Messages and Values in Fight Club
Messages and Values
By taking a theoretical approach to Fight Club it is possible to determine a number of themes within
the film that reveal what the film is really ‘about’. Some of the most common themes that are identified
include genderissues,particularly focusing on masculinity in contemporary society, the theme of
consumerism and its role in our lives and the concept of nihilism. The themes are all interconnected by
the ideas presented concerning identity in the film; who we are, who we would like to be and where we
turn for inspiration, guidance or support in our quest for personalidentity. This is particularly evident
in The Narrator and the journey he embarks upon throughout the narrative.
Men in contemporary society are faced with something of a crisis when trying to appear masculine.
Traditionally, ideologies of masculinity have been very much focussed on characteristics such as
strength,both physicaland emotional. Men were viewed as active, the reliable breadwinner who
supported and protected his family. However, the rise in feminism and increasing awareness in equal
rights for genderhas led to more active, strong women in society,displacing men’s roles and leaving
men unsure of their place.
The continuing rise in single parent families could also be said to contribute to this crisis, with (as
Tyler puts it) “a whole generation of men raised by women”. Without a strong male role model
involved in their upbringing men are forced to look elsewhere for guidance on ‘how to be a man’. This
is present in The Narrator whose phone calls with his father that he describes in the bathroom do not
fill the void in his life. He cannot get the answers he needs from his absent father ad so turns to Tyler
One constant that men can turn to, whether they have a male role model in their father or not, is the
media. Traditionally and even commonly viewed as a patriarchal industry we would expect the media
to present one unfaltering view of masculinity, but even here men are receiving mixed messages.It
would seemthat the media presents two differing views on contemporary masculinity. One embraces
the new feminine era and so audiences are presented with images of undoubtedly masculine men, such
as action hero Gerard Butler (300) and footballer David Beckham promoting men’s beauty products;
skin care products,hair styling products and even men’s ‘accessories’.Alternatively, audiences might
find themselves presented with an image of masculinity that rejects the feminine nature of society in an
effort to reinforce the traditional ideologies of masculinity. This could be evidenced in ‘stars’such as
rapper Eminem who quite aggressively rejects anything feminine, particularly through the lyrics in his
What makes Fight Club interesting as a product of this culture, is that it employs Brad Pitt, someone
that quite clearly fits into the first type of ‘media image’ of masculinity; one that embraces masculinity,
but uses him to challenge his media representation as Tyler who openly rejects femininity. In fact Tyler
‘arrives’ just in time to ‘save’ The Narrator from following the more feminine path in his life. It is after
The Narrator starts visiting the Remaining Men Togethersupport group,where men (biologically) are
no longer men; begins to open himself up emotionally and starts to display a ‘romantic’, albeit
immaturely so,interest in Marla that Tyler appears and points him on the path to traditional
masculinity. Tyler’s subliminal appearances before he manifests could even be said to act as a warning
to The Narrator.
In a similar way to Brad Pitt’s casting as Tyler, rock star Meatloaf is also cast in an unexpected way as
Bob, the ex-bodybuilder with no testicles and “bitch tits”. Despite his size and stature, the
representation of softly spoken Bob creates juxtaposes with Tyler, but also acts as a clear case study for
the films messages about masculinity. Stripped of his masculinity by testicular cancer, and the loss of
his ability to be a father through his family’s rejection Bob becomes the very image of femininity. He
is emotional, ‘soft’ and even becomes something of a comforting mother figure for The Narrator;
clutching him to his ample breast at the support group.
Bob, like the other men, turn to Tyler and the fight clubs as a way of reclaiming their masculinity. The
violence and brutality of the club act as an extreme escape from the feminine social pressures and a
cathartic reassurance that they are still men. By the end, Bob and the other men of Project Mayhem
have become hardened soldiers, incapable of femininity due to their clear orders and uniform
appearance. Indeed the other men of Project Mayhemare unemotional to the point that they cannot
grieve when Bob is killed due to their extreme state of masculinity; instead they adopt the cold mantra
“his name was Robert Paulson” as a way of saluting their fallen comrade.
Although Bob’s story comes to an end early it is clear that through the fight clubs and Project Mayhem
he finally found the acceptance and the reassurance of his masculinity that he was desperately seeking;
just as The Narrator, following Tyler realised his own reassurance in the end. The Narrator’s
realisation, however, does not match Bob’s. Bob finds solace in the masculine world of Project
Mayhem whereas The Narrator is only able to accept himself when he destroys Tyler and turns his
back on that way of life. Just as there is no clear answer for men in today’s society about what
constitutes masculinity, Fight Club does not attempt to offer one; it is, however an exploration of the
masculinity crisis that is occurring in society,reflecting the issues for audiences to examine and
perhaps reassuring those men that they are not alone in their uncertainty.
By Nikki • Posted in A2 Film Studies • Tagged A2 Film Studies, Analysis, Fight Club
Random Writings About Fight Club
Below is some random scribblings I started about the film Fight Club, initially intended to be a part of
something longer for my A2 Film Studies students.Alas it remains unfinished but may prove
interesting to people anyway. Be warned however, there are some major spoilers included for any that
have not seen the film!
One of the ways that David Fincher draws attention,not only to the filmmaking process and
construction of film but also to the fact that Tyler’s character is a figment of The Narrator’s
imagination is through brief flashes of Tyler’s image. These images are subliminal such as the
pornographic ones Tyler inserts into family movies through his job as a cinema projectionist – the
audience knows they have seen something but not sure what, without the power to pause and check
back frame by frame. These images appear throughout the opening scenes ofthe movie, before the
introduction of Tyler’s character.
The first of these images occurs in The Narrator’s workplace as his monotonous,bored voice-over
informs the audience that “nothing’s real; everything’s a copy of a copy of a copy”. The Narrator stares
blindly out, half asleep, as he stands at the photocopier – his actions mirroring his narration – and there
is a quick flash of Tyler facing The Narrator, standing behind the copier. The significance of this
occurrence could be interpreted as Tyler himself being a copy of the continuous images of a particular
type of ‘men’ that the media presents to society as aspirational figures. The fact that The Narrator is
also half asleep due to his insomnia making him susceptible to Tyler’s personality could also be an
The second image of Tylerappears during The Narrator’s desperately neurotic visit to the doctor. As
the doctorexplains that if The Narrator wants to see what real pain looks like he should visit the
testicular cancer support group Tyler appears standing behind him looking over his shoulder.His
appearance this time coincides with the delivery of the line “that’s pain” perhaps suggesting that Tyler
brings with him a great deal of pain for The Narrator.
Tyler’s third appearance occurs during the ‘Remaining Men Together’ support group as the leader asks
the group to “really open yourself up” and “find yourpartner”. Again Tyler appears behind the leader
of the group this time with his hand on his shoulder. Perhaps this appearance is revealing that if The
Narrator were to truly open himself up then Tyler would be revealed, and that Tyler is The Narrator’s
natural partner as he presents the otherhalf of The Narrator’s personality.
The final ‘subliminal’ image of Tyler appears as The Narrator watches Marla Singer walk away after
one of the support groups.Despite his narration having explained that he plans to confront her about
her ‘tourism’ he does not go after her, or call out to her. Perhaps Tyler appears here as a contrast to The
Narrator or to challenge him as going after Marla and confronting her would be something that we
would expect of Tyler.
The next time the audience is presented with Tyler he appears in the form of a ‘real’ person.The
Narrator spots Tylertravelling in the opposite direction on a travelator in an airport. The camera pans
to follow Tyler as he passes as The Narrator ponders “can you wake up as a different person?” At this
point having already ‘subliminally’ seen Tyler on four occasions it can’t be assumed that this is a
person that The Narrator uses to project an ideal image of himself on to. Instead it must be read that
The Narrator has crossed a line mentally, moving beyond the image of Tyler in his mind, that has
leaked out ‘subliminally’ until this point, and has now manifested a ‘real’ person with whom he can
Tyler’s final shot before ‘meeting’ The Narrator appears within a hotel welcome video that The
Narrator watches on one of his various business trips.Within the video there is a shot of a group of
waiters that spread their arms and declare that the watcher is ‘welcome’. Tyler can be found in the front
row of this group, dressed too in his waiter’s uniform. As this scene occurs moments before Tyler and
The Narrator’s meeting on the plane perhaps it could be conceived that Tyler is welcoming The
Narrator into this new phase of his life – one with Tyler in it.
One and the Same
As well as the various instances of ‘subliminal’ Tyler throughout the opening sequences ofthe
film Fight Club is also littered with carefully constructed clues,indicating to the audience that Tyler
and The Narrator are indeed the same person.
Tyler appears as if from nowhere next to The Narrator on the plane. He instantly understands The
Narrator’s ‘single serving friends’ joke and looks nonplussed,despite The Narrator’s surprise that they
have ‘exactly the same briefcase’. Furthermore, although Tyler opens his briefcase to retrieve a
business card for The Narrator, the contents of The Narrator’s briefcase are never revealed; obviously it
holds the same contents as Tyler’s.
When The Narrator attempts to call Tyler at the house on Paper Street there is no answer, obviously as
there is nobody there. Seconds after hanging up however, the payphone rings,despite clearly being
labelled ‘No Incoming Calls’, and it is Tyler on the otherend chomping crisps and stating that he never
answers his phone; he is not capable of answering a phone as he is merely a figment of The Narrator’s
In the bar scene, Tyler knows the name of the ‘strinne green stripe’ pattern of The Narrator’s furniture,
which is overlooked by The Narrator in the same way he ignores similar coincidental comments from
Tyler, particularly in the bathroomscene where they both discuss their absent fathers. Whilst this
knowledge could be a clue to the fact that it was Tyler who was responsible for blowing up the condo it
could also link the idea that ‘what The Narrator knows, Tyler knows’ which The Narrator realises and
plays on in the final scenes when disarming the bomb and taking the gun from Tyler.
There are a whole host of other examples including Tyler pulling a gun from The Narrator’s backpack
when he threatens Raymond K. Hessel in the parking lot, to which The Narrator, shocked,asks “Is that
a gun?” Tyler and Marla’s thunderous lovemaking instantly ceases the moment The Narrator answers
the phone and when Tyler and The Narrator are fighting and gathera crowd, no one intervenes,but
instead look rather bemused. It would seem that on every subsequent viewing of the film it becomes
more and more obvious,from the very beginning, that Tyler and The Narrator are one and the same
person.One of my students raised the point that even the opening credits, beginning deep within the
brain of The Narrator could suggest the idea that this is when the events of the film are actually taking
place, much like the way a conventionalestablishing shot would be used.
Throughout the film Marla acts for the audience as the threat that Tyler states her to be.
“…she’s a predator posing as the house pet. Stay away fromher.”
It is through Marla’s interactions with Tyler and The Narrator that the audience begin to suspect that
they are one and the same person. The fact that, despite sleeping together,the audience never see Marla
and Tyler in the same room is the first of these clues.Their movements are often coordinated so that as
Marla leaves a room Tyler enters.When Tyler feels the necessity to intervene in Marla’s conversations
with The Narrator he does so from outside the room, behind closed doors or whispering from the
basement. On these occasions Tyler speaks through The Narrator, instructing him as he does in the
“I fell down some stairs.”
“This conversation is over.”
On reflection, several otherquestions are raised about Marla and The Narrator/Tyler’s relationship;
how did she get the telephone number for the house on Paper Street? The Narrator gave her his number
at the condo when they divided the support groups between themselves. Marla also rings The Narrator
at work when she thinks she has discovered a lump in her breast, not Tyler. Again, how did she know
where he worked and where could she have got this number from unless The Narrator was the one in
the ‘relationship’ with her?
On this second occasion The Narrator explains that Marla must see him as neutral and that is why she
turned to him, but when she kisses him and looks hurt at his rejection the audience begin to wonder if
there is not more than meets the eye. Questions also arise when Marla visits the house on Paper Street
and The Narrator tells her that “Tyler isn’t here”. The confusion on Marla’s face mirrors the audiences’
as they attempt to decipher what is truly happening.
Whilst acting as a clue for the audience, Marla also is the key to The Narrator’s realisation. His
constant confusion at her reactions to him is the beginnings of his self-doubt but ultimately it is the
phone call to Marla in which she confirms their sexual relationship and names him as ‘Tyler Durden’
that unravels The Narrator’s world.
It can also be interpreted that Marla takes on the ‘mother’ role for The Narrator. Having had no
guidance through the absence of his father, and therefore no primary male role model, The Narrator
feels that he is incapable of forming an adult relationship despite the clear instant attraction and
connection to Marla at the support meetings. He therefore establishes heras ‘off limits’ and creates
Tyler in part as a way to ‘deal with her’ so that he does not have too. He even compares the
relationship between Marla and Tyler to his own parent’s relationship.
“Except for their humping, Tyler and Marla were never in the same room. My parents pulled this exact
same act for years.”
If Marla is The Narrator’s ‘mother figure’ it only follows that Tyler takes the form of the male role
model The Narrator never had; a substitute father.He has the confidence, the knowledge and the sexual
ability that The Narrator wishes he himself has, and so is able to pursue and engage in a relationship
with Marla. It is once this relationship begins that Marla begins to display inexplicable, at least for
now, kindness and affection towards The Narrator. It is now that she becomes his true mother figure;
she is willing to give him unwavering care despite the constant rejection.