Fight Club: A Retrospective


Whenever I want to talk about Fight Club, I always get the same response. “Remember the first two rules, man. You don’t talk about Fight Club.” I get it: breaking the rules is the same as ruining the movie. But with people starting their own fight clubs and urban terrorist groups, audiences need to be reminded that Fight Club is a satire. We’re not supposed to desire the life of a self-destructive, nomadic cultist; we’re not supposed to deny the ambition and desperation that makes us human. That being said, Fight Club is arguably my favorite movie of all time, for better or for worse. Those of you that know me personally are probably groaning, since I talk about this film far too often. Film scholars are probably rolling their eyes, since this film is usually the subject of macho eroticism. But hear me out, because this is the last time I will ever bring up Fight Club for philosophical discussion.

Fight Club tells the story of a white-collar insomniac (Edward Norton) and his friendship with a soap-making anarchist (Brad Pitt) as they make a club dedicated to help men vent their aggression against the world. As more members join in, the club eventually transforms into something much more dangerous.

Basically, satire is a style of art where issues are exaggerated, parodied and juxtaposed in attempts to mock our modern values. Though some forms of satire use humor, satire only requires two parts: a problem and its antithetical solution. For example, Jonathan Swift’s infamous essay, A Modest Proposal, was an attack against the indifference to the impoverished. He suggests that the rich should buy and eat the children of poor parents, supposedly solving Ireland’s social issues and ending famine at the same time. Readers of Swift’s essay can react in two ways: disgusted at its premise, or enlightened by its analogy to the government’s harsh treatment of the poor.

Back to the main topic, Fight Club follows the satirical tradition and presents a problem with a perverse solution. Tyler Durden speaks confidently about consumerism in a conversation: “We’re consumers. We’re by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty — these things don’t concern me. What concerns me is celebrity magazines, television with five hundred channels, some guy’s name on my underwear.” Fight Club beckons us to lose all hope in our current world because it has turned us into objects. America is devoured by consumerism and feminization, and the only cure is a fascist cult that uses terrorism and violence to give its members purpose in life. The only way out of a life without meaning is action without thought. As a negative message, its visceral, exhilarating, and hilariously clever.

I disagree with the notion that Fight Club is simply juvenile pseudo-intellectualism, or “a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy” as the late Roger Ebert wrote in his review. At the heart of Fight Club lies existentialism: a belief that life begins with the actions, thoughts and feelings of the individual. The main character accepts no responsibility for his unhappiness in life, and relies on the suffering of the sick to comfort himself. The joke of the film is resorting to nihilism (or the abandonment of all material goods) as a solution, supposedly cleansing the corporate propaganda that has brainwashed us.

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