FIGHT CLUB [Film Analysis with Maggie Mae Fish]

I wanna tell you a story about a really cool friend I have. This person dresses really slick, always says.

I wanna tell you a story about a really cool
friend I have. This person dresses really slick, always says the right thing, dates
the hottest people. My friend can win in any fight. And guess what: that person is MEEEEEEEE. That’s basically the argument of Fight Club.
One guy telling us about how cool someone is, then revealing that “actually” that
guy is me. How come when we watch a movie that makes that argument, it’s compelling,
but if someone did that to you in person, you’d think they’re a garbage person?
Maybe if we look a little closer at Fight Club, we can figure it out. The standard reading of Fight Club is that
Jack is schizophrenic; that he invents Tyler as an alternate personality out of either
boredom or a sense of inferiority, and then the Tyler personality takes over Jack’s
mind for a while, does a bunch of terrorist stuff, but eventually Jack saves the day.
Even though society seems like it’s about to crumble, the bad man is sent away. Happy
ending, right? But I would like to propose a different reading: that this is a story
told by Tyler from the very beginning. “This is it. The beginning.” That the personality
of “Jack” never existed within the fictional world. Tyler is real. Jack is just a character
invented by Tyler to manipulate us, the audience. Talking about a fictional character within
a fictional story can be a bit confusing, so… we need to go over some concepts first. I’ve always felt like I’m not alone when
I watch a movie, or TV, or a YouTube video. The person on screen is talking to me, even
though I know they’re just pixels flashing on a monitor and vibrations emanating from
speakers. I know that they’re not really here. That all these characters and places
are absent, but I know that these images and sounds represent people places and emotions.
I feel–no, I don’t just feel, I KNOW that they are present. This is known as “absence/presence.” Some movies are so clever, they’ll even
draw attention to their own absence/presence: “We have front row seats at this theater
of mass destruction.” That “we” is Jack and Tyler, but we is also us, the audience.
The disembodied voice-over acknowledges that we’re aware we are about to watch a show.
Then “we” impossibly float through walls in a complicated VFX shot. All these things
are absent, but at the same time we feel they are present. As you can find in a basic film studies textbook:
”The spectator knows very well that what he is watching is a fiction, but all the same
he maintains the belief, indeed his pleasure is dependent on the belief, that it is not.
Cinema is thus founded on a regime of spectating at once knowing one thing and believing its
opposite, which, as we have seen, is precisely the structure of disavowal.” The process of disavowal has been described
by the formula: ‘I know, but all the same.’ We KNOW that the movie we are watching is
not real. BUT in order to enjoy a movie, we must *believe* on some level that it is real. By starting with “I know,” we seem to
acknowledge something or someone’s point of view, then by adding the “but” we disavow
what we just claimed to know as true. Not every “I know, but” statement is disavowal.
And not every statement of disavowal requires “I know, but.” When a politician says
“let’s not make this political,” they are disavowing the fact that everything is
inherently political. Dishonest people love disavowal because it makes them seem rational. It’s already weird that we’re able to
follow the average film, following characters from scene to scene, across time and space.
In Fight Club, Tyler and Jack are a weird, extremely literal manifestation of absence/presence
and disavowal. By the end of the movie, Tyler is popping in and out of existence even within
a single shot, the way characters pop in and out of existence when we change from one scene
to another in any movie. By pushing absence/presence and disavowal
into the foreground, Fincher keeps our minds so busy, we forget exactly what it is we’re
even disavowing. Hint: it’s terrorism. “And let me pause to say, film theory and psycho-analytic
concepts like these are not inherently good or inherently bad. Personally, I’m glad
I can enjoy a movie through disavowal. Even a fictional narrative can reveal deeper truths
about the human condition. What we need to ask is: what are the effects of a particular
film’s use of these concepts? And, are the implications of the narrative true? So, with
that in mind… There’s one more term we need to cover.
Fetishism in pop culture is usually understood as someone getting overly horny at the sight
of an object, like a pair of sexy red shoes. Cultural theorist Thomas Ying-ling wrote that
it’s more useful to think of fetishism “as it has been defined in psychoanalysis not
as the overvaluation of some part-object but as the denial of lack.” For example, the
American flag is a fetish object, often used to deny a lack of freedom. How can you say
I’m not free when I’ve got this piece of dyed cloth that stands in for freedom?
By continually filling his life with Swedish furniture, Jack fills his life with fetish
objects that comfort him. Collecting all these objects distract from what is lacking in his
life. Clearly he’s lacking something. “Please just give me something.” If only Jack had
a friend who would tell him what’s lacking in his life. Just as Jack fetishizes his furniture, audiences
participate in fetism while watching movies. Film theorist Christian Metz wrote on the
subject in the 1970s: “Fetishism occurs on screen within the image, as in the case
of the fetishizing of the body of the femme fatale in film noir. But, says Metz, fetishism
operates also at a far more basic level. The image as image and the cinematic apparatus
as apparatus are both fetish, because they stand in for, make present, what is absent.
As such, they disavow what is lacking.” Just as Jack fetishizes furniture to deny
the lack in his own life, we fetishize the cinematic image to deny the lack of reality
represented by that image. I know Spiderman is a fictional character, but when I see him
die, I feel like a real person has died. If only we had a movie to tell us what we’re
lacking in our lives. Fight Club is a story told by an unreliable
narrator, whose goal is to explain away his own guilt and justify the position he’s
established as the leader of a terrorist organization; an organization he knowingly and willingly
created because he wants the rest of the world to be as miserable as he is. The narrative is told by, and controlled by,
Tyler. Jack isn’t Tyler’s alter ego, or imaginary friend. In Jack, Tyler has created
the perfect candidate for Project Mayhem, confident that we will see ourselves in Jack.
That we’ll identify with Jack’s insecurities, doubts about society, and fear of self examination.
In a 1999 interview, Fincher spoke to Tyler’s embodiment of disavowal: “[Y]ou have to
have a guy that’s going, ‘Well, I can see your point, but it seems to me… You
can look at losing all of your stuff both ways. Yeah, it’s all of your stuff; yeah,
it took you years to collect; yes, they were all tasteful, interesting choices. But there’s
another side to it.’” Tyler anticipates our moral reservations, lays them out in very
childish terms, then goes “but!” and gives Jack a pre-packaged, simplistic counter-argument.
“I say, let’s evolve. Let the chips fall where they may.” Okay, whatever that means.
Tyler needs to invent the character of Jack, to give us a friendly, gullible fetish object
to identify with. Jack is the image we can attach ourselves to, so that we can tell ourselves
we–just like Jack–were innocent all along. We are free to enjoy the violence, even up
to and including terrorist acts, because in the end we see Jack’s image, standing there,
victorious. The image of Jack remains, although he now admits that he’s Tyler. Jack’s
image is present, but Jack is absent. Tyler’s image is absent, but Tyler is present. By
ending on Jack’s image, we deny the lack of morality in what Tyler has done. “Everything’s
gonna be fine.” We can deny that this kind of power fantasy is appealing, to “guys
like us,” because the good guy–or at least the image of the good guy–is the one left
standing in the end. Also, that’s not how schizophrenia works. Fight Club is a movie that’s clearly designed
to be watched multiple times, but with each viewing, we disavow more and more. The first
viewing is exciting. We the audience experience revelation after revelation along with Jack,
up until we learn that “Tyler is Jack.” Usually when we watch a movie for a second
time, we’re able to break down a story’s structure a little better, and recognize key
themes more clearly. We start to see the strings. It’s why the Sixth Sense is kind of boring
on the second viewing, because now you’re just paying attention to how M Night Shyamalan
“pulled it off.” But that’s not the experience of watching Fight Club for a second
time. As viewers, solving a mystery is both entertaining and comforting. We want to understand
what really happened in this fictional universe, and Tyler lays out a pretty fun, sardonic,
flashy answer to the mystery of ‘who is Tyler Durden?’ Once we feel like we have that
answer–even though it’s just ‘Tyler’s version of what happened in this fictional
narrative–we get to sit back on the second viewing and just enjoy the ride. However,
repeat viewings do not give us a deeper understanding of Marla’s perspective, even though she
would have a pretty insightful view of Tyler. A view that we should want if we truly wanted
to understand him more accurately, or understand the deeper implications of the story. But
we don’t. Instead, Tyler frames her emotions as the butt of a mean joke, while seeing his
emotions as valid. On a repeat viewing, instead of breaking down the movie, we’re sucked
deeper into Tyler’s narrative, deeper into his perspective. We’re not just seeing puzzle
pieces fit together in the order that Tyler has preordained. We’re FEELING how he wants
us to feel about every character. Rewatching scenes with Marla, which should
make us empathize with her since we now know that Tyler is treating her like garbage, instead
make her the object of ridicule. Fincher’s choice of angles, tone, and pacing still privilege
Tyler’s point of view. Look how often Marla is framed with the camera
looking down on her. And how often Tyler is framed looking down on us. We are rewatching
the exact same scene was saw on first viewing, telling ourselves that we’re watching something
different this time, since we have new knowledge. But the same argument as before–that Marla
is a trash human and sucks and Tyler hates her, and we should hate her too–is only reinforced
on this viewing. Jack’s inflection seems clueless. “What
are you getting out of all of this?” On first viewing, that inflection was understood
to be Jack’s honest confusion about why Marla is hanging around with Tyler. On second
viewing, there’s a surface level reading, if we take Tyler’s narrative at his word,
that Jack is schizophrenic and is truly confused. But that’s not what’s going on. Because
Jack is not there. Jack is absent. That’s Tyler talking. Tyler is present. Tyler is
telling us this story. By acting ‘confused’ Tyler keeps us from empathizing with Marla
in this situation and instead we empathize with Jack, because we’ve seen this scene
before and were just as confused as he is. It’s relatable! It keeps us from acknowledging
that in the actual world of the story, it’s Marla who is infinitely more confused because
she’s dealing with this irrational obnoxious person. “Talk to me!” Tyler knows exactly
how much of his asshole persona he can reveal without losing his intended audience. And
this movie has an intended audience. This movie is not meant for everyone. This movie
is meant for “guys like you and me.” It’s for nice guys who know they should be getting
more out of life. “I used to be such a nice guy.” Except Jack was never a nice guy,
because he never existed. The mythical nice guy is simply a convenient
tool in Tyler’s rhetorical utility belt. This movie is for guys who were never nice,
but want to claim: “It’s the world’s fault I’m not nice anymore.” Guys who
want a fabricated excuse for their toxic, abusive behavior. On the fourth viewing, Marla is still gross.
On the sixth viewing Jack still provides excuses for Tyler’s actions. On the eighth viewing
we still disavow that Brad Pitt is a Hollywood sex symbol, so we can pretend he’s just
a regular guy like us. Because no matter how many times you watch
it, Tyler is still in control of the story. At best the narrative constructs him as a
Messiah, at worst he’s misguided but still “right” about society *wink.* Tyler narrates
scenes that literally did not happen, so that we don’t even have a chance to question
Tyler’s lies. Tyler has to show us the provocative fight first. After all, seeing someone assaulting
themselves, or pretend to be assaulted in public, would make them seem ridiculous. This
is provocative. But from a more objective angle, we see it’s simply a dork pretending
to get beat up. By the time Tyler shows us this he’s preached so much about how terrible,
absurd, and messed up society is, we’re primed to see this kind of behavior as justified,
or even noble. If society is absurd, the means of rebelling
might as well be equally absurd. This is why, even on a repeat viewing, when we know that
Tyler is punching himself in this scene, we don’t think “That’s a sad guy punching
himself.” We still think: “This is cool and funny and different. This is the origin
story of the cool secret club I know about.” We disavow critical thought, in favor of being
part of the in group. “Losing all hope was freedom.” Tyler talks a lot about freedom, about being
free. But the kind of freedom Tyler is talking about isn’t found in Enlightenment philosophy
or the Declaration of Independence or even in ads for oversized American pickup trucks.
Journalist I. A. R. Wylie interviewed a young man who could have been a real life candidate
for Project Mayhem when he said: “We are free from freedom.” Wylie elaborates: “He
meant that he no longer had to make his own decisions or even think his own thoughts.”
Wylie was interviewing a young Nazi who made that proud statement shortly before World
War Two. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements,
explains that this kind of freedom “is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization,
but freedom from the terrible burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from
‘the fearful burden of free choice.’” “It’s only after we’ve lost everything
that we’re free to do anything. The idea of free will, of free choice, is antithetical
to Tyler’s worldview. “Freedom” means having a gun placed at the back of your head
and being told what to do. And, conveniently for Tyler, he sets up a system which strips
everyone else of choice, leaving Tyler with the ability to choose for them. You are free to punch, you are free to blow
things up, but you’re not free to do just anything. To Tyler, these violent, physical
categories of knowledge are good. But there are categories of knowledge which he finds
distasteful, which he wants to eliminate. Tyler: “Why do you guys like you and I know
what a duvet is?” Simply knowing what the word duvet means is immoral to Tyler. “Guys
like you and me” should not be allowed to know what a duvet is. We are men. We are hard.
Duvets are prohibited for “guys like you and me.” Why does Jack feel so empty? Why does Jack
feel so lost? Does he feel crushed by the superficiality and alienation inherent in
capitalism? Does he have a terminal illness? Is it because the word duvet exists? It’s
because Jack isn’t real. He’s a straw man whose mortal enemy is a fancy word for
blanket. Let’s take a close look at one of the characters
Tyler indoctrinates. A character whose life Tyler believes Tyler changes for the better.
“What are we doing?” “Human sacrifice.” In the only scene where we actually see Tyler
intimately engage with one of his converts, Tyler drags this stranger, Raymond, outside
while he’s working, and puts a gun to the back of Raymond’s head. Then, based solely
on the fact that Raymond has an expired community college ID in his wallet, Tyler assumes a
heck of a lot about Raymond’s hopes and dreams, gets him to admit under duress that
he gave up on his goal of being a veterinarian, then threatens that if Raymond doesn’t go
back to school, Tyler will find Raymond and murder him. Very inspiring stuff. We know that Tyler just wants to push this
guy to be his best self. We know that Tyler is trying to motivate men to be men. To take
charge of their lives. We know this, because Tyler knows this. Raymond does not know this. We do not know
Raymond’s perspective. We do not establish his mundane job. We do not see him standing
behind the counter as Tyler rushes in like an ordinary robber. If we heard Raymond’s
side of the story, he would tell us about the time a lunatic robbed him, spouted a bunch
of pseudo philosophical BS — “The question, Raymond, was what did you want to be?” — only
stole his drivers license, then left. Tyler tells us a story about how Tyler is a messiah.
We are left assuming that Tyler changed this man’s life for the better. We do not know
that. Whether or not Raymond actually gets his degree, doesn’t matter. “Imagine how
he feels.” Tyler doesn’t want us to imagine how Raymond actually feels. Tyler wants us
to imagine how Tyler wants Raymond to feel. “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day
of Raymond K Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I
have ever tasted.” In reality, Raymond is not liberated. In reality, Raymond has no
choice, but to follow Tyler’s orders. Raymond hasn’t been watching this movie, so Raymond
has no reason to trust Tyler, no reason to buy into his arcane plan. Tyler asks Raymond a straightforward question:
“Raymond K Hessel, 1320 SE Spanning Apartment A. Small cramped basement apartment?” The
answer to his question is “Yes,” but since Tyler is telling this story, Raymond answers
“How did you know?” Tyler is telling us about a time when he robbed someone and pointed
a gun at the back of their head, and in telling this story, Tyler needs to emphasize that
he knows everything, so he has this person, in the middle of what they think might be
their last moments on earth, praise Tyler’s intelligence. Tyler is right about everything.
“How did you know?” “Because they give s**tty basement apartments letters instead
of numbers.” I don’t even know if that’s true, but we don’t have time to question
it. Because Tyler is never wrong. “I just can’t win with you, can I?” Tyler wins
in every situation no matter how absurd. Everything Tyler sets out to achieve, he accomplishes,
because this is Tyler’s story and he is the hero. “Tyler, you are by far the most
interesting single serving friend I’ve ever met.” Even his victims think so. “How
did you know?” Even on a second viewing. “How did you know?” Notice how, when Tyler
was trying to ask Raymond “what did you want to be?” It takes multiple questions,
and the threat of physical violence. “What’d you study, Raymond?” “Stuff.” “Stuff?
Were the midterms hard?” But when it comes to praising Tyler, Raymond’s response is
immediate. “How did you know?” Watching Tyler drift through the story is like watching
someone play a video game with god-mode on. Raymond’s existence in Tyler’s story serves
Tyler. Later, we see a door covered in drivers licenses. We never see Raymond again. Raymond
is reduced to a bureaucratic identification card. If he did not go back to school, he’s
dead because Tyler killed him. If he did go back to school, he’s dead because he is
no longer in control of his own life. He has been sacrificed to appease Tyler. Raymond’s
name and face are present. But Raymond’s point of view is absent. “You had to give it to him.” No we don’t.
Jack is there to put up the FLIMSIEST defense. Except Jack is not there. Tyler tells us he’s
there, to reassure us that we’re questioning this ridiculous situation along with Jack.
“That wasn’t funny! Wha the f*** was the point of that?” But Tyler is holding the
gun. There’s no actual voice of reason in this scene. Only in the telling of it, for
our sake. The underground fight clubs are supposedly
formed in search of some truth, in search of freedom, but they are predicated on deception.
“The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club. The second rule
of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.” By repeating that rule, Tyler is
inviting us to break it. His cadence even punctuates the sentence as if to say “You
do not” period “talk about fight club.” Talk about fight club. Do not, period. Talk
about fight club. We are a group of people who want to break society’s rules. Here
are rules. Break them. And of course the rules are being broken. That’s the only way the
group can grow. The rule itself prompts members to disavow: “The first rule is, I’m not
supposed to talk about it.” But here I am, talking about it. Later, when Tyler calls
out his followers for breaking the rules, it’s not to punish them. Rather–after a
brief interruption by an authority figure whose rules they’ve been breaking this whole
time–Tyler rewards his men with a new development: “This week, each one of you has a homework
assignment” — the beginning of Project Mayhem. Tyler not only expected people to
talk publicly about Fight Club, he already had the next step of his plan ready, for when
more recruits showed up. Congratulations, you have all been promoted in the corporate
structure of Project Mayhem. Also, Tyler only says “Do not talk about fight club” twice.
And as Tyler himself says: “Promise.” “I just said, I promise.” “That’s
THREE TIMES you promise.” For Tyler, being a loser is the first step
toward being a winner. Whether it’s Jack’s status as a loser with no life. Or literally
losing a fight. So Tyler has a plan. Is it a plan to succeed? To get a win under his
belt to strengthen his leadership position? Nope! “You’re gonna start a fight, and
you’re gonna lose.” So Tyler recruits people who are already losers, then immediately
gives them a losing task that will make them feel even more powerless. This increases their
dependence on Tyler, and increases his power base. Like the way the ringleaders of Gamergate
target insecure gamers, then tell them that all their problems are caused by womz, people
of color, and polygon tiddies not being big enough. Or Teal Swan, the YouTuber who preys
on people with suicidal thoughts, gets them to pay her big chunks of money for “therapy,”
then encourages them to kill themselves by telling them to “visualize killing yourself.”
For Tyler, feeling like a loser is the basis for identity, and the first step into reclaiming
masculine superiority. This conflating of winning and losing parallels the way neo-Nazis
romanticize World War Two, a contest the Nazis resoundingly lost. Or the way pro-slavery
Americans romanticize the Civil War, a contest pro-slavery Americans resoundingly lost. In
his 2006 essay about Fight Club and fascism titled Masochism and Terror, Andrew Hewitt
writes: “This internalization of loss–this paradoxical affirmation of lack as the very
basis of identity–marks the apotheosis of ‘the novel assertion that it is precisely
this loss of the war that is characteristically German… [T]he fascist internalizes lack–ontologizes
alienation–as the very condition of German subjectivity.” Being a loser becomes the
basis for identity. Instead of feeling shame or regret about war and loss, the fascist
doubles down, forming their identity in opposition to an “Other” who has cheated them out
of victory. Hewitt continues with this quote from Nietzsche: “Every sufferer instinctively
seeks a cause for his suffering… more exactly, an agent: still more specifically, a guilty
agent who is susceptible to suffering–in short, some living thing upon which he can,
on some pretext or other, vent his affects, actually or in effigy.” Tyler is the sufferer
who points to society, consumerism, women, or whatever’s convenient in the moment,
as the cause of his suffering. This is why he narrates Jack’s life as so utterly pathetic.
As suicidal. As practically a zombie. Tyler needs Jack to seem powerless, because Tyler
is going to show us, through Jack, the path to power. Assuming that Project Mayhem actually
succeeds and resets debt to zero–which is itself an absurd, fetishized plan–then Tyler
will succeed in reordering society based around loss. Based around lack. A lack of economics,
a lack of structure, a lack of order. And he happens to be the leader of an organization
that is ready to step in and impose its own economics, its own structure, its own order. Man, cops suck! “F***ing pigs!” But also
we are the cops. In 1999, when asked “Did you see [Tyler]
in terms of the literary device of the unreliable narrator?”, Fincher said: “Oh, he’s
totally unreliable.” Fight Club is extra frustrating because not only is our narrator
unreliable, but Fincher himself is also an unreliable storyteller. Unlike Rashomon or
The Last Jedi, where directors Kurosawa and Rian Johnson utilized unreliable narrators
to blatantly call out the subjectivity of storytelling, Fincher indulges in subjective
storytelling. He uses clever dialogue and flat acting to misdirect our attention. “Did
you know that if you mixed equal parts gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate you can
make napalm?” “No I did not know that, is that true?” “That’s right.” So
instead of thinking “oh my god he’s a terrorist” we–prompted by Jack’s dialogue–think
“wow, what a quirky guy.” “Wow, that Nazi so casually talks about ethnic cleansing!
That’s interesting!” Fincher structures his shots, visuals, and narrative to impose
his order on the viewer. “I just love the idea of this omniscience, like the camera
just kind of goes over here perfectly. There’s none of that documentary kind of feel to it.
It’s very much like what’s happening is doomed to happen. And I like that as the psychological
underpinning.” Fincher’s style does not open things up to interpretation or question.
He has a point of view, an objective, and he will not allow you to stray. Just as Tyler,
in telling his story, has a point of view, an objective, and he will not allow you to
stray. Fincher utilizes a structure that director
Peter Watkins has termed the Monoform, a linear, predetermined format meant to drive the audience
toward a specific conclusion. “Which is simply a name I give to the basic structure
of what we see on television and in a majority sense most of what we see in the commercial
cinema today. Of course it’s a series of rapidly edited pictures, constantly displacing
us from one thing to another, from one subject, one visual image with all its associated metaphorical,
symbolic, personal meanings. Different weight of information on screen, different mass,
different shape, different movement, and we’re asked to deal with that, usually in five,
six or seven seconds, which is the average cutting rate. And you change to the next,
change to the next, and so on and so on, endless barrage of visual information, which is of
course being accompanied by an audio barrage, all being thrust at the audience, in a one
way monolinear push from beginning to end.” Fight Club not only drives toward a foregone
conclusion, Fincher even shows us the ending, without proper context, at the beginning.
“What the audience is to feel or decide at the endpoint here, is already determined
at the beginning point, on all sorts of levels.” By showing us the ending out of context at
the beginning of the film, and then dropping in key information throughout the film, Fincher
makes us feel as if we are undergoing a process of discovery. In actuality, Fincher withholds
key information so that we continue to like Tyler, so that we never think of him as the
terrorist leader he truly is. “Why do you think I blew up your condo!” We are given
the illusion of choice, but we lack choice when confronted with the monoform. “The
whole purpose of 20th century Mass Audio Visual Media is that it is not predicated on incorporating
the ideas, feelings, experiences, subjectivity, memory, knowledge, wisdom of the audience,
or the viewer or viewers, and engulfing them and taking them into the process, and sharing.
20th century mass audio visual media MAVM is designed to withold those, to push those
away, and to instead engulf the people with this fabricated, fragmented, arbitrary process,
where the person’s participation is held out. And that’s why everything is moving
very fast. To hold back any opportunity for the person to have time to come in, and enter
the material and challenge it or negotiate with it or anything.” When Tyler encourages us to question the authority
inherent in consumerism, we as an audience disavow that there are other forms of authority
we should question as well. For example: Tyler’s authority, and the police state he’s trying
to create. When it comes to questioning *Tyler’s* authority, Jack–our standin–only provides
one very specific type of quesiton. “What do you want me to do? You want me to just
hit you?” “Come on, just do me this one favor?” “Why?” “Why why do we need
bunkbeds?” “What why? What’re you talking about?” He frames his questions as a child
asking a parent for their reasoning, instead of actually challenging Tyler’s authority.
Jack never challenges Tyler, never gives an alternate point of view. Always asks for Tyler’s
justification, giving him another platform to lecture at us. And he always accepts that
justification, prompting us to accept that justification. “You had to give it to him.”
If Jack had a YouTube channel today he’d probably be a centrist, insisting: “I’m
just trying to hear both sides.” Tyler dazzles new recruits with his cool, seemingly anti-authoritarian
message while simultaneously stepping into the role of authority figure. Tyler uses a flat, cool tone of voice to seduce
us, whether he’s playing Tyler or playing Jack. “In a catastrophic emergency, you’re
taking giant panicked breaths. Suddenly you become euphoric, docile. You accept your fate.”
Tyler lulls us into feeling docile, into accepting the fate he’s laid out for us. Brecht wrote
about the alienating effect of certain kinds of meta theater. Regarding actors tone of
voice, Brecht said: “[The actor’s] way of speaking has to be free from parasonical
sing-song and from all those cadences which lull the spectator so that the sense gets
lost.” Tyler and Jack utilize the exact kind of sing-song cadence that Brecht denounces.
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as
everyone else.” The soundtrack to the movie, which you can buy at any major music retailer,
even includes a bonus track, co-written by Fincher. Listen, as Tyler Durden coos a bunch
of self-help advice at us. “It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re
free to do anything.” If that isn’t sing-song-y, I don’t know what is. Whereas Brecht’s goal
was to alienate us from the narrative, Tyler’s goal is to pull us further into the narrative,
further into his world. Tyler doesn’t want to elevate the spectator, and seemingly neither
does Fincher. The formal aspects of Fincher’s films–more
“insider knowledge,” such as editing, framing, and even the slightest camera move–are
ritualistically fetishized by cinephiles. For example, this youtube video: “Did you
see that? It’s a very small thing, and it’s easy to miss. What is it, exactly? Well, it’s
a camera move.” Fincher’s perfectionism and artificiality are admired, to the point
where any ethical implications about how these techniques are used, become irrelevant. I
don’t mean to call out any youtube channel, specifically. Nerdwriter does great work.
I’m trying to highlight how–when a director is able to trick us, or seduce us with flashy
film production techniques and visual effects–we invest more emotionally, not just in that
narrative, but in the very means of production, themselves. Film has always been a constructed
medium, but the depth of Fincher’s visual manipulation is unprecedented, especially
since he uses these techniques for the most basic dialogue scenes. Even digital editing
techniques that we would never spot with the naked eye are fetishized. “We’re not just
editing shots together anymore, we’re editing pixel by pixel.” Humans are manipulated
on screen, pixel by pixel, to manipulate us, the audience at home. Even though it feels
kind of Big Brother-ish to me, film enthusiasts only show more reverence, more admiration
for Fincher. Metz wrote about this type of film nerd, which he refers to as the cinema
fetishist. “The cinema fetishist is the person who is enchanted at what the machine
is capable of, at the theater of shadows as such. For the establishment of his full potency
for cinematic enjoyment he must think at every moment of the force of presence the film has
and of the absence on which this force is constructed.” One might assume that behind
the scenes videos, directors commentaries, and YouTube videos explaining the meaning
behind a movie would strip away the artifice, but to the cinephile obtaining this sacred
knowledge only adds to the depth of the film, and their enjoyment. Just as we want to participate
in the Tyler Durden power fantasy, so we want to participate in the Fincher-as-director
power fantasy. Wouldn’t it be fun to have all that control?? While his more recent films have a cleaner,
sterile look, for Fight Club, Fincher sought a more gritty, “authentic” look. [Cinematographer] Jeff Cronenweth and I…
talked about making it a dirty-looking movie, kind of grainy. When we processed it, we stretched
the contrast to make it kind of ugly, a little bit of underexposure, a little bit resilvering,
and using new high-contrast print socks and stepping all over it so it has a dirty patina.
What’s resilvering? Rebonding silver that’s been bleached away
during the processing of the print and then rebonding it to the print.
What does that do? Makes it really dense. The blacks become incredibly
rich and kind of dirty. We did it on Seven a little, just to make the prints nice. But
it’s really in this more for making it ugly. We wanted to present things fairly realistically. So much effort to make a perfectly “ugly”
product. “Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections.” To Tyler, life
is trash, so the film looks trashy. So there’s this apparent contradiction in
Fight Club. On one hand, Fincher’s desire to manipulate, pixel by pixel to create the
perfect, idealized image. And on the other hand, this trash aesthetic–a desire to portray
the world as a giant pile of garbage. These ideas may feel out of sync, but there is an
ideology that thoroughly embraces this contradiction. Here we go, this is where we blatantly connect
fight club to fascism! Fascism. Sorry, was that too much of a hard turn? Okay, let me
set up this section about fascism with a quote about fascism. David Fincher said a movie
set’s a fascist dictatorship, when he said: “I think a movie set’s a fascist dictatorship.” Andrew Hewitt writes: “We have forgotten
the proximity of totalitarian thought to the eco-logic of the compost heap. When the narrator
of Fight Club tells us that he ‘wanted to put a bullet through the eyes of every panda
that wouldn’t fuck to save its species,’ the affinity of that eco-logic with a murderous
eugenicism becomes exaggeratedly apparent.” And regarding the way Tyler turns human fat
into explosives, Hewitt writes: “This trope has itself been recycled–this time from the
proto-fascist writings of the Futurist F. T. Marinetti, in whose writings we find ‘the
plainest, most violent of Futurist symbols”: ‘In Japan they carry on the strangest of
trades: the sale of coal made from human bones. All their powderworks are engaged in producing
a new explosive substance more lethal than any yet known. This terrible new mixture has
its principle element coal made from bones with the quality of violently absorbing gases
and liquids.’” Fascists and proto-fascists have always viewed humanity as disposable,
as single-serving, as garbage. Of course an ideology that views humans as compost would
devise policies that lead to the glorification of death in battle, mass graves, and death
camps. The blonde haired, blue eyed superman is fetish object, denying the lack of perfection
in all humans; denying the alienating, painful existence of living under an autocratic regime. Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi documentarian,
was hyper-aware of the fetish-value of photogenic young men. While filming her Nazi propaganda
films she got upset that so many actual Nazis didn’t live up to her aesthetic expectations.
Prominent Nazi Albert Speer recalled: “I was present when Riefenstahl, in a restaurant
with her staff, was a little bit frank and made some mocking remarks about the bellies
[of the Nazi Brownshirts] not being so good for photographs or some such thing.” Riefenstahl
mocked literal Nazis for not being ideal enough. Riefenstahl biographer Stephen Bach adds:
“[Speer] conspired with her to hide the [Brownshirt] potbellies she mocked behind
thousands of swastika flags.” In this instance, the ultimate fetish symbol for Nazis–the
Swastika–literally obscures actual, pot-bellied Nazis. Nazis with pot bellies are present
at the rally. But they are absent from Riefenstahl’s film. Idealized Nazi imagery is present in
Riefenstahl’s film. But it is absent from reality. Tyler’s body–actually sexy, sexy Brad Pitt’s
body–obscures Tyler’s true form–that of doughy Edward Norton. Tyler invites us to
mock Gucci models, disavowing Brad Pitt’s own highly sexualized body. In fight club,
at least one conventionally unattractive member is allowed. Who happens to be the only member
who dies a violent death. Bob’s body–which his fascist buddies considered grotesque and
wrong–is re-coded by those same buddies after his death; recycled into a perfect symbol
of fascism. “In death, a member of Project Mayhem has a name.” Yes, Robert Paulson
truly achieved glory by smashing the windows of a Starbucks coffee, and then getting shot
in the head. Tyler tells us he had it all: “I had it
all” However, Tyler is aware that he’s missing something that society expects an
adult male to have: a wife. His father even suggests this as a next step: Dad, now what?
He says, I don’t know, get married.” But he refuses, for abstract reasons. “I can’t
get married. I’m a 30 year old boy.” I know I’m thirty years old and it’s like
time to get married but I’m only thirty years old I can’t get married. Tyler holds this anti-romance and anti-sex
attitude, despite the constant sexual dialogue and imagery–especially homoerotic, phallic
and anal imagery–splattered all over the film. But none of the sexual innuendo in the
dialogue or imagery is ever titillating. It’s usually disgusting. It’s almost always played
either flatly, or ironically. “Could check your prostate?” “I think I’m okay.”
Powerful sexual dialogue is usually heard over scenes of violence. “Sometimes all
you could hear were the flat hard packing sounds over the yelling. Or the wet choke
when someone caught their breath and sprayed.” But any kind of emotional or vulnerable sexual
dialogue is usually associated with impotence and disgust. “You cry now.” “Strangers
with this kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one.” And in the void left behind
in his mind where sex would exist, Tyler finds human suffering. “I’m so close to the
end and all I want is to get laid for the last time.” It’s ironic that Chloe is talking
about sex, because sex is not what arouses Jack here. He’s getting off on her suffering.
Immediately after that, while talking about the meetings, Tyler talks in a sing-song voice
about how it makes him feel. “Every evening I died, and every evening I was born again.”
Tyler is referring to his orgasm. The pain he witnesses in these groups is the pornography
he needs to reach climax. When he “dies,” he’s experiencing “la petit mort.” The
little death. Which is a fancy term that means “the sensation of orgasm as likened to death.”
When he’s resurrected, or rises again… he’s talking about his dick. In framing the story, Fincher visually links
sexual desire with physical illness. It’s very telling that Chloe and Bob are both the
most emotionally honest and open characters in the entire movie, and the only characters
who die in Tyler’s telling of it. Not to mention, they are the characters most guilty
of transgressing the gender binary: Bob, with his massive breasts and missing testicles,
and Chloe, whose femininity has been ravaged by her illness, assuming she presented as
“feminine” in the first place. God forbid Tyler acknowledges any kind of sexual curiosity
outside the heteronormative binary. Tyler strives to make sex undesirable; to
make sexual pleasure feel unattractive and pathetic. It’s possible to read Fight Club
as homoerotic, however, there’s no actual love or attraction between men. Despite the
constant homoerotic imagery, he seems completely uninterested in any kind of sex. The most
homoerotic moments are between Tyler and Tyler. Even Marla seems like a toy at best. Marla is portrayed as disgusting, haggard,
unkempt. Fincher does everything he can to make us feel that Marla is stinky, and once
again links sexual desire to physical illness. “This is cancer, right?” Her sex scenes
are so depraved–”I haven’t been f***ed like that since grade school”–so extreme,
or so abstract, they’re devoid of any conventionally erotic imagery. This is not sex for pleasure.
This is sex as performance. Tyler is performing heterosexuality. Sex for the sake of telling
his friends: “I banged that chick.” Marla is never attractive. Except for one instance.
But before we get to that, let’s go behind the green door. In the novel Fight Club, there’s mention
of various doors: orange, blue, green. But Fincher only keeps the GREEN door in his version.
“Now we’re going to open the green door.” Behind the Green Door was a pornographic movie
released in 1972. It was a massive success, and helped commodify porn by bringing it into
the mainstream. The movie Behind the Green Door is the story of an underground group
of criminals who dress in all black in order to carry out an anarchic mission. They kidnap
people and force them to perform at a sex club. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are about
to witness the ravishment of a woman who has been abducted. A woman whose initial fear
and anxiety have mellowed into curious expectation.” Within the film, the green door itself comes
to symbolize an entry point into a safe space, similar to the support groups. Outside this
safe space–in the outer world–is sexual repression, anxiety, patriarchy. But in here,
on this stage, the participants find a safe space to pursue pleasure. Sexual gratification
for the female main character is framed as positive. It’s telling that the support
group leader in Fight Club says we’re going to open our green doors, and soon after, Chloe
talks specifically about her *sexual* desires in front of the group. Clearly, Fincher is
drawing a link between the two. But I don’t think it’s simply the pursuit of sexual
pleasure that links Fight Club and Behind the Green Door. Before the main character engages in an orgy
on stage, she undergoes a kind of guided meditation, led by a woman whose dialogue is oddly similar
to the kinds of things Tyler says. “Poor child, I know exactly how you feel. I’m
going to tell you everything that’s going to take place, so there’s no need to be
frightened. I’m your friend.” Both characters use a soothing tone of voice to coax the audience
stand-in into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise be okay with. In addition to the
massage lady, as the performance begins, a disembodied voice tells us to obey. “Remember,
you are sworn to observe silence. If you break this rule, you will be dealt with severely.”
The implication becomes: obey the rules and you will find pleasure. “With the knowledge
that you are powerless to stop the performance, just relax, and enjoy yourself to the fullest
extent.” Just as Tyler’s words and deeds give us the illusion of agency or choice in
his theatre of destruction, so too, this announcer’s assumption that we could somehow interfere
helps us feel as though we have agency. As though we could somehow interrupt a movie
that’s already been shot and distributed. In Behind the Green Door, we have an authority
figure giving the main character–our standin–the freedom to enjoy something transgressive:
her own sexuality; permission to enjoy something that she should already be free to enjoy.
In Fight Club, we have an authority figure who gives the main character–our standin–freedom
to enjoy something transgressive: terrorism; permission to enjoy something that is antithetical
to the very concept of freedom. And these are the themes that link Behind
the Green Door and Fight Club: this tension between pursuing what you want, but also looking
to an authority figure for permission to pursue, or looking to them for a list of pre-approved
pleasures you may pursue. The green door metaphor used in the support
group is meant to help people cope with long lasting emotional pain, or chronic physical
illness. In the chemical burn scene, Tyler has set up a false parallel to the support
groups. Tyler’s goal in this scene is to make this act of physical assault seem comparable
with the existential and chronic pain experienced by members of the support group. Tyler, who
is a physical and emotional abuser, manages to make his actions seem as inevitable as
death by terminal cancer. Those support group members do not have a simple, immediate means
of alleviating their pain. They cannot just pour vinegar on their cancer, or missing testicles,
or tuberculosis. But to a naive audience member who hasn’t had to cope with long-lasting
emotional or physical trauma, who is looking for a reason to claim victimhood, the comparison
may feel attractive . Tyler “feels” like he has the answers–”You can run water over
your hand to make it worse, or, look at me, or you can use vinegar to neutralize the burn”–even
though he’s concocted an absurd scenario with a predetermined conclusion. And this happens to be the only moment in
the entire film where Marla is presented as sexually desirable in a visual sense. Jack
makes one last ditch effort to block out the pain and pursue pleasure. And this is the
moment that “Jack” closes his green door. He stops trying to escape to his safe space,
and never bothers trying to go there again. He’s left with a scar which resembles vaginal
lips. Sexual imagery recoded as a mark of pain. A fetish object that denies the lack
of pleasure. Shortly afterwards, he denies Marla the sex that she’s come to expect.
“Are we done?” “Yeah, we’re done.” We see her again in the Paper Street house,
but there’s no sexual tension anymore. He has metaphorically closed his door to his
pleasure center, and chosen to pursue pain. Tyler’s safe space is not just a *room*. Not
just a single location where you’re prohibited from saying the word ‘duvet.’ It’s a world
where you’re prohibted from saying the word ‘duvet,’ or doing anything else he doesn’t
approve of. If Fincher set out to tell a cautionary tale
about the way we are so easily manipulated by media, celebrities, and people in positions
of power, then he failed because his target audience–guys like us–clearly didn’t get
that message. I mean, they went on to actually create fight
clubs. Or if he set out to make a movie that exploits that same bro-ey audience, and he’s
laughing at anyone who enjoys it for being such gullible losers, then… okay? Good on
you? Whatever the meaning may be to you, or me,
or anyone else, Fight Club is unquestionably a powerful narrative. It’s more than just
Fincher using his commercial director skills to sell us fascism. It’s more than just
a tale of insecure masculinity. In Hollywood, sometimes you hear the saying:
“We’re not in the entertainment business, we’re in the empathy business.” The optimistic reading of that statement is:
we’re looking to find the emotionally honest core to our story; that we work hard to strip
away artifice and deliver a meaningful product. The cynical, commercial reading of that statement
is that we’re simply taking a generic product, then wrapping it in packaging that signals
to the audience that they are supposed to feel empathy. And I’ll give you one guess
whether or not Fincher is cynical about commercials, as one of the most successful commercial directors
of all time: “I’m extremely cynical about commercials and about selling things and about
the narcissistic ideals of what we’re supposed to be. I guess in my heart I was hoping people
are too smart to fall for that stuff.” I talked a lot about how narrow and controlled
Tyler’s point of view is in framing this story. There are very, very few moments where
his narrative slips. Very few times where it feels like Fincher is commenting ON Tyler,
instead of Fincher simply having fun as the one controlling the story THROUGH Tyler. Here’s
one example: In the first act, we see a woman with a shaved head in the background. She’s
there again when Chloe speaks, and these two seconds are the only time we really get a
good look at her, in focus. We may assume Chloe has a shaved head, but she keeps hers
covered. In a movie where the vast majority of shots are highly motivated, distorted,
emotionally jarring… this shot is quiet, matter of fact. Almost an hour and a half
later, we see members of Project Mayhem shave their heads. By the end, Tyler has a shaved
head. One woman’s actual experience with cancer is these white guys’ idea of a ‘fun
haircut.’ In appropriating this look, Tyler and his men attempt to appropriate a symbol
of victimhood itself. He goes from appropriating the pain of being in a support group to appropriating
the haircut of a woman with cancer. As if to say: “Look, my haircut shows that society
is killing me! Society is committing a genocide against meeee! One might call it… a white
genocide!” As their actions escalate from pranks toward straight up terrorism, they
escalate from simple appropriation of victimhood to the colonization of victimhood. Their home
base even resembles a work camp, or concentration camp, as if to constantly remind Tyler’s
followers that they “deserve” to identify as oppressed. There’s no frontier left to conquer, there’s
no more “New World” to pillage. So now, we plunder hearts and minds. This “colonization
of victimhood” allows Tyler and his men to justify pretty much anything, because now
they can claim they have been wronged, by simply pointing to this visual marker: the
shaved head. Tyler is hell bent on teaching young men that they’ve been disenfranchised.
That their feelings are cancer. That love is death. And that ultimately, your death–in
service of Tyler–is freedom. And that’s just sad, more than anything else. Sad that
we live in an age of technological miracles, yet despite that, a lot of the people who
benefit most directly from society’s advantages would rather spend their time tearing others
down, pushing people out, stripping freedom from other people, and dehumanizing them. Sad that the leader of the free world actually
did come up with an alternate personality, named John Barron, so he could tell everyone
about how great he is, in the third person. “Over the years I’ve used aliases. If
you’re trying to buy land, you use different names.” “What names did you use?” “I
would use–I actually used the name Barron.” And he did manage to fool reporters. But also,
he never shuts up about what a victim he is. How “unfair” everyone is to him. “What
you said is so insulting to me. It’s a very terrible thing you said.” How–actually–YOU
are the racist. “That’s such a racist question.” But as I’ve been wrapping up this video,
the universe supplied an even more apt comparison. Gavin McInnes–founder of the violent, racist
Proud Boys, a group with obvious inspiration from Fight Club–released a video to say he’s
quitting the Proud Boys. He’s trying to distance himself from the group, after nine
of his followers were arrested for assault shortly following an appearance by McInnes
himself, at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City. At that appearance, McInnes
reeancted the assassination of a Japanese socialist as part of a “comedy” routine,
because he’s not funny. The arrests only came after New York Police were criticized
for protecting the Proud Boys. “I was never the leader, only the founder.” I know that
I founded this group, but I did not lead this group. As we watch Gavin McInnes squirm, trying
to distance himself from the violent hate group he founded, we see the cowardly selfishness
of a paternalistic leader who is finally afraid he’ll be held to account. His speech reads
like a list of the rhetorical devices we’ve been covering in this video. For the entire duration of this thirty six
minute video, even though he covers a variety of topics, McInnes stands next to a photo
of one of the Proud Boys, and his wife who happens to be a person of color. He appropriates
what he sees as the external symbol of her oppression–her skin color–and uses this
image as a literal prop, as “evidence” that he–Gavin McInnes–is the one who is
truly oppressed. He has chosen this photo to disavow the fact that his gang targets
marginalized groups, to disavow his obvious bigotry. Her image is present, but any voice
from those marginalized groups he targeted are absent. In this age of information, we really do have
front row seats in our theater of mass destruction thanks to the internet. There’s so much
news, so much data, so many points of view to sift through. And people in power use that
to their advantage. Whereas the 20th century version of the Monoform was linear video in
the form of tightly packaged TV programming or movies, now we have Twitter, Facebook,
and YouTube, which fragment viewpoints and meaning even more. The very technology that
isolates us, also advertises itself as the solution to that isolation. I’ve been trying to figure out how I come
to a conclusions in a video where I’ve specifically pointed out the dangers of driving toward
a predetermined conclusion. And I think that conclusion is simply: we need to get better,
as a society, at questioning narratives, questioning authority; stop just asking why, and start
asking who is benefiting from this story? And the answer in Fight Club is only one person
benefits: Tyler. Thanks for making it to the end of this very
long video. And a deep, special thank you to all my patrons who were incredibly patient,
as this video took a long time to finish. And thanks to all my wonderful friends who
provided voices for the video. You can check out all their links below, I’m sure you
recognized a few of them already. And If you want to see more videos like this, or more
light-hearted funny videos about terrible B-Movies, head on over to patreon dot com,
where you can support too. And of course if you like this video, feel free to like and
subscribe, and if you’ve already subscribed, hit that little button so you get a notification
when I release a video. Until then… bye!

100 thoughts on “FIGHT CLUB [Film Analysis with Maggie Mae Fish]”

  1. "Jack." Norton's character is never named, neither in the book nor the movie.. All the "I am Jack's ____." is riffing off of the Reader's Digest articles about organs described in 3rd person. I get it though. Jack is quicker to say than the narrator.

  2. It's genuinely unnerving to watch a slickly edited quick cut video, with an authoritative main voice and recognisable supporting voices denounce capitalism in media with adverts running on it where the main subject is a slickly cut film with a main character denouncing capitalism with recognisable supporting voices made to sell movie tickets and ad space.

  3. Maybe I missed some of this because I find Helena Bonham Carter attractive even when she's apparently made to be unattractive.

    Thanks for letting me know she wasn't supposed to be hot, this makes the relationship more understandable in the intent.

  4. I've watched a few of your analysis vids now & it would seem you see everything as black & white.Progressively healthy or just plain toxic.There's many ways you can interpret films but damn do you see every movie in a negative light? At the very least the ones you make vids about you sure do.

  5. As someone who has come close to death… tomorrow, breakfast wont taste better, if anything it will taste worse.. you'll be left wondering why he was spared while so many other gpod ppl die. He'll be left wondering if the universe make sense and maybe even suffer from survivor's guilt for the rest of his life

  6. Hello guys, I have to write an English Essay about this film on Mascunility and consuming and I can't find it, can someone please help me. I am having difficulties I think it a very confusing movie.

  7. Disenfranchised men feel they have no purpose and people like Tyler feel the same way as well. The only difference is that Tyler is a predator who preys on these men's insecurities to push his own sadistic goals. When people like Tyler and the men who joined his cult feel they have no purpose, that is how violence is committed. You see it in alt right/neo nazi groups constantly.

  8. Is nobody gonna discuss the subversive FBI warning on the video and DVD written by Tyler? Lol i just like that little easter egg..

  9. This is the most interesting analysis of a film I've heard in a long time. I have to wonder if your view of the picture was intended by the creators. And then if that matters. And then who is the creators of a movie anyway?

  10. I think it's interesting how Maggie talks about the "sing-song" quality of Jack's/Tyler's monologue when it's arguably monotone. Just one of many questionable assertions in this video. There are kernels of truth in Maggie's analysis, and even whole sections that are insightful, but some parts of it are either questionable or outright wrong. I think she could do with sifting through the whole video and asking herself at every point where she makes an assertion "Is this actually true?" A liberal amount of editing could make this analysis so much better.

  11. Great, detailed analysis, especially with regards to directorial intent. I'm surprised that you managed to go this deep without connecting the film back to the original book and authorial intent, though. Chuck Palahniuk is a gay man, and came out not long after writing Fight Club, he has made it very clear that this book is about his wrestles with his own closeted homosexuality. I think this is a crucial aspect of this analysis. As an out AMAB queer, lots of people, places, and situations become charged with a threat of violence because your sexual attraction is viewed as a kind of violence to the social order, one which it is reasonable to counter with very literal violence. The root of the Tyler/Jack dichotomy may be in the kind of split personality that being in the closet forces one to adopt. A tough exterior that cares deeply about rules and structure, upholds social hierarchies rigidly, and engages in whatever offensive or violent behavior is necessary to profit from those hierarchies. Meanwhile, a less (socially) attractive, less confident, fundamentally spineless person is being seduced by the conditional power that the default system lends them, but is being destroyed by participating in the system. Fight Club, in its conclusion is the logical endpoint of living in a closet while attempting to maintain currency in a system that is already fascist.

  12. I like the different perspective, and I'll take it into a future watching/reading. I definitely love Fight Club, but because in my dark days, it helped me understand that letting go IS a path to freedom, but letting go of what was holding me back in exchange for nihilism wasn't the way. It also made me wonder what it was I actually wanted from my own masculinity. Yes, to be stronger, more confident, but why? Just to be an 'alpha'? So others would compliment me for achieving their standard? At my core I want to be able to stand up for those I care about and what I believe. Some of Tyler's rhetoric can be applied positively, but he's an example of why Masculinity often fails.

  13. A bald haircut isn't a woman's haircut. It's the haircut of anyone with cancer and going through chemo. Besides you making a relationship between the sick woman in the movie and the haircut, I'm not sure there's a justification for identifying it as a woman's haircut. Still nice analysis, I enjoyed it, but I don't agree with the perception of it as propaganda.

  14. >decides to watch video about fight club
    >gets distracted by friend asking for something, leaves video playing
    >returns to reading of Riefenstahl quote

    And I must rewind immediately

  15. Am just gonna assume this is another white feminist telling everyone her own interpretation of the movie is the truth and that her warped perception of masculinity (like many feminists) is the true gospel.

  16. Let me preface what I'm going to say with this ( I LOVE FIGHT CLUB) ok now that that's out of the way. Your analysis is awesome I've never looked at it from that point of view. How almost every time Marla is in frame the camera is angled down and then up when Pitt is in frame. How she is kind of grungy (that was always a turn on to me). All the points you make are extremely valid and I want to thank you for making me look at this movie differently. As a young angry teen who was abused both mentally and physically by my drug addicted mother, I identified with the males in this movie that the world always rejected me but I never identified with the victimhood. Maybe it was my massive ego 😂. Or maybe I just loved women to much. Idk but great job on this video and thank you again for opening my mind up to a different way of thinking.

  17. Fight Club is absurdism wrapped up inside of the illusion of anarchy, wrapped up inside of the illusion of freedom, wrapped up inside of a paranoid schizophrenic delusion from the result of a psychotic break disguised as unshackled and fully realized masculinity; be it toxic or nontoxic is irrelevant.

  18. 13:49 I have to say, I don't get what your on about here, the movie never changes because it's a movie. It's not a video game where you may be able to make different choices, and if the movie is just constantly re-enforcing Tyler's perspective then how did you figure out he was full of crap. Full disclosure, I've never seen this film. Though I remember people really liked it when it came out.

    Also, it seems that you're saying that Fincher agrees with Tyler in this film. I mean, according to what you're saying he seems to be doing everything he can to bring people over to Tyler's side and never dose anything to snap the viewer out of it.

  19. I mean, I could tell that they weren't supposed to be good people who have good ideas, but the book definitely did it better.

  20. Your use of the term fetish reminds me of the voodoo use of the term. A object of large spiritual significance to the practitioner.
    Also, You BROKE THE RULE!

  21. This movie is the Schrodinger's Cat of Gendered perspective. It is both a male power fantasy propaganda AND a pro feminist parody of toxic masculinity.

  22. Just watched this video for the second time. Maggie, I would be overjoyed if you did a video analyzing V for Vendetta.

    I realize it is much less subtle than Fight Club, but it shares the aspect of being a cult film with a questionable message, and also popular with angry young white men.

  23. i can’t believe i’m just now realizing this, but i think the fight club characters are the subconscious inspiration for the chad vs. virgin thing incels depict.

  24. This is the first fresh take on Fight Club that I have heard since 2000. You've made an instant subscriber out of me – love your work already.

  25. Simply incredible. There aren't many fresh takes on Fight Club in 2019 and certainly even fewer who can captivate an hour's worth of time from the audience, but you did it Maggie! Love your work on Small Beans and can't wait to Deep Dive (Wait, no, this isn't FilmJoy. Stop that.) through the rest of your content!

  26. I couldn't make it past the 30 minute mark.
    There is clearly an agenda in this analysis: status quo capitalist consumerism with the threat of being labeled as anti-progressive if you disagree.
    1. "Terrorism" as used here is the definition given by Western Democratic capitalism. It is similar to the way that Palestinian violence is labeled as terrorism, while IDF violence is "retaliation."
    2. Tyler does not want to set up a police state, but rather wants to destroy the modern world. His goal is primitism through nihilism and he says as much, "In the world I see…"
    3. Tyler does not take away freedom, he gives purpose. The idea that destruction precedes release is universal in all savior meta-narratives. The story of sacrifice leading ultimately to purpose has been repeated throughout history. Consider the Exodus story, the Jesus narrative, the Buddha's aestheticism, etc.

    While I disagree with its conclusions and world view, I am thankful for such an insightful video.

    Edit: Finished the video. I really liked that in the end it was asked, who profited… Then the thanks to all the patrons.

  27. People love talking about this movie. Everyone knows who made it, and who's in it and they'll discuss and analyse this movie til the end of time. I'll bet most people don't even know who wrote the book. The only time anybody mentions the book it's to note the differences from book to movie.
    Fight club proves how little people read today.

  28. To understand Fight Club, I think you really need to have had your young adult years in the 90s.
    Marla isn't gross in the era of 'grunge'. She's the perfect girl. In the 90s girls were wearing combat-boots & dying their hair with Kool-aid. She's like the French girl in 'Better Off Dead'. Tyler is like the blonde girl in 'Better Off Dead', the unattainable love interest. He's the alpha-slacker-rebel.
    Jack is an uptight yuppie. Jack is the personification of repressed sexuality. In the book it's Joe instead of Jack, but Jack has that double-entendre of a man having sex with himself. Fight Club is his overcompensation.
    Jack can't sleep/feel satisfaction until he starts hugging Meatloaf who is somewhere between male & female. Jack can't feel anything for Marla because he's not attracted to her. He's in love with Tyler. That's why he beats the crap outta Jared Leto when he notices Tyler showing him something like affection: jealousy.
    Instead of Fincher, if you look at Palahniuk's bio, it's all there; a closeted guy in the era of 'don't ask don't tell' who only came out when he thought he was going to be outed.
    Fight Club is a rom-com wrapped in an action-movie.

  29. I dunno, I want to like this video, but it seems politically confused. Tyler's an anarchist! No, he's fascist! Edward Norton's character is a "listen to both sides" liberal! The Green Door goons are anarchic because they… kidnap and sex people! Eliminating debt is both unrealistic and… would set up an economy of lack, somehow! And all of that… is terrorism! TERRORISM.
    This review can't imagine how destroying corporate public art could be fun – more fun than another meaningless day at the office, cooperating with a system that's deeply violent and oppressive – or even empathize with the joy in seeing that symbolically depicted on a screen.
    Also, it seems pretty naive to think that Fincher buys into Tyler's ideology.
    I suspect the lefties and feminists don't know what to do with Fight Club because it critiques consumer culture without offering any real solutions – and because it grapples with the grievances (and pitfalls) that have driven the MRA and incel movement. At its best, the movie (and book) shows how responding to the existential emptiness of consumer culture with masculinist violence only leads to nihilism and death. But I think lefties have a hard time admitting average white men have some real grievances, are alienated, lack a sense of identity or purpose, etc. Their oppression is real even if it's different and not as severe as other groups. But an analysis like this mocks that very idea and so throws the baby out with the bathwater.
    It seems to me that the only way out of this dead end is a politics of solidarity and joyful resistance.
    What do other people think? How do we get out?
    (What does Maggie Mae think?)

  30. While I think your points about toxic masculinity are correct, I'd disagree that Tyler Durden is a fascist when he's clearly meant to be a parody of an anarchist. The ending basically screams that there's no next step to build some kind of megagroup and at no point does Durden really have a plan or organization beyond this pursuing a decentralized deconstruction of this powerful faceless economy.

  31. I'm sorry, but I really hope you get that giant stick out of your ass that makes you so angry and doesn't allow you to watch or enjoy a movie without suspecting a sinister political conspiracy behind it…

  32. there is so meany levels to this film is a hydra, one analysis gives way to 2 more.
    There are so meany interpretation of this film, my interpretation of the film and its message is quite different to yours. As my life experiences lead me to see it in a very different way. To you.

  33. I suspect you are confusing schizophrenia (which is marked by hallucinations) with dissociative identity disorder (where people can establish multiple fragmented personalities).

  34. Hi Maggie, I am a huge fan of your stuff and I know you mainly focus on films but you should read Fight Club 2, it explores your analysis tenfold!

  35. You could also say that Marla acts as Tyler’s voice of reason, it would give probable cause to her being ignored all throughout the movie.

  36. I agree that the narrator isn't "real". I also agree that Tyler is and represents fascism. I know that most serious folks believe in the "death of the author". I never believed in either Tyler or the death of the author. I read Fight Club before I saw it, and I think that really colored how I take it. I think Palahniuk intended Tyler and the book as a satire. I think, as he said- the book was an act of defiance against itself. He had many rejections, so he wrote Fight Club as a "book for people who don't read books". So, failing to bring up the book in any meaningful way, or Palahniuk and how he stands seems a bit, ahem Durdenesque. You make it seem like you buy into the death of the author. Maybe you don't, but it certainly seems that way. This is an instance where I think understanding the author is pretty key to understanding the narrative. So, knowing that an underemployed, angry author who felt that art was being collapsed by the Tyler Durdens of the world wrote this story makes me feel like maybe I'm not supposed to think that Tyler or the narrator are 'cool', but rather tragically screwed up. That's why I watch the film, anyway.

  37. I always go back and forth on the meaning of the film. As it stands now I see the movie as a mess of contradiction. The narrator expresses his displeasure with corporations and franchises, but makes his own in the form of Fight Clubs. He hates his father for abandoning him and his mother but proceedes to push away a woman who (maybe) loves him. Tyler talks about reclaiming manhood but in one scene he is punching another man in thr groin during a fight. He repays the love and devotion of one of his subordinates through beating then half to death im front of everyone. It seems to be about the Narrator not being able to escape his fate. No matter how hard he fights, he will always be in the same place he always was. The only difference is that he twists these desires to escape and uses it to hurt others. He is the villain of his own story. He doesn't liberate anyone, he becomes another abuser. The ending is vague to me because he appears to see through his own delusions and sees himself for what he really is and kills that part of himself to move on. Tyler is a manifestation of his hatred, pettiness, delusions of grandure, etc. I also feel as though Marla changes by the end, at least in how we perceive her. When she comes to see the Narrator after Tyler left she appears more concerned and caring than we did before. She is more aware of herself as shown in the diner scene where she was restraining herself in a way we have never seen before, and shows genuine concern when she saw the narrator was shot. To me she was shown as the mess she was when Tyler was around because it was his distorted vision of her because he was afraid to love someone (His daddy issues). When Tyler left, her behavior and manor of speaking changed for the rest of the movie. To me at least. At the end when he holds her hand to me it says that he has finally moved on and can let it all go.

  38. so edward norton's character is nameless. "jack" is from an article he found written from an organ in the first person, "i am jack's medula oblangata, without me, jack cannot regulate his heart rate, blood pressure, or breathing, "i am jill's nipples," etc. which the narrator then borrows from and makes his own versions of like "i am jack's smirking revenge" theres no character in the movie named jack.

  39. Dissociative Identity is not "Schizophrenia." Also, the narrator's name isn't "Jack." He occasionally reads passages out loud, like "I am Jack's spleen," but the character, as much as you want to call him that, doesn't have a name. At no point does he stand up in front of a group, and say "My name is Jack, and I don't have Testicular Cancer." He's not a character, he's the absence of a character. Tyler is the fetish standin. Tyler isn't Schizophrenic, he's a Malignant Narcissist, and "Jack" is his spleen.

  40. Something about the alignment of physical appearance with nazi propaganda makes me feel like there's a thought in there about compulsory physical perfection in women in order to be consumable, which is I guess what passes for respected or considered, but I can't…. quite get there. Really enjoyed this video. When i first watched FC I remember feeling upset by it in a way that wasn't answered by the explanations of the friend that showed it to me. This video made me wonder if what I was reacting to was the manipulation of the viewer in the film toward self-canibalizing ideals, which you did an incredible job of breaking down. Thank you for your good work.

  41. This is super interesting and I agree with pretty much everything in your analysis here, but it seems a little odd to me to draw a line between Fincher's filmmaking style and the Monoform specifically, because doesn't Monoform describe all commercial film? In what film is the ending not predetermined once production has ended and the movie is being shown? I can't really think of an example of film that doesn't guide the viewer through a pre-determined narrative. I could definitely be wrong about this, or could have misinterpreted your point, so I'd love to hear other opinions on this!

  42. eh, i don't like how you went off on Gavin Mcinnes like that at the very end of a long video that was supposed to be about Fight Club, and you conveniently only shared like one line of his words. i want to be clear, i am not, nor was i ever a fan of Gavin Mcinnes, but to put words into someone's mouth and contextualize something from your own perspective without letting us know what all they said?

    at first i thought you were a Lindsay Ellis kind of channel, but pulling that shit towards the end, gonna have to call it like it is, you're the Tim Pool of The Left. like seriously, what were you thinking going off like that, as if everyone even knows or cares about Mcinnes to have watched that video, that you put in the one line he said that suited your point and nothing else?

    "his entire speech reads like a list of the rhetorical devices that we've been covering in this video. for the entire duration of this 36 minute video [that i, Maggie Fish, conveniently failed to show more than 4 seconds of] even though he covers a variety of topics, Mcinnes stands next to a photo of one of the Proud Boys and his wife who happens to be a PoC. he appropriates what he sees as the external symbol of her oppression, he skin color, and uses this image as a literal prop as evidence that he, Gavin Mcinnes, is the one that is truly oppressed"

    i find it amazing that without any context of the original video, now you're forcing me to actually find his YouTube channel, find this video, and make sure that you didn't take him out of context, grasping at straws or anything like that.

    seriously, again, what were you thinking shoving this niche "example" at the back end of this video? have you already broken down Gavin Mcinnes' leaving of the Proud Boys previously? is it a thing that you just ignorantly assumed that everyone coming to your channel today have any clue who he is and what he said in the video that you extremely briefly given any actual examples from?

    now i know Mcinnes enough to say he is a bigoted asshole, but most people that might happen upon this video, don't know, and probably are not even aware of the Proud Boys either, and for a video essay that was well dense enough as is, to just shove that at the end when it clearly needed an entire video of it's own, was incredibly foolish.

    ugh, it's Leftists like you who make us look like bad faith SJWs, so please, comrade, for constructive criticism, please never do this stunt again, it makes us look like straw-grasping-assholes.

  43. This is a pretty cool take on the film and makes me appreciate the art even more … now I want to watch it again with this healthy distrust of Tyler… I do feel Fight Club does suffer from the same mass misinterpretations that came from Machiavelli and Salinger. I don’t feel Chuck Palihniuk meant for Tyler or Jack to be heroes and their messages to be pure. They’re siren songs that are attractive but inherently doomed to fail spectacularly… did Fincher’s interpretation capture this? Perhaps not, but it comes through. Like The Boondock Saints around the same time, these are true anti-heroes – in that they’re the main characters, but far from something to idealize … but I am falling into the intentional phallacy, but that’s kind of what we do right?

  44. Feminist readings of films like Fight Club, which are obviously thematically skewed towards the masculine perspective, and thus meant to attract an audience of males, especially white males, would do well to restrain themselves from indulging in pointless tangents based solely upon the literal reading of the text, capping each off with the one-two punch of condescension and naked scorn. If Raymond K.HKessel, like so many Americans, was inured in a life of following the path of least resistance, leading him to working the night shift at a convenience store in his thirties, unmarried, and having long ago given up on what he wanted to be, although Tyler's actions are certainly represented, in a literal sense, as more of the same macho power fantasy that permeates the entirety of the film, this is simply how the scene is framed, the point of the scene is to emphasize on a smaller scale what Tyler's goal is: change.

    Raymond K. Hessel may not be liberated by this encounter, but that's an oversimplification. Ask instead whether he would have been changed by it, would he have gone home that night and taken a good, hard look at his life? More importantly, if he then went on to make positive changes in his life, even if they are made out of fear, would that not be an objectively good thing? If your life was in the toilet, and a man held a gun to your head and told you to get your shit together or you would die, would you not, on some level, be grateful for having this choice made for you, considering that when you had the freedom to make your own choices, so many of them were bad? These are the questions being asked by this scene, and they are interesting ones.

    You make some good points, you clearly know what you're talking about, and the premise of your reading is interesting, but I had to wade through a lot of snarky white male-bashing to appreciate it, and I'm not certain it was worth the effort.

  45. One thing about the neo Nazi presenting the picture with his non white wife to try to claim that he's not a bigot, I used to know a white man that told his white sons to marry brown women because they would be more likely to wait on the boys without insisting on having opinions.

    You can't look at someone the same way after they've let that out.

  46. I have to say, I love your commentary on the film, which, perhaps ironically, has reinforced my belief that Fight Club (the book AND the movie) is a work of genius. I agree with pretty much every point you make, and what makes it all so problematic is that both Chuck P. and David F. overestimate their respective audience's intelligence and ability to deconstruct what's happening. It fundamentally satirizes and mocks toxic masculinity by holding up a mirror to us men. It says, if you relate to any of the male characters in this film, YOU ARE THE WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD. There really are no good guys, except, perhaps, Bob and Marla. The narrator sees himself as the tragic hero of the film, while Tyler Durden sees himself as the uber-masculine ideal: both are wrong. It is really Marla who is the tragic hero of the film, and IMHO, Bob is the character we are most supposed to empathize with, and learn the hardest lesson from: Tyranny in any form is the enemy, and if you follow blindly, it will kill you.

    The movie is 20 years old, and it's no less prophetic now as it was then, and given the reality of Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, Proud Boys, neo-nazis, etc., it's even more important, and possibly more dangerous. We were supposed to watch the movie and read the book, and think, "Wow, the narrator is really messed up; he doesn't understand men, he doesn't understand women, he doesn't understand is place in society. I should not be like him." But, instead, too many men have read the book and seen the movie and thought, "Yeah, the system is holding me down! I need to destroy it!" I don't think that's the fault of the author or the director. I think that's the fault of US, the audience, for seeing too much of ourselves in the UNRELIABLE narrator. The book and movie are saying, "YOU ARE AN UNRELIABLE NARRATOR! Like the narrator in the story, you can't see past your own hangups and anxieties, and you can't grow unless you learn to do that."
    My thoughts are jumble right now, so I'm not sure if any of this makes sense, so I'll try and clarify things later…

  47. 18:50 And then in the book Tyler/Cornelius goes on to murder someone in a party with a pistol. To try out his home-made silencer. And at the end he and his gang want to blow themselves up in the tower, while his boys are throwing office furnitures at the onlookers below. Not the movie Brad Tyler Holywood Pitt. He's too cool to be suicide bomber.

  48. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't understand the point of holding the concepts of artificiality in film and linear storytelling against this movie when that's just something inherent to movies? Can someone explain the purpose of that section?

  49. Your tone is pretty harsh. Do you think Fight Club is not satire? Or are you just that frustrated that it inspires garbage people? Is that Fincher's fault?

  50. 10 minutes in and it already boggles my infantile mind how many of these ideas have been sidelined in the two decades worth of film criticism/appreciation about this movie.

    It does take a great woman to deconstruct the narrative of men.

  51. It took me a lot of years to finally see the Tyler/jack character for what he truly is because of all your reasons, and I could never put my finger on why I was so deceived. It feels a lot like being “gaslit”. Then after I saw it, trying to explain it to an indoctrinated is like threading a horse through the eye of a needle. In a way I admire the craftsmanship of such propaganda but it did me a lot of damage seeing it as a female teenager in accepting and internalizing the toxicity. I really would like to hear from a fellow who also was indoctrinated then not.

  52. so, i'm sure someone has already pointed this out somewhere in this rather sizable comment section, but schizophrenia has nothing to do with having multiple personalities. that would be referred to as multiple personality disorder, or DID (dissociative identity disorder).

    now that i've gotten that out of my system, time to continue enjoying the rest of the video. it's always fun finding a new, fresh take on some old classic.

  53. You have addressed an interesting aspect: evil knows no feelings of guilt. Therefore, we need the conflicting Men as the protagonist. This already appears in R. L. Stevenson's novel:

    "Jekyll (who was a mixture) planned and accompanied Mr. Hyde's life with great anxiety and then with greedy lust, but Hyde was completely indifferent to Jekyll: he was no more than a hiding place for his pursuers. "

  54. Thank you. I feel like I'm a cinephile, but it was so nice to see a differing opinion on something that I like but have had a problematic relation with.

  55. I think Tyler is a fiction created by Maggie to manipulate her audience into seeing all things as evil unless they follow her young twenty something ‘i have it all figured’ out judgement on a film she has no clue at all about the context of the level of consciousness across the world at it’s release.
    She manage to fool the naive fewer with term that rely on a post modern view when convenient, and a shallow view of science context when that perspective is more favourable to the selfish narrative she is constructing out of thin air…

  56. I'm so glad there are people who can articulate why I didn't enjoy this movie that everyone in my life seemed to think was brilliant.

  57. Was enjoying this but stopped to look up Teal Swan. Thank you so much. I am donating all and devoting my life to the one true Spiritual Leader!
    But seriously, that is one super messed up heap of toxic human wreckage.

  58. At the risk of sounding like a creep, as beautiful as Maggie is physically, her brain is by far her most attractive feature. I love listening to people smarter than me talk about shit I thought I understood.

  59. Nice, it's the misandrists review of Fight Club. Men are all shit so this movie can only make sense if Tyler is the original personality. You are just flat out wrong and ignore the pieces of dialogue that prove it. There a many examples but I'll only site one as I don't have all day. You bring up the scene of Jack and Marla in the kitchen and claim that we seeing Tyler. He's confused asking what she gets out of her "relationship" with Tyler "Why does a weaker person need to latch onto a stronger person". You skip over her asking him what he gets out of it to which he replies "that's totally different with us". Here Marla is asking if she is more than just sex to him but he thinks she's asking he why he lives with Tyler.

    This is not a deep dive film analysis, it's a proclamation of your own personal biases and slanted world view.

  60. you keep saying that we see whatever the movie wants us to see, but none of that was true for me. maybe that's why i thought the movie was stupid and didn't like it.

  61. The character is not named jack. He is actually never named and referenced in the credits as simply The Narrator. Couldn't even watch after the point where you call him Jack.

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