Throwing out Rule #1: Talking about Fight Club

The first rule of fight club: Don’t talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club: Don’t talk about Fight Club.

So – with that being said – let’s talk about Fight Club for a minute.

**Major Spoilers ahead, but the movie came out in 1999, so I kind of feel like it’s been long enough at this point haha**

I was talking with my best friend, Jen, during the pandemic, and we realized there are some culturally significant books and movies that we never got around to consuming. We agreed that, as we both approach forty, we should attempt to rectify that. One of the items on that list was Fight Club. I was a huge Brad Pitt fan back in the day. Meet Joe Black, while underwhelming in the box office, was one of my favorite movies. However, back then, a movie about dudes beating the crap out of each other was not really my thing. So Fight Club went unwatched.

If I’d’ve realized then that it was really a commentary on fascism and consumerism, as well as mental health as it relates to the struggle between societal expectations and happiness, I would have jumped on seeing it. However, I did not. As cute as Brad Pitt was in 1999, it never seemed like a good fit.

Last night, I fixed that, and let me tell you, that movie was NOT what I expected. For those of you that read my blog regularly, you’ll remember how Cosmopolis hit me. There were layers and layers to that one that excited me because it’s such a social commentary on the class system. If you missed it, you can find that one HERE. Fight Club did that to me, too. It is not a movie about dudes beating the crap out of each other. Yes, if you hate the sight of blood, this one is not for you. There is a lot of violence. Yes, dudes do beat the crap out of each other, it’s just not what the story is actually about.

At the root of this film is the mindless way my generation tends to live their lives. Well, okay, Gen-X (technically I’m a millennial, but one of the older ones on the boarder with Gex-X). We were raised to go to school, to get a college degree, find a job, get married… A very traditional path. Some of us were lucky enough to have parents that urged us to follow our dreams, but society told us the traditional path was expected. The Narrator (Edward Norton) of the film did just that. And he was miserable. We join his story after the degree and the job, but prior to the marriage or kids or any of that jazz. He has severe insomnia as a result of the miserable existence he’s created.

When his apartment explodes while he’s away on a business trip, he calls up Tyler, played by Brad Pitt, with whom he’d shared the plane ride home. He winds up moving in with Tyler, who is squatting in a basically condemned house, in the warehouse district of wherever they live. He and Tyler create Fight Club as a way to shirk the lives that are expected of them. To feel something in a life has become a monotonous battle every day.

So up until this point, the movie was much what I expected. However, it very quickly became something else. Fight Club takes off, with more and more members each time (which is interesting considering no one should be talking about Fight Club… a point Brad calls out). Tyler goes about assembling another group out of the Fight Club members, Project Mayhem. At first, the Narrator knows little about the project, except for these guys are crashing at their house, following the instructions they’re given. Tyler has this list of rules for the Project Mayhem crew, much like those of Fight Club. The men involved follow them without question, completely bowing to the authority of their leader. It quickly becomes obvious that they’re operations are less than legal. They’re last, big project involves blowing up the buildings that house credit card information resulting in a clean slate for everyone in debt. In 2022, this concept is funny considering everything is out in a cloud somewhere, but in 1999 it could’ve worked.

But there’s more to it. Here’s where the spoilers go from eh to major:

Tyler has an ongoing relationship with Marla, played by Helena Bonham Carter (who is beyond brilliant). The Narrator previously knew her and, when she attempts to numb the pain of existence by taking too many Xanax one night, the Narrator ignores her and Tyler swoops in. Their relationship is somewhat toxic and the Narrator dislikes her because he sees too much of himself in her. Meat Loaf is rather brilliant as a testicular cancer survivor with hormonal side effects that change his body in a way to which society objects. His death, as a result of a botched Project Mayhem excursion, is a defining moment for the Narrator. But the real kicker here is that Tyler doesn’t actually exist. He was a dissociative personality created by the Narrator to be, look, sound like the Narrator himself wishes to be. Each of Tyler’s actions throughout the film were actually played out by the Narrator himself. Bum bum bum…

The Narrator’s apartment, filled with things from Ikea, represented the blind consumerism to which he had fallen prey. He waxes poetic at one point about how the apartment was his life. He had the perfect couch. The last couch he thought he’d have to buy. He’d done what he was supposed to… he’d gotten the place with the stuff. He was miserable. In one explosion, the entire existence he created, the life he was supposed to be leading, was erased.

Tyler’s relationship with Marla, who is the only reason I knew something was off with the whole Tyler thing to start with, is the opposite of what the Narrator was supposed to be seeking. While embracing the danger of a friendship with Tyler, the Narrator is disgusted by the idea of an attraction to Marla, both because she is so similar to the side of him he denies, but also because there is no chance of the All-America, 2.5 kids and picket fence reality he’s supposed to want if he gets involved with her. However, it’s only when Tyler decides Marla knows to much and is a threat to them, that the Narrator starts to assemble the different aspects of reality into a complete picture.

The Narrator’s dissociation with Tyler is fascinating to me in terms of the whole psychology side of it. Tyler is everything the Narrator wishes he was, and yet, the Narrator rarely approves of Tyler’s behavior. It feels a lot like the struggle between the Id and the Superego. Tyler is constantly telling the Narrator not to speak of him. It’s a huge point of contention when it comes to Marla especially. Tyler will take what he wants from her and make the Narrator get rid of her, telling him not speak of Tyler. Once the dissociation becomes known, each of Tyler’s paranoid behaviors make more sense. By the end of the film, the Ego finally shows up, bringing balance to both aspects of the personality.

At the beginning of this whole thing, I mentioned that the film is also about fascism. That part is rarely spoken of in commentaries… or at least the ones I can find all these years later. Project Mayhem is a prime example of the concept. Fascism is defined as a strong authoritarian model that is strictly regimented with consequences for opposition to the leader. Well, that’s exactly what Project Mayhem was. Like the original Fight Club, the first two rules of Project Mayhem are the same: You don’t ask questions about Project Mayhem. Tyler was brilliant when setting up these rules, because even the Narrator can’t ask questions of his troops. When he starts piecing together the picture, and trying to stop the upcoming explosion of the buildings, he’s shut down by each and every member of his group.

What I thought was going to be two hours of watching dudes beat the crap out of each other, was, in fact, two hours of watching the layers of society be dissected. I’m looking forward to reading the book now, as I did with Cosmopolis, to see how that discussion was even greater. I know there were aspects left out in the film, because there always are. For anyone else interested, it can be found on Amazon.

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