Fight Club (1999) | The Colossal Explanation

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  1. Hi, Chris!
    Thanks so much for this analysis. I completely understand the personal connection you feel with Fight Club since it has also been such an important movie for myself. I remember coming out of seeing it for the first time at the cinema and standing in line to get into the next session again.
    The ending has a connection that blew my mind already in that first session. It is with the famous painting The Arnolfini Portrait/The Arnolfini Marriage by Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck:
    The final shot is an update of this image shot from the Arnolfini’s mirror, in the background of the portrait. The connection makes even more sense with a little information about what this portrait means.
    The Arnolfini Portrait was painted on 15th century and is one of the first non hagiographic paintings (representing humans, not saints) in history. It was painted during XV in Flanders and it is entailed to the raising of bourgeois society, with an economy based on luxury textiles and trade, favored by Flanders strategic location.
    By filming “the Arnolfini” from the back, Fincher is connecting both ends of raising and downfall of bourgeoisie through a link that travels the history of representation of the individual in visual culture.
    The definition of the Narrator by his possessions, which is shown so clearly for example in the Ikea scenes was also already shown in these primitive Flemish paintings where every detail is there to show the protagonists wealth: oranges, the specific type of shoes, etc. We know we have some quotes in both Fincher’s book and the film to wake up people from this illusion.
    I have mentioned this painting is also known as The Arnolfini Marriage. Because it actually is kind of a marriage document, showing the moment they get married, with the priest represented in the mirror with them, and Van Eyck being used as a “witness”, by his signature of the painting. The chaos takes the place of the priest in the case of Fight Club and we are placed as the witness for this new common beginning.
    And a call to the audience can be found in yet one more element. Bourgeois were rich and intellectually driven to luxury and art, and they begin to commission art that represent themselves. They deserved it, they could as well be the main characters, as gods, and saints, and kings were up till then. Paintings were at the time the most practical way to do so and bourgeois began to command them and used to place them in the chapels of their houses.
    Let’s go back to the DVD (beautiful how Fight Club became a cult movie right there, in our “chapels”), to Netflix or whatever OTT and speed up 500 years:
    “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.”

    I watched the movie yesterday and was blown away. Your analysis is incredible and really helped me understand the deeper themes.
    Never take this article down! Amazing job.

    • Appreciate it Kaiah!

  3. Some people don’t even understand the main story because they only analyze parts of the movie. Like overlooking the sinking ship in Titanic, but analyzing the love story between Rose and Jack.

    The main story in Fight Club is about the process of enlightenment caused by a huge amount of mental suffering. the suffering is a result of identifying with the ego, the things we own and the roles we play in a society of hypocrites. The narrator’s subconscious mind creates a hallucination: Tyler Durden. it’s a self healing process, a psychosis. The narrator thinks, Tyler is a real person. Tyler shows him, what he needs to change in life in order to find his true self, which will end the suffering:

    letting go of attachment. stop identifying with your ego, the things you own. the roles you play in society. It is in the nature of the ego feeling incomplete. buying new things and a better job makes the ego feel better temporarily, but the feeling of incompleteness will return. All of these are teachings of ZEN Buddhism.

    Tyler says: “….never be complete, stop being perfect….”.

    be what you really are. fighting is the meditation/stop thinking aspect. there are countless more hints in the movie for the process of achieving enlightenment:

    destroying the ego of new project mayhem members. intentionally losing fights, Tyler and Ed Norton destroy fancy cars with baseball bats, but they stop at the ordinary car, and move on to the next ego-feeding car.

    enlightenment is mentioned several times in the movie, for instance the chemical burn scene which teaches: don’t run away from suffering, it let us evolve and grow.

    at the end of the movie the narrator realizes, that Tyler is a hallucination, and shoots himself. injured, he is telling Marla: “I am ok, I am really ok, trust me. everything is gonna be fine” the injury doesn’t matter, because the narrator’s suffering has ended.

    he kills Tyler, because he wants to stop him (himself) from destroying buildings and harm other people. Tyler was his ideal self, but he can’t allow him(self) to do that, even if he feels like to do so. Tyler didn’t care, because he is created from his subconscious mind, where emotions and beliefs have priority.

    • Definitely agree with a lot of that! And I’ll be reading more about Fight Club soon and getting into a lot more than what I did in this article. So I’m excited about that. There definitely is a ton of stuff relating to ego and roles and being in the moment rather than avoiding.

      I do disagree with the last paragraph. While wanting to stop the destruction of the buildings brought Norton to that location, when he finally gets rid of Tyler, it’s too late to stop the buildings. And he has no negative reaction to the buildings actually blowing up. Shooting Tyler is more an act of reintegration and finally being in a place where he feels whole. He’s learned to, as you referenced, live with his suffering. To be at peace in the pain rather than running away from it (which is what Tyler was, an act of running away).

      Appreciate the comment. As much as I’ve thought about Fight Club, I’ve never thought of the chemical burn moment as symbolic for the larger state of being alive. That embodies and simplifies the entire movie. Wow.

      Thank you.

  4. This dude doesn’t get the movie at all. It’s like not a lot of people that do. It’s about duality. The book and film are not kinda different in the ways always going to be a bit different from it’s source material. It’s extremely different. The film is about duality. In the book Marla is real. In the film she is not. Her and Tyler are both in Norton’s characters head. Long story short. Norton picks constructive feminine energy over Tyler’s destructive masculine energy.

    • Saying I don’t get the movie is outrageous. Yes, duality is a theme. But it’s not the only theme or the end all be all of the film’s intent. There’s nothing in the film that indicates Marla isn’t real. You can make a reading of the movie through that frame but what evidence is there that supports it as a primary fact of the film? Especially in comparison to have declarative the film is about every other plot point. Fight Club is thematically nuanced, dynamic, and rich. But if Marla wasn’t real, the proof would be as loud as every other plot point is. Also, your labeling of constructive feminine energy over destructive masculine energy isn’t really supported by Marla’s life. The quality of Marla’s life is very low. She’s “free” in some ways that Tyler isn’t. But it’s not like she represents something better than how Norton was living pre-Tyler or post-Tyler. If anything, it’s not about picking one energy over the other but rather the need for both halves, the totality of both the feminine and the masculine to reach some kind of balance.

      • Marla is another of the narrator’s personalities. I suspected it watching the movie, but know it having read the book. The author is quite blatant about it.

        • The book can inform the movie but it doesn’t determine the movie. In the film version, there’s nothing that ever suggests Marla is another personality. It would ruin a lot of the story if Marla were simply another personality.

          You can absolutely offer a reading where Marla is a figment. It’s fun to do things like that and see what we can take away from such re-frames. But attempting to argue that it should be the primary reading of the film misses, I think, the point of the film.

          • Reading the book it is clear Marla is another personality as these comments have stated, but the film takes this in a more different approach. I think Marla is real as an extension of the narrator. You can still frame a character as symbolic for protagonist’s emotions and subconscious, which the film definitely does, but that doesn’t inherently discount their existence in reality. If the film were taking that approach I very much doubt it would’ve been done so subtle, The film literally has a character used like that to look at for examples. Nobody but The Narrator refers to Tyler, Multiple times throughout the film even at the end (When Tyler has been revealed to be a figment of the narrator) people other than the Narrator refer to Marla.

            For this reason I feel Chris’ analysis holds up very well, And I felt my take away on the film was vindicated.

  5. Tyler durden isn’t cool! He’s a complete pretentious psycho and a terrorist.

    You think Raymond’s life is changed by that lunatic? You can’t expect a marvel style stinger in the end where Raymond is getting a cap and gown for vet school. Bullshit! The reality is poor Raymond is running in fear from being assaulted a psycho who talks to himself and Raymond is most likely gonna have the worst day of his life tomorrow. He will suffer from ptsd and become depressed and be a drug junkie or alcoholic. Tyler is an a**hole.

  6. Personally, I believe that you have misunderstood the movie; you see Tyler durden as the character ‘in the right’ but I see the movie as a criticism of his childish views. (He is literally a Terrorist cult leader, you got to be pretty confused about the point of the movie to think he’s the hero.)

    • Hey, Theo! I think you maybe misunderstood the analysis. There’s a grey area. Tyler can be right about how society influences someone’s identity through consumerism but wrong in the way in which he goes about dealing with that (the whole terrorist cult leader thing). But the whole movie is just a metaphor for the idea of someone reclaiming their sense of identity. It’s not advocating for actual cults or terrorism or anything like that. All of that is just the exaggerated, dramatic way it’s exploring the idea of rebelling against society and ultimately how fruitless that battle is. All you can really do is focus on yourself and your own life. That’s why Tyler doesn’t “survive” but the Narrator does. Tyler’s war wasn’t the answer. But it was part of the narrator’s journey to arrive at a much more healthy place.

      So yes, it does criticize Tyler’s views in the sense that we can’t fight society in the way Tyler wanted to fight society. But the movie is still very much about how problematic consumerism and capitalism are when it comes to how they shape and warp identity.

      That’s something you disagree with?

  7. If I may, I think it is very ignorant of you to give ,”a definitive”, analysis of said film, without giving credence to Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel that the film was based on without mention until 5 paragraphs in. To wit; I disagree with your “definitive” interpretation. The “novel–subsequent” film is not about as you say, “Pressure creates stress. Stress evolves into anxiety. Anxiety triggers paralysis. Paralysis causes stagnation. Stagnation gives way to yearning. Yearning begets action. Action leads to catharsis. Catharsis to relief.” Because there is no relief! The whole plot is that, once “awoke” that the material world means nothing, so the Durden seeks something visceral, pain, real , only for the reveal that even that is manufactured much like the ikea furniture in his condo. The ultimate is nihilism, nothing matters. not even the hero stories we create in your heads. BLOW IT ALL UP it, in the end it is all for naught. That it is why it is a “Fight Club” we fight our demons, we think we conquer, but there is no winner we only fight and club endlessly.

    • Despite disagreements, I do appreciate you taking the time to read the article!

      Why would I mention Palahniuk right away when the intro is a summary of the film’s story and themes? Just because he authored the source material doesn’t mean he’s immediately relevant to a discussion about a movie he was not part of.

      You disagree with my idea of the journey being “pressure-yadda-yadda-relief” but then describe the exact same journey, just using different descriptors.

      “Awakening to the reality that the material world means nothing”. The material world is what was causing pressure, stress, anxiety, paralysis, stagnation, yearning.

      “So Durden seeks something visceral, pain real”. That’s taking action.

      “Only for the reveal that even that is manufactured”. That’s catharsis.

      “The ultimate is nihilism, nothing matters”. That’s relief. It’s a bleak form of relief. But it’s relief all the same, like cutting off your arm to stop a mosquito bite from itching.

      So we agree on the journey, we just disagree on the vibe. I think the movie clearly shows Edward Norton’s in a better place than when he began and has an opportunity to move forward in a somewhat healthy way. Though, yes, the novel is not so clear. And, in fact, Palahniuk in Fight Club 2, goes completely off the rails with it.

  8. I’m curious why AA is not used in the film as one of the support groups attended by ‘Rupert’ or Marla. It’s clearly posted on the schedule as being every day, and yet it’s avoided? I wonder if Palahniuk thought it would be too cliche since AA is shown in so many other sitcoms and films.

    • I could see him thinking AA was too mundane. That he was going to show off the other support groups that people don’t know about. Especially because the kind of groups Jack attends are so next level. It makes his ploy all the more absurd.

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