"I still can't think of anything."

Fight Club was Chuck Palahniuk's debut novel, published in hardcover in August 1996. It was the first taste readers would get of his raw, brutal writing style, and set out many of the themes (hitting bottom, violence as catharsis, disenfrachisement with society, perceiving normal facts of life as atrocities) he would explore in his later novels: Survivor, Choke, and Lullaby.

While Fight Club was pubished before Invisible Monsters, it was actually written second, after Invisible Monsters had been rejected again and again for being "too dark." Palahniuk poured his frustration and depression into Fight Club, making it unquestionably darker and more violent than Invisible Monsters. Naturally, Fight Club was picked up relatively quickly, and went on to become a cult classic as both a novel and a film.

While the novel was a success, especially as dark, violent, and ultimately critical novels about modern society go, most people remember instead the movie adaptation, released to theatres in 1999, starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. This movie (which was surprisingly true to the novel) was at turns thoughtful and violent, sarcastic and bitingly true, and was both a box-office hit and an instant cult classic. Many people have tried to interpret the movie as anything from a Biblical allegory to a fevered hallucination on the part of the protagonist, and the movie is full of memorable quotes, like any classic American movie.

"Everything is just a copy, of a copy, of a copy..."

Fight Club is the internal narrative of the unnamed protagonist, starting out with his pithy, cynical descriptions of his day-to-day life as a yuppie "cubicle jockey." All of the pent-up frustration with his life, not relieved by his consumerist excesses, is coming out as insomnia and hallucination. Despite being a success by any other measure, the narrator isn't happy with his life.

Looking for a way to let loose all of his pent up tension over his pointless, little life, the narrator takes to going to support groups and lying about this malady or that malady, looking for cheap sympathy. This brings him relief, for a while, until a callous and intriguing woman and a anarchistic stranger enter his life, and destroy everything he ever believed, about himself or the world.


"And suddenly I realize that all of this: the gun, the bombs, the revolution...has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer."

Marla Singer, a twisted and cynical bitch, has started going to the same support groups, relieving her own boredom. ("It's cheaper than a movie, and there's free coffee.") Her presence, her lie ruins the protagonist's catharsis, bringing back his crippling insomnia.

And then, on a business trip, he meets Tyler Durden. Tyler is attractive, determined, organized, charismatic, and, in the narrator's words, "free in all the ways [the narrator] is not." As the narrator's life comes down around his ears, strikingly symbolized by the unexplainable detonation of his apartment (apparently caused by a faulty stove or leaky gas line).

"I want you to hit me as hard as you can."

Left with only a fiery ruin for a home, he turned to the closest thing to a friendly ear he could find: Tyler Durden's business card. Tyler and the narrator become fast friends, as the narrator finds himself attracted to Tyler's nihilistic and antimaterialistic worldview. He even rises to Tyler's first challenge: a fight, in the parking lot.

From here, the narrator and Tyler's friendship and Tyler's curious lust/ignore relationship with Marla grow, alongside Tyler's odd vision of "Fight Clubs," anonymous gatherings of men of all classes, beating the crap out of each other for some form of catharsis, relieving their stress and their frustration and their social impotence.

"He's setting up fucking franchises."

The narrator, looking only for an escape from his dreary life, seems content with this, but Tyler, ever in charge, wants more and more. Slowly, he spreads Fight Clubs all over the country, and begins coordinating michievous terrorism. This Project Mayhem, set up without the narrator's knowledge, takes on a life of its own, even as Tyler disappears from the narrator's life. One night, he discovers Tyler's plans to demolish the headquarters of several major banks and credit card companies, to destroy the credit records.

This isn't the only revelation. The narrator finally discovers that he is Tyler Durden, that all of this is what he wanted, and that Tyler is the person he wants to be. Tyler and the narrator are just two halves of his own personality, warring for control of himself. In a final confrontation before the bombs are detonated, the narrator takes control, but too late to stop the demolition.

In the novel, the narrator is institutionalized, unsure of who he really is or what he really did. The movie isn't so grim, ending everything with a strangely sweet scene as the narrator and Marla hold hands, watching the destruction, to the voice of Black Francis wailing the lyrics of Where Is My Mind?, until the credits.

"You are not your hopes. You will not be saved. We are all going to die, someday."

The novel and movie are surprisingly close to each other, save for the endings. The novel has some additional material about the relationship between Marla and the narrator and Tyler, and Project Mayhem is considerably less benign in the novel's version. In particular, the final destruction of the bank offices is less harmless; the evacuation in the movie never happened in the novel.

There was a repeated concept threaded into both movies Fight Club and Sixth Sense. A duality existed that was unknown to the unwilling participant in both cases. For the audience, the element of surprise, I would say, was well constructed, because we saw the ideas being presented in front of us as being more logical than the alternative truths behind them. For a change, we were surprised by the diversity of human capacity rather than the typical shock value that movies are presenting of late.

Fight Club had a few overlapping points to make, most of which had to do with corporate America, disenchantment and the reaction to hopelessness and inactivity. The problems I had with the film didn't have to do with gratuitious violence as a means of reaction to the numbness that comes from conformity, per se. But my problems may stem from the fact that I am a female and violence has not done much to boost my deflated soul. I need to be more creative than that. Not that violence has not reached a creative level, but I'm sure you can finish my argument in your own words.

The focus of the violence seemed to be directed at faceless corporations, funneled so precisely that the people acting out the violence were no longer important enough to warrant names. I question the validity of the concept that the only way to fight a system is to create a system identical to it in structure, order, and execution. How is the system that Tyler constructed any different than the one they were rebelling against, and is the only reason it was thus because Tyler's thought processes were the result of a split personality? We are certain that Ed Norton's character would never be capable of escape from complacency without splitting his personality, that Tyler was as close to absolution as he could get.

If anything, the movie is an oversimplified view of the mutation of the human condition in America. There is a shift from privatization in a family sense to one in more and us-against-them sense, one where the motivation to fight the system is due to a respect for community is not the focus anymore but instead is replaced with a feigned sense of togetherness through a loss of the indiviudal.

People once owned family businesses, which were integral to the family structure. As we evolve as a society, the concept of togetherness is slowly lost, and we are detached from one another.

I wonder if this us-against-them attitude produces anything but more detachment.

My wife doesn't understand the violence either, but I think I do, because I am a man, raised in the cultural milieu of the United States of America. Violence is integrated into our worldview, and part of our coming of age. Organized sports is for many boys their first foray into the world of men. Violence between boys on the sports field and verbal assualt by coaches combine to send a clear message.

The message we receive as young men, seeking our role in life, looking for leadership and guidance?

Violence, in the proper context, is good.

That's right. . . good.
We know violence is good because the vast majority of us directly associate it with the only camaraderie and friendship we have ever known. Team sports teach us that winners never quit, that loyalty is a virtue, and that violence has its own rewards: a crushing hit in american football, in soccer, a slide tackle that leaves an opponent gasping for air on the ground both receive cheers and accolades from the coach and our peers. We are violent by pavlovian response, like a dog that wags its tail when you kick it because you give him milkbones afterwards.

But what is the proper context for violence? Men know. Edward Norton knew in Fight Club, knows deep in his bones, so deep inside him that he can't keep it in--it splits him asunder. Fight Club attempts to regain the friendship and unity gained through violence by giving men with no outlet for it a chance to physically express it. Waiters, clerks, clergy, office drones, and bartenders no longer have the proper context for violence, and they need it. They miss their beatings and milkbones. Violence is not about reacting to conformity--violence is about connection to the society of men. Norton's character cannot sleep and goes mad without his connection to this society. He attempts to do so with his support groups, but they ultimately fail. In 2000 era America, the only way that men can connect is through violence. Fight Club is the connection.

I'll tell you a secret. I wish I could find a fight club. I crave the interaction and the unity that shared violence creates. Contrary to The inverse relationship between muscle mass and brainpower, I am not stupid. I played football in high school, and rugby in college. I made good friends, was a part of a team, and that, ladies and gentleman, is where I began to learn to be a man and to interact with men. Violence began it, and violence is the quick fix to regain it.

For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother

King Henry V, Act 4 Scene 3

An update, in response to coffy. I taught my wife how to punch finally, after watching her pummel me without effect.

It was a tactical error--a definite mistake. I get more bruises from her small bony fists than I care to count (or admit.)

Am I the only person who found it weird that we could go to a Hollywood movie to be lectured about the evils of consumer capitalism?
Or have Brad Pitt disparaging Calvin Klein style masculine body imagery 'Is this what a man looks like?' before stripping off to display the work of endless sessions with a personal trainer?
Back in the fifties a French intellectual movement known as the Situationists posited the idea of the Society of the Spectacle, where we cease to be actors and become passive spectators.
One of the worst aspects of the spectacle was its ability to recoup - that is absorb and defuse - challenges to this passivity.
Thus punk begins as a radical rejection of the tyranny of teen culture, and ends up as a lifestyle you can buy off the peg.
And Fight Club reinforces all the passivity it preaches against because as Marshal McLuhan said 'The medium is the message. We think that watching a movie is an act of rebellion. In fact it just disarms what little resistance we have left.

Disclaimer: This argument may have been overstated for rhetorical effect.
Before Tyler Durden is introduced in the movie, he pops up and then disappears in four different scenes, it happens very quickly and it is easy to miss, in fact each of appearances only last for one frame each (Thanks TallRoo for the frames detail). The places he shows up are:

  1. When The Narrator (Edward Norton) is at the copy machine and is staring into space, Tyler appears.
  2. When the doctor tells The Narrator that real pain can be seen at the testicular cancer meeting, Tyler appears behind him.
  3. At the testicular cancer meeting, the chairman calming down Thomas from talking has Tyler appear behind him with his arm around his shoulder.
  4. When The Narrator sees Marla Singer leave the brain parasites group and watches her walk down the street, Tyler appears between the two of them in the street.

There is a fifth time that Tyler shows up that is not subliminal, when The Narrator is in his single serving hotel room, the television is on and an image is shown of a group of waiters all saying welcome. Tyler is the waiter in the first row on the far right hand side.

The first time we actually get to "see" Tyler is on the flat escalator travelling in the opposite director to The Narrator. This isn't a subliminal scene or a hidden reference as such, but rather the last real step before Tyler enters The Narrator's world.

Another interesting thing to note is that in the credits Edward Norton's character is only described as "The Narrator" and even though there is the running "I am Joe's..." joke, through-out the movie we are never told his actual name.

Finally in the last few seconds before the movie finishes a cock is flashed on the screen, the same cock that Tyler was using to splice into Disney films. This one is a little easier to pick and you know exactly what it is when you see it.

Yes I am aware that in the movie it is "I am Jack's..." Thanks go out to the fifty odd people who have messaged me informing me of that fact. However in the book it is I am Joe's, and there is a I am Joe's node that lists all the different things of Joe that I am. Thus the reason for I am Joe's... in the above w/u and not Jack's... Please no more messages telling me it is Jack not Joe.

Fight Club Thoughts

The critics have it all wrong. They think Fight Club is about "fight club," the male macho beat-em-up group that is depicted in the film. Fight Club itself is merely a partially successful manifestation of an ideal present in every member's mind. Tyler Durden is the first to instigate the concept of brawling: bluntly asking the narrator to hit him. The narrator is still stuck in the world of contemporary reality, confused as to what Durden is implying, and the consequences that will result. When the narrator finally reaches out and smacks Durden in the ear (rather awkwardly), he has stepped outside his comfort zone.

He has succeeded in the first step along the path Durden has selected to obtain enlightenment: he has let go of the socially constructed norm. Fight Club's deeper philosophical implications are less upon the pursuit of feral instincts and more upon the rebellious act of rejecting presumptions and societal constraints.

Durden's somewhat outrageous (in our terms) behavior and manner is a severe mockery of society's standards (his smug honesty while selling beauty stores soap made from despicable substances; his splicing of pornographic film frames into children's film; urinating in the soup...). However, Tyler simply refuses to care; his reasoning is derived from his pursuit of identity and selfish enlightenment. Certainly there is nothing wrong with this course of action: Tyler is living for himself, following his own definition of happiness. His house is decrepit, he steals whatever he wants, he lives on his instantaneous whims. Durden, perhaps by our standards, would be considered amoral - lacking any system of justice, truth, right or wrong. Morality, however, is solely determined by the individual. In a world of monotonous repetition, where life's truths are auctioned for only $19.95, and capitalistic fervor consumes every dream - no one can stand above another morally.

Laws are determined by the morality of the majority. Is the system right? Not necessarily. For the individual with a conflicting morality, the pure incentive to follow the law is the consequence that results otherwise. Durden ignores these consequences, his wit and intelligence allow his confident superiority.

And so we are presented with a character that follows his impulses, yet is searching for the answer. Durden is the narrator's imaginary construct and key to enlightenment. The narrator had followed the system of the world: high school, college, job, marriage. Durden responds rather ironically: "Maybe another woman is not what we need." But Tyler has a point. Is the system of the world the best?

Tyler says no. Reject the system, hit the bottom and look up at your answer. Fight club is a perfect instinctual catharsis to promote release. Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction might be the answer.

We are the all singing, all dancing shit of the world. Project Mayhem, says Durden, is the natural progression of Fight Club. Yet here is were Durden (perhaps the writer/director) go wrong. Critics have labeled the film fascist on account of the self-sacrificing martyrs that compose of Project Mayhem's "Human Sacrifices." Although the narrator/Durden is stuck between dream worlds, the ultimate control Tyler takes over members of Project Mayhem is disturbingly totalitarian. Tyler Durden has every right to follow this course of action, however. His morality is his own construction, the "human sacrifices" are merely a means to an end. Tyler dreams of a world were "you wear a leather jacket that will last you your whole life," the mindless drones who follow him have every right to be entrapped. Tyler is a leader in society's description. There is no doubt that throughout the movie Tyler displays controlling characteristics. His rugged personality enigmatically drew the narrator/fight club members in. His evolution of intriguing mental stimuli held their interest. His ultimate control was secured by his newly imbedded philosophies.

Durden's fatal flaw is, in fact, his control. His entire message was to embrace nihilism, to be nothing more than a zero, to accept the moment and follow your course. Controlling others leads to an orderly progression into chaos.

Fight club, however, can promote practical application, can act as a catalyst in intellectual evolution. Do not go and start a local Fight Club. Fight club is merely part of the extended metaphor of letting go. Let go. See what happens. Consequences abound, but living outside the boundaries of consequences is possible. Perhaps, though, embracing unknown destruction will lead to bullet in the head, completely unexpected, completely liberating. On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight? I grant you: not much. But how much can you know about yourself if all you ever do is fight? This is going to sound a little crazy, but let me spew a few lines from the front of the novel before I dump my interpretation on you.
The barrel of the gun pressed against the back of my throat, Tyler says, "we really won't die."
"This isn't really death," Tyler says. "We'll be legend. We won't grow old."
Fight Club (yes, I know, the first and second rules... what are you gonna do, cut my balls off?) is not about violence, nor about consumerism. It's not about embracing nihilism, and it's not about living in a Starbucks world either. To be a disciple of the movie Fight Club, I'm terribly sorry, but you're going to have to think in more than yin and yang, more than black and white.

Not only did Edward Norton's deluded capitalist sheep of a character have it wrong, but Tyler Durden also had it wrong. Tyler Durden was simply a manifestation of the narrator's internal knowledge that something in his life was very, very wrong. Tyler embraced nihilism, the willful destruction of everything that tied him to his individuality: "You are not a unique snowflake!" The Narrator, on the other hand, clings to his pathetic life. He can't let go no matter what. His yin-yang coffee table symbolizes his divided mind--of course it's difficult to peel away from such a coddled life.

So Tyler Durden shows up, and there is no half-assed peeling done. In one hard, clean yank--in a fiery explosion--the Narrator's possessions, his consumerized Ikea life, his identity, all disappear, and Tyler is free to shape him.

But Tyler Durden is everything that the Narrator is not. Tyler Durden doesn't give a damn about Marla as anything other than a piece of meat. The Narrator, though he initially finds her repulsive, obviously cares for her. The only caring that occurs in Project Mayhem is a military cameraderie. The dead are bodies, evidence, wormfood, until the Narrator tells them that Robert Paulson--an oaf, but a friend--has a name!

Tyler's whole raison d'etre is getting the Narrator to "wake up", to no longer be afraid of dying or hurting (or loving, which also hurts...), to attack his life with gusto. All of Fight Club, all of Project Mayhem is aimed toward this goal. The logical conclusion (the explosions, the giant pranks) are taking the nihilistic ideal too far; but the tighter the Narrator clings to life, the harder Tyler Durden, his polar opposite, will pull him towards the void. The abyss does, indeed, gaze also, and it gazes from both extremes. From the last chapter of the novel:

Of course, when I pulled the trigger, I died.
And Tyler died.
We are not special.
We are not crap or trash, either.
We just are.
We just are, and what happens just happens.
And God says, "No, that's not right."
Yeah. Well. You can't teach God anything.
Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel, isn't advocating suicide when the Narrator pulls the trigger. The self-inflicted wound is symbolic soul surgery. The Narrator's last words before he shoots himself are "Listen carefully: my eyes are open." That is:
"Tyler, your work here is done."
"Tyler, I'm not going to let you kill Marla to teach me about pain."
"Tyler, this bullet is going to kill both of us."

When the smoke clears, Tyler's job is done, and the Narrator, as we knew him, is dead. I think that when you see the credits roll, Marla gets to go home and sleep with the best of both worlds.
Quotations from Fight Club, novel by Chuck Palahniuk, c.1996, Owl books.
By my perception (and several others including Edward Norton and the producer, Ross Grayson Bell himself) the film (and the book) is not about consumerism (although of course it certainly is an underlying theme) or the assertion that "Violence, in the proper context, is good".

No, the greater underlying theme is that you have to break yourself apart in order to build something new. It is only when you forget the khakis and when you forget your debts, and ultimately the fears that you're not good enough that you can actually attain a new life, and one that you have indeed been sub consciously dreaming of. The film should have shocked the world into assessing who was really controlling our lives - us, or our own fears. However, most everybody saw the shallow side of the film which was the violence, the Brad Pittness, or the more "philosophical" meaning (the comment on consumerism).

"The idea of the fighting in this is not about the suggestion that violence directed outward toward other people is a solution to your frustrations," Norton says quite firmly. "It's very much a metaphor for self transforming radicalism for the idea of directing violence inward at your own presumptions. (My character) doesn't walk out of the bar and say "Can I hit you?" he says "Will you hit me?" It's this idea that you need to get shaken out of your own cocoon. The fighting is a metaphor for stripping yourself of received notions and value systems that have been applied to you that aren't your own. And freeing yourself to discover who you actually are."

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