Fight Club: Existentialism

Fight Club (1999) is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator (Edward Norton). When first met, he is an insomniac, just existing in a world where he doesn’t have the energy or desire to even question his current life. This changes when he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who introduces him to a world of chaos and violence in the form of the fight club and later Project Mayhem. These experiences lead to an existential crisis causing him to question the very foundations of his life, and whether it has meaning, purpose or value.

At the beginning of Fight Club, The Narrator is shown to live a shallow and meaningless existence. His insomnia often leaves him only semi-aware of his surroundings as he arrives in locations without knowledge of the journey. He has no future goals for his life and considers death as a way out, stating that on flights he “prayed for a crash, or a mid-air collision. Anything!” His life is based on a monotonous cycle of working, making money, and spending it on consumer-oriented products, such as IKEA furniture. He realises, as Bennet (2005) states that he has ‘succumbed to the easy IKEA comforts of Danish modernist furniture’ (p.72). This is reflected by his statement in the movie that he has spent his “whole life to buy this stuff”. It is only upon meeting Tyler, that The Narrator is able to acknowledge the meaninglessness of his life and take action, leading to an existential crisis.

As The Narrator struggles to escape from this mindless monotony, he realises that he must take action to create a meaningful life. His journey is presented as a struggle between two different men as Tyler forces The Narrator to justify his existence. The dichotomy of the situation is that, through most of the movie, the viewer thinks that the struggle is between Tyler and The Narrator. It is revealed towards the end of the movie, that he has in effect created his own meaningful life because there is no separate person called Tyler. Tyler is The Narrator. The struggle was between The Narrator and himself. This existential crisis is profound and may well have directly led to the psychological disorders that Bennet (2005) describes as “dissociative Identity Disorder, suicidal and sociopathic tendencies, and insanity”.

The Narrator/Tyler wants to help others to comprehend the absurdity of their meaningless existence (Rowlands, 2003) and uses the fight club and then Project Mayhem to provide direction and passion in their lives. In the movie, when Tyler holds a gun to the head of the man from the convenience store, he uses violence in the hope that he will shock him into ‘some kind of existential crisis that will awaken him to a deeper sense of freedom’ (Bennet, 2005). He believes that an existential confrontation with death will free him from his mundane existence.

The film chronicles the journey that The Narrator undertakes – from mindless daily routine to an existential crisis culminating in a violent conclusion. It largely focuses on the way that people can be influenced to recognise the meaninglessness of their lives and the type of action they can take to provide some purpose to their existence.

References
Bennett, R. (2005). The death of Sisyphus: Existentialist literature and the cultural logic of Chuck Palahniuk’s fight club. The international journal of existential literature. 2(2), 65-80.
Palahniuk, C., Uhls, J. (Writers), Fincher, D. (Director) & Linson, A., Chaffin, C., Bell, R.G. (Producer). (1999). Fight Club [DVD]. California: Fox 2000 Pictures.

Rowlands, M. (2003). The philosopher at the end of the universe. London: Elbury Press

Tyler Durden

Fight Club (1999) is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator (Edward Norton). When first met, he is an insomniac, just existing in a world where he doesn’t have the energy or desire to even question his current life. This changes when he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who introduces him to a world of chaos and violence in the form of the fight club and later Project Mayhem. These experiences lead to an existential crisis causing him to question the very foundations of his life, and whether it has meaning, purpose or value.

At the beginning of Fight Club, The Narrator is shown to live a shallow and meaningless existence. His insomnia often leaves him only semi-aware of his surroundings as he arrives in locations without knowledge of the journey. He has no future goals for his life and considers death as a way out, stating that on flights he “prayed for a crash, or a mid-air collision. Anything!” His life is based on a monotonous cycle of working, making money, and spending it on consumer-oriented products, such as IKEA furniture. He realises, as Bennet (2005) states that he has ‘succumbed to the easy IKEA comforts of Danish modernist furniture’ (p.72). This is reflected by his statement in the movie that he has spent his “whole life to buy this stuff”. It is only upon meeting Tyler, that The Narrator is able to acknowledge the meaninglessness of his life and take action, leading to an existential crisis. 
 
As The Narrator struggles to escape from this mindless monotony, he realises that he must take action to create a meaningful life. His journey is presented as a struggle between two different men as Tyler forces The Narrator to justify his existence. The dichotomy of the situation is that, through most of the movie, the viewer thinks that the struggle is between Tyler and The Narrator. It is revealed towards the end of the movie, that he has in effect created his own meaningful life because there is no separate person called Tyler. Tyler is The Narrator. The struggle was between The Narrator and himself. This existential crisis is profound and may well have directly led to the psychological disorders that Bennet (2005) describes as “dissociative Identity Disorder, suicidal and sociopathic tendencies, and insanity”. 
 

The Narrator/Tyler wants to help others to comprehend the absurdity of their meaningless existence (Rowlands, 2003) and uses the fight club and then Project Mayhem to provide direction and passion in their lives. In the movie, when Tyler holds a gun to the head of the man from the convenience store, he uses violence in the hope that he will shock him into ‘some kind of existential crisis that will awaken him to a deeper sense of freedom’ (Bennet, 2005). He believes that an existential confrontation with death will free him from his mundane existence.

The film chronicles the journey that The Narrator undertakes – from mindless daily routine to an existential crisis culminating in a violent conclusion. It largely focuses on the way that people can be influenced to recognise the meaninglessness of their lives and the type of action they can take to provide some purpose to their existence.


References

Bennett, R. (2005). The death of Sisyphus: Existentialist literature and the cultural logic of Chuck Palahniuk’s fight club. The international journal of existential literature. 2(2), 65-80.

Palahniuk, C., Uhls, J. (Writers), Fincher, D. (Director) & Linson, A., Chaffin, C., Bell, R.G. (Producer). (1999). Fight Club [DVD]. California: Fox 2000 Pictures.

Rowlands, M. (2003). The philosopher at the end of the universe. London: Elbury Press

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