FIGHT CLUB (1999) – ITS RELEVANCE IN OUR SOCIETY 21 YEARS LATER

GUEST EDITORIAL: The Relevance of "Fight Club" — Every Movie Has a ...

WHY FIGHT CLUB?

Fight Club is described as the quintessential “guy movie”, a description it lives up to for the most part. However, describing it only as a guy movie would be inaccurate. Based on the best-selling book by author Chuck Palahniuk, the movie is much more engaging in my opinion than the book and very few movies can claim that. 

Search the internet for Fight Club and you will be bombarded with thousands of blog posts,  YouTube videos and articles dissecting the movie to its minutest details – much better articles written by much more talented individuals with good looking websites & fancy blogs. However, for me it’s the love of the movie itself which made me write about it as my first blog post. 

In 2020, during the Covid-19 epidemic, as most of the world is stuck in quarantine, I decided to review a movie from 21 years back. Dumb right? Who is going to read this? Everyone’s already seen the movie and it has been discussed so much already so does it make sense to have another blog devote time to it? I feel this crisis, has allowed people to experience in real time, one of the most memorable quotes from the movie –

“First, You’ve Gotta Know – Not Fear, Know – That Someday, You’re Gonna Die”

The impact of this epidemic on so many families across the world, the loss of family members, the loss of income – the threat of impending doom brings home the feeling of death – not just physical death but more like death of will, of the ability to make things happen which is worse than actual physical death. 

For me, it was the loss of my job at an investment bank, that made me reevaluate things. I always wanted to write a blog and share my thoughts about movies, TV shows and books with other people, but was either too lazy or figured, who the hell is going to read that? Why bother? But the other day while watching Fight Club for the umpteenth time, I realized that I was making excuses. I was busy running after stuff which was not that important. Even when it came to sharing my thoughts about a movie, I was thinking more about acceptance from society and the negative thoughts about not being eloquent enough or imaginative enough, when all I needed to do was talk from the heart. 

So, that’s what led to all this – I finally accepted that one day I will die so what is the point of a life of half measures and pandering to society? I need to do what I want to do and I wanted to write my thoughts about movies, TV shows, books and basically every thing I could with anyone and everyone out there. Now, let me help you all enter the world of Fight Club – fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride. 

SO WHO IS IN IT AND  WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

The movie directed by David Fincher stars Brad Pitt as “Tyler Durden”, Edward Norton as the “Narrator” & Helena Bonham Carter as “Marla Singer”. The movie revolves around these three characters although Meatloaf as “Robert ‘Big Bob’ Paulson” and Jared Leto as “Angel Face” have a major impact on the course of the plot as it develops. 

The Narrator is an anonymous everyman – works in a stressful job (like almost everyone), as a Product Recall Specialist (a title tailor-made for showing your status on LinkedIn but which basically cements your position in life as a minion for a company which does not care much about you) and suffering from recurring insomnia brought upon by severe jet lag from the several business trips he takes.

He goes to the doctor and when refused pills, he tells the doctor that he is “in pain”, to which the doctor asks him “You wanna see pain? See the guys with testicular cancer” – post which we see the Narrator going to a support group for men with testicular cancer. Despite not sharing the disease, he finds that when he shares in the problems of others, his insomnia vanishes. He attends more and more support groups to enhance the feeling of being remade from scratch as he says “Every evening I died and every evening I was born again“.

This blissful existence with the entrance of another “faker” – Marla Singer. Her visiting of the support groups under false pretenses only serves to make the Narrator aware of his own deceit and his insomnia makes an unwelcome comeback. He confronts Marla and they agree to split the support groups hoping to never meet each other again.

We are then introduced to the Narrator’s work and lifestyle and his frequent flights, on one of which he meets soap salesman Tyler Durden who quickly becomes his favorite “single-serving friend” and who he exchanges business cards with. After he lands, he returns to his home to find that a gas explosion has destroyed his apartment and all of his carefully cultivated material possessions. Disheartened by the loss of his possessions and not wanting to ask Marla for help, with whom he had exchanged numbers earlier, he calls Tyler and they meet at a bar.

At the bar, he whines about his possessions to Tyler, saying he was almost there – he almost had it all. They discuss rampant consumerism and things that truly matter and ends with Tyler summarizing the consumer culture with a durable quote – 

“The things you own, end up owning you”

After drinks, in the parking lot, the Narrator asks Tyler for a place to stay to which Tyler agrees, but Tyler requests that the Narrator “hit him as hard as he can“, post which they begin a fist fight. Both of them realize they enjoyed the fight. We are also introduced to Tyler Durden, who does odd jobs by the night, as a projectionist splicing pornographic reels into family films, as a banquet waiter who pees in the soup at a high end hotel and as a thief stealing left-over drained human fat from liposuction clinics which he uses in his soap. 

As the Narrator moves into Tyler’s large dilapidated house, he continues his regular fights in with Tyler, which attracts other young men. Soon the fights become large enough, that they move into the basement of the bar they met at and a Fight Club is formed, routinely meeting for recreational fights based on the following rules:

1. You don’t talk about fight club.

2. You don’t talk about fight club.

3. When someone says stop, or goes limp, the fight is over.

4. Only two guys to a fight.

5. One fight at a time.

6. No shirts or shoes.

7. The fights go on as long as they have to.

8. If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.

As the Fight Club blossoms, one day the Narrator receives a call from Marla, who has overdosed on pills and is asking the Narrator for help; he ignores her but Tyler proceeds to Marla’s apartment and saves her. They soon began a sexual relationship annoying the Narrator to no end. Tyler however, makes the Narrator promise him that he would not talk to Marla about him. Soon afterward, the Narrator blackmails his boss for company’s assets to support Fight Club and quits his job.

Very soon, Fight Clubs emerge all over the country with new members joining in large numbers. One of them, is Robert Paulson, who the Narrator met in his testicular support group earlier in the plot. Tyler rebrands the Fight Club movement into Project Mayhem – an anti-consumerist and anti-corporate anarchist organization. This is done, without the Narrator’s knowledge.

Select members of Project Mayhem, soon begin to live in the large house, the Narrator & Tyler live in and the members begin indulging in increasingly violent acts of vandalism. This troubles the Narrator and he confronts Tyler about excluding him from Tyler’s plans. The Narrator soon realizes, that Tyler was responsible for the explosion that destroyed his home. 

During one of the operations, police action leads to Robert Paulson being shot dead, which makes the Narrator try and halt the project. He follows the trail of cities, Tyler has visited. In one of the cities, a member of Project Mayhem, addresses the Narrator as “Mr. Durden”. This confuses the Narrator who calls Marla who also believes he is Tyler, with who she is sleeping with. Suddenly Tyler, appears in his room and tells him he and the Narrator are disassociated personalities in the same body; the Narrator assuming Tyler’s personality when he is asleep. Tyler also tells him Marla is a threat as she knows too much at which point the Narrator blacks out. 

When he awakes, the Narrator returns to his house, he discovers Tyler’s plans for erasing debt by destroying buildings holding credit card records. He also meets Marla to apologize and warn her that her life is in danger and she needs to leave town. After escaping a run-in with the police, he reaches one of the buildings about to be destroyed and attempts to disarm the explosives, but Tyler subdues him. As Tyler holds him by gunpoint, the Narrator realizes that he is holding the gun, as Tyler and him are the same person. He shoots himself, through the cheek and Tyler disappears, as he thinks he has committed suicide; the mental projection of Tyler ceases to exist. 

Project Mayhem members bring a kidnapped Marla to the top floor of the building where they find the bleeding Narrator. He tells them to go, holds Marla’s hands, telling him she met him at a very strange point in his life as they watch the buildings collapse around them after the detonation of the explosives. 

SEEMS LIKE YOUR AVERAGE THRILLER, WHAT THEMES ARE YOU DERIVING FROM IT? 

Fight Club covers several themes – the emasculation of men, the consumerist culture and the obsession with material wealth for happiness and fear and its role in our lives. 

The theme regarding the emasculation of men, is defined by Tyler’s rant about being history’s middle children, a situation still relevant today as it was in 1999 when the movie came out. 

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s**t we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off..”

Tyler seeks to identify a major cause of dissatisfaction in the younger generation of men – we have no great cause. Earlier generations, during the world wars had major causes for which they fought and died but now there are none. Wars still ravage the earth yet for most part these are unknown and buried affecting only a set group of individuals. The reality TV culture in the world today, where thousands audition to demean themselves for the chance to be famous for a short while and be forgotten soon after; the way we make Gods out of morons living on the Jersey Shore or a family of promiscuous individuals, it speaks to our great depression – unfulfilled lives where we engage in activities not to bring joy to ourselves but rather to impress people who we, for the most part, do not even like.

Men for the most part in our society, due to the existence of patriarchal societal structures, have been the primary breadwinners in the society. From ancient times until the world wars, men have been given the spotlight as the Alpha. Strength was valued over everything else. However, in the information age, along with the breakthroughs made by women’s right advocates and the advent of feminism, the societal structures, flawed as they were, have begun to collapse. Men for most part have not evolved with time atleast in how we grew up – we began to see money as the way to maintain our Alpha status in place of physical strength and the way to assert dominance, instead of evaluating how we were being raised.

Tyler seeks to reset the world through anarchy to revert back to the hunter gatherer times, a time when it was kill or be killed. He seeks to make men relevant again through an acceptance of testosterone-fueled conflict instead of engaging in the discussion about a middle path. 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH BUYING THINGS?

The current IKEA culture, the cheap mass produced goods world we live is another theme we see throughout the movie. As Covid-19, hits countries across the world, there is another evolving discussion taking place about the problems of globalization – the lack of self-sufficiency caused by cheap, mass produced goods being sourced from intricate supply chain systems globally. The excessive wastage, the habit of keeping up with the Joneses and the lack of satisfaction from objects has taken a huge toll on our environment, our natural resources, our relationships, our wallets and our mental health. 

How much is enough? In the movie, Project Mayhem members are only allowed to bring a basic attire and some personal burial movie. No other possessions. This is seen as a statement on the current culture, especially on Wall Street and within the high society at large, where one constantly needs to show off the latest flashy thing for the sake of appearances no matter whether it is needed. Greed causing a massive global financial crisis in 2008-09 and the bubbles being burst – whether it be in the housing market or elsewhere is a sign that over-consumption and greed has a negative impact. 

You are not your bank account. You are not the clothes you wear. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your bowel cancer. You are not your grande latte. You are not the car you drive. You are not your fucking khakis.”

Tyler tries to let us realize that as individuals we are more than just the title we have at work, we are more than the car we have parked or the brands of clothes we have. We are capable of much more as humans and yet we have become embroiled in an unnecessary rat race to keep desiring more and keep running behind more until the day we die. We can stop and reevaluate what is truly important. 

THE ROLE OF FEAR – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

In a society in which advertisements systematically program our minds to continuously pursue the acquisition of material stuff to better ourselves, sacrifice involves giving up these possessions and even giving up the desire to emulate that self. Tyler says, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything”. Society inhibits individualism and self-control over thought and perception unless one frees oneself from it.

There is a scene in Fight Club where Tyler and the Narrator go into a small liquor store and hold the guy there at gun point. Watch scene below:

Tyler explains the usefulness of fear – he uses fear as a motivation for the man to chase after his forgotten dreams.

“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

However, some may argue, that being held at gunpoint might have left Mr. Hessel with severe PTSD. The point here is fear and the role it plays in our lives. During our current quarantine, we were forced to reevaluate many things in our lives including the lies told to us by the Government and moviestars and other cultural icons – fear for our lives had us thinking clearly and viewing things objectively. Fear when used correctly can be an extremely useful aid in making our lives fulfilling. Fear when used against ourselves – where we lack the courage to challenge ourselves, can cause us to miss out on many good things in life. 

In my personal view, this would be the most important theme to understand from the movie as it is the most useful. I was afraid myself to begin writing – to let my thoughts flow for others to read and ridicule but today as I sat in quarantine watching a movie I had seen several times before, I finally asked myself what am I afraid of ? Who can judge me if I give their judgement no power? Why should a thought I have remain trapped within me because of what society needs me to be – just because I worked in Investment Banking, I should go around with the label that I know very little about movies or books? No. 

I am more than what my LinkedIn status is – I am more than my Resume – I am more than what I let myself believe.

AND SO ARE YOU!

Fight Club is just a movie. But there are lessons in everything if you actually take the time to truly see. Distraction is fine but remember, know in fact, that one day you’re going to die so what you do now is important. 

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