesn’t solve the problem (at least not in the long-term).
Death of the EGO
You are not what you own. In many ways, you’re not even you without people validating it. I’m not a writer until I tell people I’m one or if they see me writing or reading a story. But that shouldn’t discourage me.
I should be a writer because I love it, not because I want people to notice.
The thing about the ego is, when it’s not regulated, people tend to go to great lengths to be perceived a certain way even if it means deceiving. All to build a false exaggerated self; because it would be too painful to admit otherwise.
FIGHT CLUB teaches us to kill the ego. The movie kinda goes over the top with the narrator and Tyler Durden staying in a rundown house that’s barely holding itself together. But I believe the general idea still stands (obviously take care of your health and don’t be reckless).
There is power in being content. Finding success within ourselves and not from the admiration of others; at least that’s my philosophy and interpretation.
You hear stories of attention seekers on Tik Tok, IG or Twitter every single day. I’m not sure if we can even call it ego anymore; people are going to great lengths to be noticed; even at the risk of their own bodies and soul.
Hegel’s Dialectics (Idealism)
According to German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, it takes three steps to reach a synthesis or a higher level of truth. First, there’s the thesis, then the anti-thesis which serves to find contradictions in the thesis and then finally the synthesis.
With this in mind, if the war on masculinity is the thesis, Fight Club’s unhinged violence is the antithesis.
When I say “war on masculinity” I mean it’s no longer considered safe to be a (gentle)man without risk. Without it being perceived the wrong way.
For example, you can, on instinct, open a door for a lady and have it interpreted as you trying to hit on her — which obviously isn’t true. In most cases, it’s simply being considerate of others. I would do that for anyone but I have to risk it being interpreted the wrong way.
My favourite is offering to foot the bill and getting a passive-aggressive response because I was “assuming the lady could not pay for herself” (These are just a few of many examples). If you’re curious, this happened during my birthday with a cousin of mine a while back. I just felt sorry for the waitress — having to endure that behaviour.
To be a “man” in this day and age is to behave in a way that pleases the present and accounted for company. This means, being protective around the ladies who enjoy being protected, being submissive to the ladies who enjoy being in control and being sensitive to — you get the gist of it.
And I’m not talking about a man who is pursuing romance, I just mean general behaviour. I find that a little baffling I suppose.
So it’s now more politically correct to be a chameleon, ever-bending to the will of those that are present. Admittedly, this leaves a lot of people in the dating scene frustrated. This is why you have the Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) movement as well as the Red Pills (not mutually exclusive). Two groups who are just kinda done with everything, unwilling to bend to the ever-shifting demands of society and being forced to fit into what women deem to be “True Masculinity”.
It’s funny because, despite FIGHT CLUB seeming like it’s in full support of these movements, I believe it speaks against them; with a subtlety though. Tyler Durden and the narrator break free from the system, start FIGHT CLUB and give in to their primal urges/aggression, free to do their own thing right?
However, at the end of the movie, the narrator realizes how he broke from the system was still a consequence of the system’s design; he was never truly free.
He still had to break away from his alter ego Tyler Durden, another product of that same system. Because Tyler Durden was everything the narrator wasn’t (at least in the narrator’s mind), a more handsome, more charismatic go-getter with all the answers. A true paragon of masculinity. A false ideal planted by the same system he hates, so yeah, he was free physically, but not mentally.
I believe the movie speaks to how all these movements like MGTOW are illusory and not the solution. The narrator has to find a way to break from the system, not giving into aggression (but not discarding it entirely either, but more on that later) and form a revolution. To find a synthesis. A “controlled” revolution, if you will.
This may also be speaking to the internal and the external revolutions we have to take control of; to take back our agency.
What’s with all THE SOAP?
Tyler Durden has a small-time company called Paper Street Soap Co. A Capitalist enterprise that produces soap out of fat stolen from dumpsters at liposuction clinics. Durden then sells that soap to retailers as a high-end product without them knowing its means of production.
It’s obviously a direct shot at consumerism but I believe there’s an element of irony to it as well. That No matter how much you may hate the system. You still have to use the system to beat the system.
Not sure if the movie references this but I believe this enterprise is how Durden and the narrator fund their entire operation.
Kinda like the show Black Mirror. In how the show has to use technology to expose the dangers of relying on technology.
I thought that was a nice touch.
The Dangers of Craving A Messiah
I may be reaching, but I believe there’s a commentary on the dangers of radical change and the allure of charismatic leaders in times of crisis. The desire for a messiah, someone with all the answers i.e. Tyler Durden.
All change is subject to potential — or perhaps even inevitable — corruption. This corruption can be seen in how all the men that start joining FIGHT CLUB become drones incapable of individual thought, not unlike the beginning of the movie when the narrator was a thoughtless drone in their office. It’s like the problem replicated itself in a different environment.
All fight club members begin wearing the same clothes, spending every waking moment listening to Tyler Durden’s continued philosophizing. They become a small fascist camp, in many ways, tied together by a common cause; Project Mayhem and Tyler Durden’s unbound wisdom and charm, of course.
It’s easy to interpret the movie as saying “F*ck everything, go hardcore!” and “Men, take back your power!” but I believe it’s actually speaking against that. The dangers that come with group-think and believing firmly that you’re in the right.
At some point, even well-meaning movements take on a life of their own and can morph into something potentially disastrous for everyone involved. This goes beyond Men vs Women.
What, you think everyone who put Hitler into power expected him to do what he did? Some people simply saw someone promising to bring Germany back into the conversation. Someone with answers to their problems. Yeah, that turned out well didn’t it …
You’ve got self-help gurus by the truckloads telling you how they’ll help get your life in order. Now I’m not saying all of them have bad intentions, all I’m saying is they shouldn’t be your oxygen. They shouldn’t be your messiah. Or god forbid, your Tyler Durden.
Above all, I think FIGHT CLUB is a cautionary tale that continues to be relevant today. It simply used surface value concepts to convey a deeper message/philosophy.
I love how in the end, the narrator kills Tyler Durden (in his mind of course) finally freeing his mind and holding hands with his lady friend as they watch all these presumably corporate buildings collapse as Project Mayhem unfolds. I believe that to be the synthesis.
And despite our primal desires being a potential danger to everyone around us (if left unchecked). We should not lock them away entirely. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung often talked about integrating our shadow selves (the parts we don’t like) into who we are. There are parallels with Buddhist Zen principles of personifying your weaknesses, emotions and not shunning them or being afraid of them. To be willing to understand one another.
In the case of the narrator, instead of giving in to his aggression (Tyler Durden) he tamed it and channelled it elsewhere, where it was more useful. It’s important to note then that the aggression was not entirely useless as it helped the narrator overcome a nightmare of his own making.
I believe this synthesis speaks to us as well. That we (humanity) are not each other’s enemies. The systems that try to sever our bonds and our spiritual connections are the real enemy. Because even those in power are slaves to those systems and continue to fool themselves into thinking they are in control. And as we try to take our power back, we should be careful not to replicate the problem. We should move forward with wisdom, using history as our repository — our guide — for invaluable lessons that will help mold our future.
This movie is not unlike The Great Resignation you see today, only viewed from a different lens. Something is happening to the world, and I for one am excited to see where it takes us.
Thanks for reading.
Jung, C.G. 1938. “Psychology and Religion”. In Psychology and Religion: West and East, Collected Works of C.G. Jung 11. p. 131.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (2018) . The phenomenology of spirit. Cambridge Hegel Translations. Translated by Pinkard, Terry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chugh, A. 2021. What Is The Great Resignation? An Expert Explains. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/11/what-is-the-great-resignation-and-what-can-we-learn-from-it/ . Last accessed 20 April 2022.