“There are Two Rules in Fight Club …”

This is the first post in an ongoing series on the subject of film and culture.  Please be aware that many of the films reviewed in this series will contain material that is highly antithetical to the Christian faith.  Nevertheless, there is value in understanding these films for the role they play in the formation of the greater culture at large.  Any decision you make to either watch these films or not is entirely up to you.

Fifteen years ago, in 1996, a struggling writer by the name of Chuck Palahniuk published his first novel entitled Fight Club.  Three years later, a young director by the name of David Fincher decided to adapt the book to film, and the world witnessed the birth of a genuine “cult phenomenon.”

So what was Fight Club about?  And why are we still talking about it 15 years later?  Well, let’s start by taking a look at the trailer:

Right away, you can that this is an incredibly violent film, filled with all sorts of nihilistic aggression.  But the real question we have to ask is this: is that all there is to Fight Club? Is Fight Club just another violent film in the same vein as Resevoir Dogs, Saw, or A Clockwork Orange?  I would argue that the answer is “no.”  Fight Club is far more than an orgy of mayhem.  It’s about one central idea that is best summed up in the words of one of the central characters, Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt):

“I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. 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.”

What begins as mere disillusionment, however, rapidly escalates into something much more electrifying, much more insideous:

“Fight Club was the beginning,” says Durden. “Now it’s moved out of the basement, it’s called Project Mayhem.”

You see, genuine disillusionment is not a static entity.  By its very nature, disillusionment must progress in one of two directions.  It either degenerates into personal apathy, or it escalates into a state of confrontation.  In Fight Club, apathy is not an option because apathy itself  is viewed to be part of the problem.  So in Fight Club, there was never a question as to where this disillusionment would take us.  And thus, we shouldn’t be surprised when Pitt’s character finally states his real philosophy:

“Fuck damnation, man! Fuck redemption! We are God’s unwanted children. So be it!”

Now unfortunately, this is the part of the post where I now have to betray the famed ending of the movie.  For in order to understand what Fight Club is really about, in order to understand why it still resonates in 21st century, you have to understand the conclusion.  Throughout the film, you have watched “The Narrator” (played by Edward Norton) take a journey out of apathy into a place of action.  But as he witnesses the greater and greater extremes of Durden’s (Pitt’s) nihilistic actions, he becomes more and more concerned.  By the end, “The Narrator” has learned two great truths:

  1. Durden has planned to blow up buildings in the financial district of the city.
  2. Durden is not actually real.  He is “The Narrator’s” alternate personality; and thus “The Narrator” is actually responsible for everything that has transpired.

So what does he do?  Does he “fuck redemption” as the movie has lead us to believe he will?  No, he does not .  Instead, he fashions his own form of redemption as he shoots himself in the head (thus killing his alternate personality), and then grabs the hand of the his girlfriend and watches in satisfaction as the buildings come crumbling down.

“You met me at very strange time in my life …”  Now stop and think about that.  What’s he really saying?  In short, he sees himself as someone who changed: ” I was apathetic, but I no longer am.  My disillusionment has become action.  I was a follower, but I no longer am.  Now I stand alone, in complete control of my actions.  I was weak, but now … now I am Nietzsche’s ubermensch.  I define my own morality; and in my world, the corporations that sell us dreams are to blame for everything that makes society ill.  I … I am a savior; and if you follow after me, I can redeem society by tearing it down …”

So why are we still talking about Fight Club?  Why am I writing about it this morning?  Because I believe the themes of Fight Club are still being played out in society today.  I believe we see the massive dissatisfaction with the transnational corporations that dominate our world.  I believe we see apathy in the youth and a growing sense of powerlessness amongst the “middle class” of the Western World.  In the G20 protests, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Arab Spring, we see the seeds of dissatisfaction growing and I wonder whether we see the beginning of a far more violent revolution.  I wonder what this new form of “redemption” will really look like?

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3 Responses to “There are Two Rules in Fight Club …”

  1. I havent’ seen this film in years. Strange how the ending scene now evokes all sorts of other feelings in a post-9/11 world.

  2. mahoneyrm5150 says:

    I watched this movie a second time once I was in Wheaton’s theology program, and it was only in that context of study that this film made sense to me. The film is very much like the genre of biblical apocalyptic literature. It invites us into a world that sees the world not as it presents itself, but we are invited to look at the world as it is/could be.

    The problem with the film and the Occupy Movement is that, in the midst of a critique that needs to be heard, they lack anything resembling an answer. The other problem is the church, who should have an answer, but it lacks the power to respond to the critique. The church, frankly, has been very Marxist. It suggests that the solution to the problems of the material world are not terribly resolvable right now, so “here is your ticket to heaven and the anesthesia to medicate your soul until you cash in your ticket.” I don’t deny penal substitution and the reality of heaven as an intermediate state, but those are not the solutions to the world needing to be put to rights.

  3. Clearly I agree with much of what you’ve said here, but I am most interested in your comments regarding the church: “The other problem is the church, who should have an answer, but it lacks the power to respond to the critique.” I’m guessing that this critique will ruffle the feathers of many believers, but I think it needs to be taken seriously Our teaching and discipleship in the church has grown so weak that many who attend no longer understand the answer and thus they are completely incapable of bringing that answer into a bloody and uncertain world.

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