My interest in explaining Fight Club to readers was stoked by a popular movie quote circulating social media. Fight Club is a must-see movie for anyone who is interested in exploring the extremes of socialist and corporatist societies, through an existentialist lens. For the past 22 years, endless commentary came from two camps: those insecure haters who despise their own reflection that Director David Fincher shows to them with a crystal-clear mirror, and the sycophantic fanboys who can’t wait to take movie quotes out of context to promote their own pseudo-intellectual mantras.
All of the right people hated the movie:
Rosie O’Donnell saw a screener for the movie before it came to theaters. Its ideology angered her so much that she chose to use her talkshow of 5 million viewers (The Rosie O’Donnell Show), to purposefully ruin the ending before anyone had seen it. She called the “violence,” and “anti-consumerism” in the movie “dangerous.” Amusing commentary coming from her, considering she assaults and threatens an old man continuously in Curb Your Enthusiasm. What an anti-violent saint she is!
“Undermines its serious undertones with an avalanche of smirky cynicism designed to flatter the hipper-than-thou fantasies of adolescent moviegoers.” —David Sterritt of The Christian Science Monitor
”This is the dumbest of the entries in Hollywood’s anti-consumerist new wave.” —Andrew O’Hehir of Salon (an ideological zealot, busted numerous times)
“What's most troubling about this witless mishmash of whiny, infantile philosophizing and bone-crunching violence is the increasing realization that it actually thinks it's saying something of significance.” —Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times
“If, as Fincher has said, this movie is supposed to be funny, then the joke's on us.” —Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment
“So far from satirising the tiresome crisis of masculinity stuff sloshing around the airwaves either side of the Atlantic, the film simply endorses it, with Tyler presented as a deeply interesting Zeitgeist anti-hero.”—Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian
Common Sense Media could not even garner a single positive message from the movie. Their “talk to your kids” section on the movie fully demonstrates their inability to understand the movie through their biases. They did not offer a single mention of existentialism, corporatism, anarchosocialism, cult indoctrination tactics, collectivism, or individualism. This movie is a cornucopia of lessons for a mature late-high school child, and Common Sense Media can’t seem to grasp the reasons why.
Roger Ebert of Siskel and Ebert took the grand prize for stupidity in his review, confusing the black bloc anarchosocialism of the movie for “fascism,” as he completely misses the poignant juxtaposition of extremes at the beginning and end of the movie - which is not an endorsement for either lifestyle. He also calls it a “celebration of violence,” despite the many depictions of negative consequences. Some people are so dense they can’t even be hit over the head, with violence - now that’s an irony.
By contrast, the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, The Boston Globe, and Time Magazine loved the movie. But those papers are usually ideologically simpatico with the haters of the movie, so what gives? When a film polarizes so many people who usually parrot each other, you know that its creators have done something impressive.
To recap the movie (SPOILER ALERT):
Ed Norton’s main character is the first-person narrator who is unnamed. He goes through five phases of character development: his corporate job, his victim/survivor groups, fight clubs, anarchosocialist black bloc terror cells, killing the cult.
Phase 1: Corporate Job
Ed Norton’s unnamed character is a young professional living a repetitive, robotic corporate life, with an Ikea-consumerist rhythm, and utter boredom with his job and life. His life is meaningless, repetitive, and empty. He has extreme insomnia from his aimless and empty experience in life.
Pase 2: Victim/Survivor Groups
A side-comment from a doctor encourages him to “see what real pain looks like” at the testicular cancer survivor group. He starts attending victim and survivor support groups, and discovers how people find great meaning in life by struggling against pain. So he starts faking conditions, to feel the pain and find his own meaning. It temporarily cures his insomnia, and he seems satisfied for the first time.
Phase 3: Fight Clubs
The inception of fight club begins when he meets Marla in a victim support group. She is another faker, and her fraudulence reminds him that he’s living a lie, which completely destroys his escape from reality. His insomnia returns, and he confronts Marla with a plan to avoid each other at the meetings. Soon after this, he encounters Tyler Durden, a vivacious and virile soap-maker, who challenges him to a fight.
They soon create “fight clubs,” where men can go for single combat with each other at night. In the fight clubs, men are reduced to their primal survival imperative, to mock the phony consumerist lifestyle they all live by day. They are so desperate to feel alive and real in a sheltered, artificial, and fake society, that they love the thrill and pain of the fights. The fight clubs signify the progression of Ed Norton’s fake pain from his victim-group experiences, towards real pain.
Phase 4: Anarchosocialist black bloc terror cells
Tyler Durden begins an intimate relationship with Marla to the disgust of Ed Norton. Tyler realizes that they need more than just the fight clubs to cure society of its empty corporatist existence. They form anarchosocialist black bloc terror cells to spread “mayhem” and cause pain for others. It becomes a total revolt against the corporatist lifestyle.
In regards to pain acceptance, he realizes that he must bring the pain to other people, whether they like it or not, to “save them from themselves” and the empty life that he used to live in his corporate job. He wants to destroy civilization, sending it back to its primal state. In his words:
In the end, we discover that Tyler Durden is actually Ed Norton. Tylder Durden is the product of Ed Norton’s schizophrenic split personality. His fight clubs and terror cells spread across the entire nation, and we get a glimpse of the destruction of civilization when his bombs destroy financial districts across all of the major cities in America. “Project Mayhem” was not just about causing pain to one city, but rather, turning the world into Lord of the Flies.
Phase 5: Killing The Cult
When Ed Norton starts to realize that Tyler Durden is not real, he becomes disgusted with what Tyler has done. Finally, Ed Norton discovers passion in life, to stop the destruction and chaos that he set in motion. He resents how the terror cells worship him like a cult leader. He realizes that he cares deeply for Marla, and tries to save her from the terror attack, in a selfless confession and dismissal. He turns himself in to the police, and tells them about the entire plan, and points them to all of the evidence and locations. Unfortunately, the police are also involved in Project Mayhem, and Ed Norton has to escape just to continue to fight against the attack.
When he arrives at the vantage point for the explosions, his split personality emerges again, and he fights Tyler Durden (himself) to defuse a bomb. At the end of the fighting, he shoots himself in the left half of his face to “kill” Tyler Durden. Meanwhile, his terrorist stooges kidnapped Marla and brought her to him at the vantage point.
The movie ends with Tyler Durden eliminated, all of America’s debt erased, financial chaos, the destruction of the corporatist organization of society, and Ed Norton happy to be with Marla. He finally discovers meaning in life through the conflicts of his own making. Through the death, destruction, collectivist identity-erasure, and cult-formation, he realizes that much of his quest to find meaning by artificially creating pain, was also empty and foolish.
Tyler Durden‘s Witticisms Are Not Biblical Scripture
What makes Fight Club interesting to this day, is that it was made with the highest intellect and artistry. The author, the screenwriters, the director, and everyone involved in the creative process made a true work of art. And like all authentic works of art from brilliant minds, it is a polarizing film that confuses many viewers, including casual sychophantic fanboys and “professional” critics.
It’s almost incomprehensible how anyone could take witticisms from Tyler Durden as gospel, after they watch the character do such terrible things that ultimately, his “god” (i.e. Ed Norton, who controls the split personality), chooses to send him to oblivion. To wit, on social media, the fanboys were yet again hailing the false-wisdom of Tyler Durden’s quote, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” This is an irrefutably fallacious axiom. Possessions, associations, morals, knowledge, intellect, and virtues all enable a person to do many things. If a person is fully emptied of those things, they most certainly are massively restricted in what they can do. Those things carry obligations as well. It’s a trade off. Which is one of the positive messages of the movie: both extreme disorder and extreme order erode our humanity.
Should we care if a person lacks the critical thinking to understand that these “clever” axioms from Tyler Durden are actually foolish? I would say yes, for two reasons. Firstly, it makes them misunderstand the author’s intentions. And secondly, these witticisms are terrible ideas masquerading as attractive culture. These clever axioms of Tyler Durden are used to build the neurotic and absurd character of Ed Norton’s imaginary split personality. His dialogue is laced with pseudo-intellectual contradictions and foolish ideas that ultimately lead to the anarchosocialist flip-side of the corporatist cubicle maze that kicks off the initial conflict. The author did not intend for such dialogue to be extracted out of context and treated like wise mantras. There is truth in Tyler Durden’s witticisms, but the plot of the movie makes it clear: the truth of his philosophy declines as it is taken to the opposite extreme.
The Existentialism of Fight Club
A testament to the miseducation of America is yet again apparent in the fact that in dozens of “professional” reviews, I couldn’t find a single mention of existentialism. If I missed one, kudos to that reviewer, who can count himself as an elite critic amongst the legions of dolts with useless graduate degrees from Ivy League joke-universities.
The entire movie is based upon existentialism. Tyler’s split personality is a classic “The Other” - imagining another person living through the exact same experiences, yet seeing them differently and experiencing them differently. What remains consistent between the self and “The Other” becomes the objective reality. The view of “The Other” is called “The Look.” The author is constantly exploring “The Look” through Tyler Durden’s juxtaposition to Ed Norton. Other key features of existentialism are thematic in the movie. Existence over essence is highly engaged. Struggle with authenticity, phoniness, and meaning versus meaninglessness, and absurdity are all prevalent in the narrative.
Fanboys, Lamestream Talkers, and Ideology
What I dislike about the movie is only by proxy: it’s yet another reminder of the pseudo-intellectual frauds who occupy positions of influence and power in our society. Since it hit theaters it has been a Rorschach test for intellect, spiritual, and psychological integrity - thus highly misrepresented by many people who talk about it. In fact, the mainstream critics like Roger Ebert savaged the movie in such amusingly stupid ways, that David Fincher published their insults in the first DVD jacket.
I loved that about him. While Fincher can’t help the influence and power that these numbskulls wield over the industry and art, he can mock how foolish they are in his own circle of power and influence.
But fanboys have maligned the movie equally to critics. They find some little thing that suits their sentiments, and then they coerce it into the meaning of the movie.
The author presented existentialist, Marxist, anarchical, and deconstructionist ideas. But he did not advocate them. That is a huge difference. In the beginning, the “consumerist,” “surplus” lifestyle of Bourgeois corporatism is depicted as pathetic and empty. But by the end of the movie, the anarchical Marxist depiction is equally as pathetic (if not more), with Tyler’s quest to reduce civilization back to the “equality” of the jungle.
The author mocks the delusion of “authenticity” in anarchosocialist collectives, when they all wear the same color, pursue the same things, think the same way, and even erase their names. The oxymoron of socialist individualism is fully derided when Paulson dies and they all stupidly look at each other in pure puzzlement; they can’t even give him a funeral without saying his name. So like a bunch of cult-indoctrinated drones grasping with the cognitive dissonance of this contradiction, they conclude “in death people regain their names.” A person must die, then, in order to be a real individual, even as they fake being an individual in their little anarchosocialist collectives.
It’s only through cultural bias, psychological weakness, or a lack of intellect that a person could say that the movie encourages one thing or another. Fallacious witticisms aren’t items of advocacy by the author - they’re simply character building blocks, for the good, the bad, and the ugly of Tyler Durden.
In the beginning it shows the extreme emptiness and ugliness of bourgeois consumerism. In the end it shows that the anarchosocialist alternative is equally empty and ugly, with the little sycophantic drones running around speaking Tyler’s name like he’s a messiah, yet claiming “individualism” at the same time.
I think the author and producers of this work vividly depicted the dangers of these extremes, and certainly did not advocate either one of them. Instead, they ask the audience to contemplate where these ideas and lifestyles lead when taken to their logical conclusions.
As for complaints about the violence? They were just a veneer. The same critics who decried the violence of Fight Club found the much higher level of violence in war, espionage, and crime movies perfectly acceptable. A person who has never experienced violence may be unnerved by the honesty of the violence in Fight Club. Its violence is too relatable to their daily lives.
But it’s probably not the violence itself that unnerves them. It’s the advocacy of pain acceptance over pain aversion. These people spend so much energy running from every discomfort in life, that they can’t even fathom how courageous people can actually run towards pain to feel alive and to conquer it. They must be even more unnerved that other people feel hollow and empty with a life free of conflict, and overloaded with pacifying creature comforts. In the most dramatic scene depicting the courage to accept pain rather than run from it, Tyler Durden pours lye on Ed Norton’s hand and forces him to calmly accept the chemical burn before he neutralizes it:
I give Fight Club one of my rare 5/5 star ratings. Occasionally, there is a movie that strikes a chord with the zeitgeist so loudly that it reveals more about our society than the messages in its own script. To some, Fight Club is an uncomfortable reminder of the lack of meaning, unimpressive struggles, and cowardice in their own lives. To some, it’s a misinterpreted epic poem to justify their anarchosocialist or corporatist ideologies. To some, the decontextualized witticisms of Tyler Durden read like gospel to shore up their lack of well-formed transcendent religious belief, and disappointments in their social lives.
But to people like me, Fight Club is a deeply profound existentialist work of art, that is as compatible with Aristotelian and Confucian Golden Mean as it is with calls for moderation in lifestyle, political, economic, and social organization. Adding the encouragement of pain acceptance, courage, and questioning the wisdom of herd mentality are all delicious icings on the cake. After all, “hive-mind resigned” is the motto of Alvarism.
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