‘Fight Club’ (David Fincher, 1999) is probably the most analysed film in history. It’s a soaring achievement in cinema, a twisting, escalating movie that is able to provide a profound sense of timeliness whatever the period viewed in. It is my interpretation that Fight Club, in short, is a representation of extremist religion and cult figures, a symbolic allegory of the beginnings of collective belief and defiance against consumerism.
Edward Norton plays the character, “The Narrator” who lives in a society of sterility with a normal middle class white-collar job. There is nothing in his life that gives him any sense of hope or inspiration. This routine that The Narrator lives upon promotes conformity, where conglomerates are able to predict the consumers every move. The Narrator himself falls into this trap, with his admiration for IKEA and decorating his apartments. The presence of consumerism and materialism within society allows the citizens to feel unique. A person’s fashion sense, design, and appearance are their only defining factors. As The Narrator confesses his apartment was his life, the film creates this compelling image of the middle class as trapped within an illusion of happiness, where the ability to present a manipulated image of ones self is normal. The Narrator doesn’t consider his job fascinating but he understands it as part of his routine. Yet he is yearning for more, yearning for an environment where he can be anyone he wants. The Narrator doesn’t want conformity or the normalised social routine of life, he wants to become someone else, an actor.
The use of the clubs allows the audience to understand The Narrator’s fascination with collection and masses. This works on a number of levels. Firstly, The Narrator is used to a society where everyone does the same thing, is a part of a concrete social process and therefore it is understandable he would join a generic club that can be found in any town, in any country in the world. However, while the atmosphere that is created is important, The Narrator in a sense feeds off this idea that everyone else can see him being someone he isn’t. The adrenaline, the addiction to this false image and living outside of a routine is what gives the character a rush. Rather than simply having a partner to cry with, The Narrator seeks a group to show off to, to exist in an environment where he can be the actor. As much as The Narrator wants to escape the routine, he identifies it as necessary to feeling good about himself. There would be little satisfaction if he cried alone. He must cry with others, to show that he can create an image. When Marla joins and identifies The Narrator as fake, he cannot gain the gratification he needs because he is exposed. Very much like when he decorates his apartment, The Narrator is dressing himself up.
The belief that the action of exerting his emotions and crying will lift his insomnia is reflective of the shared hope that each member of these clubs have. They all believe that coming together will give them a new view on life, allow them to be loved and purposful.The creation of this community propels an epiphany in The Narrator. He realises his addiction to pretending, to being someone he isn’t. However, like any addiction eventually the substance becomes a norm and the high lacks significance. The Narrator creates a routine of all the clubs he can go to and the days in which he may. This is forced upon him by Marla, a confident figure who shouldn’t have any right to manipulate The Narrator but she does. Like a corporation she forces The Narrator into making his love for clubs into a routine and therefore it loses its significance. An escalation is needed to produce a new satisfaction, resulting in the fight club. The Narrator is pushed towards creating a figure that he can inspire towards, a teacher, a mentor, an idol. Tyler Durden is created. Someone who is able to gain gratification without conforming to routine. The Narrator doesn’t want to be a product anymore, he doesn’t want to fake an image, he wants to become the image, he wants to become Durden. Durden is a cult figure. To The Narrator, Durden is an inspiration, a god like character. The Narrator never challenges Durden, he is blind to his flaws.
As the film progresses, fight club expands from a few men fighting to rid themself of emotion to a full cult, with inductions and need to pledge ones self to its cause. This transformation is significant as it represents the way that mass religion and mass worshipping of figures like a god can become violent without structure. The film’s fight club has its own agenda, its own way of fighting consumerism. The violence of these actions lacks any moral consequence upon the characters. Each character views themself as having a role to play, under the spell of Durden. The loyalty and brotherhood of this group is an incredible symbol for the unity and faith of these form of extremist religions. However, the film makes a clear point of noting that the fight club is not tolerable, it has its own purpose and will not change this to fit society’s will. The transition therefore to being violent is not representative of the general religion but only select groups within each that have a narrow minded view, unwilling to accept other people’s perspectives or beliefs. Fincher is warning society that if we do not provide structure to our beliefs and faith, we will lose our innocence and control. Organised religion becomes violent when it is not tolerant. Extremism devours the orignal purpose and contradictory actions are made.
Fight Club presents an anti-organised religious view. In a similar argument to the recently released “Sausage Party”, Fight Club argues that religion can only be stable if it is controlled and checked. If we all go out into the world with little consideration or tolerance for the beliefs of others, violence will ensue and the original purpose is lost. One cannot simply destroy the notion of consumerism. In our current society, consumerism creates routine, even if it is dulling and subject to an individual’s wealth and class. Defying a routine or socially accepted norm is fine, and often encouraged, but the individual cannot simply expect the rest of society to follow along. Without any sense of order, chaos will occur, indulgence will occur (see the orgy at the end of Sausage Party) and ultimately the original purpose is lose.