Now I usually don’t like to write about media, may it be books, movies or music. I feel like everyone has their own preferences and discussing whether something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. But for an extraordinary movie like Fight Club, a movie so full of new perspectives, so full of deep concepts and philosophy, I will make an exception!
What a lot of people get wrong about Fight Club is that it is not a movie about fighting. Sure, there are a few bloody noses, but that is not the point. Instead the fighting is a metaphor for re-gaining control over your life.
The narrator feels trapped in the meaninglessness of his existence. He lives the life of an average American, dominated by his dead-end job, fast food, television and consumerism. He feels heteronomous, but at the same is too weak to break free from that. He feels that something is missing, that he has to change something, but is unable to make that change himself. That is why he creates an alter ego, Tyler Durden.
Tyler is the exact opposite of him. He is self-confident, decisive and has a very clear moral code that he lives by. But most of all, unlike the narrator he is completely free from external influences. (“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”)
This difference between the two characters becomes very apparent when they share a beer after the narrator’s apartment got blown up. While he is still stuck in his materialistic mindset, thinking that his furniture, his wardrobe and his stereo system is what defines him as a person and that this is what he needs to eventually “feel complete”, Tyler offers him a new perspective. He states how superficial the aspiration for completion is, especially if it is based on tangible possessions, (“We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. “) and instead suggests to constantly keep moving and improving. The narrator is intrigued by that idea and soon after, he and Tyler have their first fight.
This fight symbolizes the liberation from social conditioning. Fighting is something you should not do, something there is no room for in our modern society, even though it is an essential part of human nature. It is something the narrator has to forcefully reclaim as a first step towards regaining control over his life.
Tyler: “I want you to hit me as hard as you can”
Narrator: “What do you want me to do?! You just want me to hit you? Why?”
Tyler: “Why, I don’t know why. I’ve never been into a fight, you?”
Narrator: “No, but that’s a good thing!”
Tyler: “No, it’s not. What do you know about yourself if you’ve never been into a fight? I don’t want to die without any scars!”
After that first fight and the satisfaction that came with it (“When the fight was over, nothing was solved, but nothing mattered. We all felt saved.”), the narrator gradually strips his life of everything that is external validation and stimulation. (“After a month, I didn’t miss TV anymore”). He questions deep-set belief systems about what the purpose of being a man is and what is left of this purpose in our modern society.
Tyler: “My dad never went to college, so it was really important that I go there. So I graduate, call him up long-distance and say ‘dad, now what?’. He says ‘get a job’. Now I’m 25, make my yearly call again, say ‘dad, now what?’. He says ‘I don’t know. Get married!’”
Narrator: “I can’t get married. I’m a 30 year old boy.”
Tyler: “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need…”
They create their own value system, not based on the superficial criteria that the masses thanks to advertising believe in (“You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in your bank. You’re not the car you drive, not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis”), but rather based on how aware you go through life, how conscious you experience every moment, how grounded you are in your personality and how determined you are when it comes to fulfilling the purpose of your life. Tyler calls that “hitting rock bottom”, but what he really means is to completely free yourself from wasting time with all the tasks that only serve the purpose of external validation. When this is achieved, the person is what the writer Eckhard Tolle calls “being present to the moment”, a state where you only depend on yourself as source of happiness and therefore have no anxiety about the future and what it will hold for you (“First you have to know, not fear, know that someday you’re gonna die”).
This is also shown in the scene where Tyler threatens Raymond K. Hessel to kill him. By doing so he forces him to become present to the moment and start following his dreams, instead of wasting his life working in a supermarket. As Tyler knows, the gratification that Raymond will ultimately get from knowing that he is on his true purpose (as David Deida calls it) will be a lot higher than the instant gratification he could get from any external source. (“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.”)
I could not think of any movie with a moral more relevant than this. I met classmates at university that were 23 and could not wait to get their degree, get their boring, but high-paid job, get their house, their wife, their car. And once they have all that, they will probably get a younger wife and a faster car, always looking for the next thing to suck happiness from, while actually getting more and more unhappy.
People are afraid to take risks, to follow their dreams, to leave the beaten path, because they are afraid to not live up to society’s values anymore, while not realizing that this value system was skewed all along and is in fact part of the problem. We have to free ourselves from that mindset if we want to achieve anything extraordinary.
Or, as Tyler puts it: