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Rule No. 1: The Psychology of Fight Club

This piece is an attempt to explore hidden nuances and narratives of Fight Club, often overlooked underneath the charismatic cast and climactic thrill.

Once upon a time, there was a man, living his life, who succumbed to the illusion that only buying things will make him happy. Hence, he found himself stuck in a boring, spiritually empty existence with no interesting hobbies or active social life, be it a meaningful human relationship and or a close network of friends. Feeling empty and lonely, he developed insomnia, where his subconscious kept telling him, “Look, you are miserable, and you can’t keep living like this. You have to do something.” Thus began a story of him building something that gave meaning to his life, and as a byproduct- we cherish that story as one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time.

Fight Club
(Credits: spoofyking)

Diverging from the Conventional Living

The script of a successful man’s life is wired into all our brains from a very young age. We’re all supposed to work hard in school, get into a prestigious university, get a well-paying job, marry and have kids. What Fight Club represents is a way of alternative life. A life where conventions and norms do not limit your true calling.

(Read Also: Celebrating Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture as the New Millennial Anthem)

It’s a comment on how the domestication of man has set impossible standards of life. It also showcases how if one were to deviate from the set script to go onto an improvised monologue, society would ostracize them. The movie challenged the true extent of conditioning in human life. Societal conditioning, which is often blamed as the cause of continued prejudice and stereotypes across generations, is portrayed as being much deeper and nuanced than we can think. Capitalistic notions of a good life are so deeply ingrained in the idea of success and Fight Club helps you question them.

Fight Club
(Credits: scrolldroll.in)

Escaping Emotional Trauma

After fight club you’re so relaxed, you just cannot care.

Chuck Palahniuk, author of the novel, Fight Club (1996).

Fight Club represents a congregation of men who are dissatisfied with their lives because of how society deems them inadequate. They feel trapped in the societal conventions which have manifested a plethora of personal and professional problems, and for all these conventions care, they are supposed to grind in the system and “be a man”. Fight Club validates the suppressed emotions of these men, ranging from frustration to depression, and helps them channelize these into anger.

This ultimately acts as a platform to escape everyday life, its inanimate problems, and unfair societal burdens by allowing something else to give your life meaning as an outlet of emotion. For the people in the club, it’s no less than an art form of self-expression. By the end, the adrenaline in your veins makes the highs and lows of everyday life seem mundane.

Fight Club
(Credits: ScoopWhoop)

This process of escapism supplements two interesting observations:

  • In Fight Club, you beat your mental agony out of you (or get it beaten out). Either way, it depicts how vulnerable humans are to emotions, which also acts as a testament to how humans always prioritize healing from mental and emotional pain over the physical. When people are threatened by something emotionally or mentally, they will resort to all sorts of mental tricks or behaviors to shield themselves from feeling that threat. They didn’t seem to mind the physical suffering as long as it meant them being able to escape the emotional suffering.
  • There’s also the aspect of the primal nature of man. Before the progress of industrialisation and progress swept over humanity, we were a community of hunter-gatherers. We had our place in the food chain and had to fight for existence. This meant the struggle was not to be comfortable but to subsist. Fight Club urged its members to channel this inner-animal to cope with reality. 

(Read Also: “I Am Jack’s Cultural Impact”; How Fight Club Changed the Hollywood Landscape)

Cult Creation

If we look closely, we see how Fight Club closely follows the working of a cult. An individual mobilizes others based on a commonality that renders a sense of relatability. We see how Tyler Durden can harvest the discontentment of people from the capitalistic system of consumerism, turn that into hatred, and form a cult committed to destroying credits, irrespective of the cost. It reflects how cults manipulate people into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t, by alienating them from everything else and dedicating them solely to a cause, by leveraging the same relatability. 

Fight Club
A still from Fight Club (Credits: juckdurden.com)

Power of the Subconscious

Fight Club explores the power of a human’s subconscious that buries all our deepest and darkest emotions, memories, and desires; and its ability to actively impact the decisions we take, which also have a trickle-down effect on people around us. The alter ego the narrator hence creates is symbolic of the extent of this power. A deeper understanding of the Fight Club in this context also intricately portrays how people often think and behave differently from who they are, and hence to live a fulfilling life, it’s extremely important to be in touch with who you are, and not just become another sheep that follows the herd.

Fight Club
(Credits: Pinterest)

Fight Club- The Love Story

Fight Club
Ending Scene from Fight Club (Credits: Giphy)

Beyond the multiple narratives that co-exist in Fight Club, there is a theme that goes against everything the story talks about. That is love. On some level, Fight Club is just a fucked up love story of Marla and the guy. She is a rebel who lives life on the edge, doesn’t care about the rules, and isn’t trapped in an empty, materialistic, vacuous lifestyle. Her anti-establishment, rebellious attitude would be the one to help him break out of his miserable consumerist, conformist, buttoned-down lifestyle.

Throughout the movie, Marla acts as a beacon of light for the protagonist. Nothing solidifies this theme than the final shot of the movie that shows the protagonist and Marla holding hands while the chaos masterminded by Tyler ensues. Perhaps the lesson ‘love conquers all’ is not one that most viewers would take away from the movie in the first go, but it exists. It’s almost fitting that the movie while uprooting all notion of a normal, keeps with itself the phenomena of love. Love, which has become ingrained in consumerism, is stripped away of all its superficiality and presented in its rawest form.

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Feature image credits: Alternative Movie Posters

Abhishek Chauhan

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Cherishi Maheshwari

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