The first rule of fight club is: you do not talk about fight club! The second rule of flight club is: you do NOT talk about fight club!
I can only apologize to the infamous Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) as I’m about to break the first two rules! Fight Club, a movie that combines a solution to male aggression with anti-capitalism social terrorism is a favorite movie of both myself and many movie lovers. But what exactly makes it so great? Today I’m going to break down the various aspects of Fight Club that have made it one of the greats for almost two decades! If you haven’t seen the movie then my only question is, why the hell not? This article is going to be riddled with spoilers so stop what you’re doing, go watch it, and then come back!
Fight Club, as with most stories, can ultimately be broken down into three main acts or sections. For some stories, this allows the writer to break down each part in order to fulfill a specific purpose. Fight Club works in a similar manner. For the purposes of showing the role that each act plays, I’m going to break them down one at a time. Just keep in mind that some of this will be my own interpretation of the movie’s events and message. To me, Fight Club is somewhat similar to a religion. Not in the sense of worshiping its character but rather each person taking away a slightly different message.
Act 1: This is your life, and it’s ending one second at a time!
Fight Club opens with Edward Norton playing a rather bleak, downtrodden character with insomnia. This character goes by many names such as Cornelius, Rupert and Jack. If you check IMDB you will see his role is listed as only “the narrator”. There are two main reasons why his true name is left up in the air. One of these reasons is the message of the movie. This character is supposed to be anyone. He has no name, he isn’t special, he’s you, he’s me, he’s anyone. That’s the point. He’s just an average man with an average job, living in an average flat, and ultimately living an average existence.
The first act of the movie really drives this point home to audiences. Norton’s character discusses his general lack of purpose and his lack of control over his own life. When we see his apartment for the first time, he discusses his obsession with IKEA furniture. When we see him work his lack of empathy and humanity towards victims of car crashes and the general lack of interest he has for his job shines through. Even traveling from one place to the next offers us insight into his faux interest in the lives of fellow plane passengers. “Single-serving friends” as he calls them.
The real nail in the coffin is watching the character attend meetings for various emotional support groups. His first attendance at a group for men with testicular cancer leads to him crying (and sleeping) like a baby. It’s an area where he can shed a tear about his miserable existence, despite everyone around him having it much worse. The purpose of act 1 is crystal clear: why does this character need someone like Tyler Durden in his life?
Act 2: The things you own end up owning you!
Nothing opens your eyes to the world quite like your IKEA furniture being blasted out of your apartment window by a seemingly random explosion. With no friends, apparently no family, and only two numbers he can phone, the main character calls his single-serving friend: Tyler Durden. Tyler offers him a place to stay but only on one condition: “I want you to hit me as hard as you can!”
This one sentence ultimately leads to the creation of a group which gives the film its title: Fight Club. The movie calls into question the nature of masculinity: We can cry about our problems, we can talk to others or…we can punch each other in the face in order to release pent-up tension and aggression. Tyler proposes that this generation has been raised to believe that it can accomplish anything, only to find that all the available jobs are pumping gas or waiting tables. Dreams of being rock stars, movie Gods, and millionaires have all been based on lies. As a result, this generation is angry and has nowhere to direct it.
Act 2 begins to demonstrate that Norton’s character doesn’t need television, he doesn’t need luxurious items or IKEA furniture, he doesn’t need to worry about his appearance at work or following societies rules on how to think, feel or act. Ultimately, the character develops and begins to learn that having faith in people or society is silly. “Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?” What sounds like an existential crisis behaves more like a revelation or epiphany. The character becomes content, he becomes happy, he becomes driven and begins to feel like he has control over his life and the lives of others.
Act 3: It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything!
Tyler famously says “Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.” This is a message the audience can take away from the movie by act 3. The rise of Project Mayhem leads to Norton’s character losing everything: he has no job, Tyler has vanished, his friends (or more accurately friend) are gone, his club has evaporated, his flat exploded…everything in his life, even Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), is gone. Yet through losing everything in his life, including his grasp of reality, the character is able to do anything. This includes fighting his demons, facing hard truths and ultimately regaining control of what seems to be a lost situation…well…sort of.
The reason I mention these acts isn’t to simply summarize the story, although that is a bonus feature. Rather, it’s to mention all the important factors involved in the movie. To say that Fight Club is about a fight club would be misrepresenting the message of the movie. It would be like saying that Star Wars is a movie series about religion. Actually, the amount of time spent fighting in the movie (at least in a physical sense) is rather minimal. So let’s explore some of the more important gems that Fight Club offers audiences.
You’re a Consumer…and You Know It!
Fight Club doesn’t shy away from targeting consumerism. Within the first 30 minutes both capitalism and consumerism have become the enemy. “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [stuff] we don’t need.” This is one of the reasons that Fight Club is so appealing to us all. We’re all consumers, we all live in a capitalist society, and we all spend money on ridiculous things. Why? Often we do it in an attempt to alter how other’s perceive us: look at my expensive car, my fancy phone, look at my massive house or my stylish IKEA dining room set!
In a sense, Fight Club mocks our desire to be appreciated and have others feel envious in regard to our lives. Yet in doing so, it also pushes us to think: why? Why do we strive to spend money on things we don’t need? If it isn’t essential to our survival then what is the point? Why work a job that makes you miserable, makes you depressed, or even makes you an insomniac if you’re only going to spend that money on fake, materialistic and temporary happiness?
Once Fight Club evolves to Project Mayhem, their actions are essentially akin to terrorism. They destroy public monuments and franchises, they blow up computer shops, erase video tapes in video stores, vandalize car dealerships and more! One such vandalism leads to a billboard sign reading “You can use old motor oil to fertilize your lawn!” I can imagine audiences laughing at this board thinking to themselves: “That’s bad for the environment!” Yet is it really that different from advertising a Hummer or plane journeys or any other consumer product that is ultimately devastating to the environment?
And when everyone’s super, no one will be!
Quite similarly to Syndrome from The Incredibles, Tyler Durden strives to remind everyone that ultimately, you’re not unique. As the famous quote goes: “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” Where Syndrome sought to make everyone special (so that no one would be), Tyler believes that nobody is special to begin with!
This is possibly a message that applies more now than it did 20 years ago! Our society has become one that pushes an ideology quite contrary to that of Tyler’s, whereby we’re all special because…well…we feel that we are. Perhaps what we all need is a stylish criminal to show up in our lives and teach us that everything we know is in fact false. After all, with nearly 8 billion people on the planet, how could we all be special? How could we all play some vital and important role in the continued functionality of our society? The truth of the matter is, we can’t. We are all but cogs that spin without purpose to benefit those who have found themselves on top!
One can only imagine how different Fight Club would be if it were made today. “When deep space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything, the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks.” Did we all forget that Redbull was responsible for the stratosphere jump in 2012? That Virgin is trying to create commercial space travel? When we colonize Mars, what will be the first commercial store? McDonald’s? How long until we look up at the night’s sky and see Colonel Sanders staring down at us from the moon?
Who is the Villain?
Another interesting aspect to Fight Club that adds to its allure is the lack of a clear villain. Who is the villain in the movie? The narrator who determines whether to recall faulty, even fatal products based solely on how much a recall would cost in comparison to a court settlement? Tyler, who strives to erase all bank debt without harming a soul? What about the members of Project Mayhem? Are immoral acts justified if the aim is for a moral outcome?
Fight Club steers clear of traditional hero vs villain roles. Nobody wants to conquer the world, nobody wants to enslave others, and nobody wants to blow planets up with a giant Death Star or kill Harry Potter! You could describe Tyler as an anti-villain but what does that make the narrator? Fight Club proposes that in this situation, we, the average Joes of the world, are in fact the villains. We are happy to turn off our minds in order to fill our lives with materialistic happiness. Ultimately, our strive consume is an addiction and only through going cold turkey can we begin to truly feel happiness. We are the enemy but not to society, not to a cape-wearing hero…no, we are the enemy to ourselves!
The Little Things
Fight Club, which was written by Chuck Palahniuk and directed by David Fincher, isn’t just about cool story lines and fight scenes. The details in the movie are part of what makes it great! For example, did you know that every scene of the movie contains a Starbucks cup? There’s a certain irony attached to the idea that a movie so against consumerism would purposefully include one of the most consumerist logos in existence. It’s amazingly poetic when you stop to think about it!
There’s a few other hidden gems in the movie as well. Two moments in particular add to the realism. During the first fight scene between Norton and Pitt, when Norton punches him in the ear, this was a genuine punch that wasn’t supposed to happen. The two actors didn’t miss a beat and just continued on with the scene, leading to a hilarious moment. Similarly, the scene where the pair hit golf balls into old factory windows, while intoxicated, isn’t too far from the truth. Both Pitt and Norton were actually drunk while filming this scene in order to create a more realistic shot!
Of course one of the moments that not everybody notices in Fight Club is the random and very brief appearances of Tyler Durden before the two characters cross paths. When the narrator first meets Tyler, he discusses the idea of cutting images into a single frame of a movie. In a similar fashion, you can see flashes of Tyler at various moments. For example, when Norton’s character visits the doctor or when he attends the testicular cancer meeting. This happens a total of 4 times and if you have a sharp eye, you might be able to spot them all!
The Fight Club Twist!
The conclusion of Fight Club reveals that Tyler is in fact a product of the narrator’s mind. If you pay attention through the movie, you will see many nods to this fact. For example. one thing that you’ll notice is that the two characters couldn’t dress any more differently. Tyler wears flashy, bright and rather ridiculous looking outfits whereas the narrator wears monochromatic shirts and trousers. However, there is one matching item of clothing: their white boxers. That’s right, they share the same underwear.
Another fun moment takes place just after the narrator’s flat explodes. When he phones Tyler, to no response, there is a notice inside the phone booth that quite clearly states “no incoming calls”. This of course hints very early on that Tyler is nothing more than a product of a tired and disturbed mind. Fast forward slightly to the arrival of Lou in Lou’s Tavern. When Lou punches Tyler, I’d imagine that your eyes were fixated on the punch itself. However, if you watch Norton’s character, you can see him wince and double over slightly in reaction to the punch.
Finally, let’s talk about the car crash scene. When you take into account that this scene is essentially a man arguing with himself about whether or not to let the car crash, it seems a little insane. Yet the attention to detail in this scene is actually quite amazing. When the pair enter the car, they both enter through the driver’s side. During the scene, Tyler is driving the car with Norton’s character occasionally reaching across to grab the wheel. When the car crashes, Tyler gets out the passenger side and pulls Norton’s character out of the driver’s seat. This suggests that he was driving all along.
So why does Fight Club appear in so many people’s lists of favorite movies? Well, it ultimately pokes at the fires of rebellion, of anti-conformity, of sticking it to the man. We are happy to behave like sheep until someone points out that that’s the case and suddenly, we have to do the opposite. The world is a strange place and with advertising here, there and everywhere telling us one thing while the media tells us another, we can only struggle through both to find the truth. Fight Club offers us 2 hours and 19 minutes of freedom where we can watch someone’s depressed life turn into a roller coaster ride of violence, art, a cathartic release of pent-up aggression and, in the end, freedom!
Thank you for reading! Is Fight Club one of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite moment? Did it make you want to give up control and rebel against the system? Comment down below!
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