Thoughts On: Fight Club - Nihilism, Anarchy And I


Fight Club - Nihilism, Anarchy And I

Thoughts On: Fight Club

An insomniac runs into a soap salesman.

We've all seen it. And so the warning is pointless, but, SPOILERS. Tyler Durden is a projection of The Narrator's screwed up mind. With that said, this is a movie entirely about self-destruction sourced from a simple lack of identity. Fight Club is a movie much like The End Of The Tour, but more extravagant with an exuberant, boisterous and hyperbolised style, movement and characterisation. This is then a movie that is, at its core, pretty petty. However, the truth of this is presented in a manner you can take seriously, in a manner you don't feel you must mock. So, the core of Fight Club is of a man that is simply not happy. To combat his depression he wallows in it, but when he can no longer feed off his own bullshit, he decides to hit self-destruct. His self-destruction through Tyler is actually tantamount to us not being able to take the plights of this movie (or something like The End Of The Tour) seriously. The narrator knows his problems are pretty pathetic, he knows that going to the dozen support groups he has no place in joining is pitiful, pretty scummy and completely self-absorbed. It's with Marla that this narcissistic essence of his self becomes unbearably upfront. This is what triggers Tyler. Tyler is nothing more than a way for The Narrator to punch himself in the face and stuff Marla without having to recognise the fact that he is both pathetic and could maybe push a way out of his depression. The paradigm of this film is then all about a reflection of self. In the very beginning, The Narrator is forced to look in on himself and see nothing. He stays up night at day, simply wanting reprieve. He hates his job. He hates the system he is apart of. He wants out.

To understand The Narrator's position you simply have to see him in an empty room. There is a door and it's unlocked. The Narrator wants out. What does he do? He walks to the door, pulls it open and leaves, right? Ok, but what if The Narrator can't walk? The door is now shut in spite of him, his efforts, his need to translate thought to physical actions are fruitless. It's now that we see his depression, his insomnia, his debilitating lack of perceived self. He sees himself as empty and so is powerless to leave his unlocked room. What happens if, in exchange of locking the door, we give The Narrator a friend with a bomb? He still wants out, but he's not moving. Why not let the friend destroy the room around him as he stands? This is the entire narrative of Fight Club. The Narrator senses a vacuous hole beyond the shell of his skin, and this makes him feel like absolute shit. To escape this, he projects the shit onto the walls around him. He then decides that if he wipes the walls clean, maybe wipes them away completely, the shit inside him will be gone too. What we see here is a cushion of nihilism being popped by a pin of anarchy. The Narrator doesn't believe in himself and so he doesn't believe in the world. He decides he wants to lose control, he wants to play with his internal self-destruct button, and then he decides the world's self-destruction also needs to be hit. This translates to Tyler's plan to destroy all monetary and capitalists aspects of society instead of The Narrator searching within himself for a new beginning. This trait of The Narrator and Tyler is immersed in a plea to the world to stop letting them (him) destroy themselves (himself). In short, it's working a boring job for money and to simply accumulate things, that are so easy to do, just like watching TV, living a safe, quiet life by everyone else's rules. However, we choose to live the easy life, to indulge in shit that's not good for us. Is it right that the world then be labelled corrupt? Is it right that we then think the system needs to change? Does it make any sense that what we feel in side is irrevocable attributed to the world around us along with blame and consequences to come?

This is a question Fight Club begins to ask. However, this is not the last interrogative given by the final image of the film...

What this image caps off is the end of a cautionary tale. The Narrator and Tyler alike, no matter how enjoyable they are, no matter how convincing their case for anarchy feels, are (somewhat inadvertently) liars. Don't get sucked into what they preach. That is not what the film is about. As said, this is a film about finding yourself. It's subsequent commentary then comes with how people tend to approach this perpetually distancing peak that is ultimately insurmountable - knowing just who you are. Again, this is a film about finding yourself, about finding your own individuality, and it starts with The Narrator breaking away from his shirt, tie and suitcase by beating himself and friends up for a laugh, to actually feel, to experience physical truth. It's the beginning of the second act where the nihilistic and anarchistic elements of this film teach lessons that actually help The Narrator. What The Narrator and Tyler start off doing is simply chipping away at the hatred they have for themselves. They feel weak and pitiful and so they ask themselves just how weak and how pitiful they are. They test and find this out with Fight Club. And it's, as Tyler says, Fight Club that is truth, that isn't bullshit and lies. What's bullshit is The Narrator's boss being a better person or having more power than The Narrator just because of a title. This social hierarchy is what we all experience every day. It's having to be polite, having to be passive aggressive, having to not ask someone who believes they are better than you to actually prove it. It's the monetary and capitalist aspects of society as presented by the the first two acts and all of the workplace scenes that demonstrate how we live in a society where we fight with metaphors, with implimence, with intangibility and hidden agendas. And the rules of this world remained undefined as we simply aren't able to talk about them. And it's that there that should be ringing all the bells. We all know it:

"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."

These rules are a massive fuck you to the way we operate in a civilised society where we have to be passive aggressive, we have to be fake and lie - and never talk about that fact. The first two rules are then a dare to actually say who you are, to actually say what you feel you must not, to talk about Fight Club despite authority. This is a paradigm repeated throughout the film. In fact, it's after Tyler and The Narrator have their beers over The Narrator's apartment blowing up that Tyler demands The Narrator actually ask if he can stay at his place. This is the best example of social conduct being thrown out the window in search of honesty. Tyler knew what The Narrator wanted to ask. The Narrator knew that Tyler knew. Still, he keeps his mouth closed as it's the polite thing to not be upfront, as he didn't want to force a yes, or hear a no. These touch and go rules of society keep us from truth, keep us from being honest with one another and ultimately separate us all. I don't believe this a universal truth, and I don't think we should be unconditionally honest. But, more honesty in our world is something that wouldn't go amiss. This is a concept explored by another film...

... so maybe I'll save that talk for another time. Nonetheless, honesty is all Fight Club represents, is all Tyler and The Narrator are in search for in the first half of this movie. The subsequent rules of Fight Club reinforce this:

"Third rule of Fight Club: if someone yells “stop!”, goes limp, or taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight."

Think about these rules, not between two people fighting, but talking. If we could be honest enough to say how we truly feel, about our boundaries, about truly pushing to the fringes of what we're capable of, we would be able to see true character in others. We wouldn't be coddled by cushions of social conduct. I remember hearing a Joe Rogan podcast, with Duncan Trussell, that dipped into these ideas with emojis and texting. Trussell spoke about emojis being like hieroglyphics that communicated more human emotions with imagery instead of words, letters and squiggles. But, on another episode of Rogan's podcast, a similar idea came up with texting, but with a different interpretation. It was questioned if auto-correct and suggested responses may one day evolve so that we needn't have to text or message, until we will be simply watching our computers or phones have the chats we would - but are too lazy to type out. It's these two perspectives that outline just what The Narrator and Tyler are trying to escape. They don't want to live in a world of auto-correct and predictive messaging because it leaves them empty as is a mere extension of regressive rules of social conduct. Its predictive messaging that mimics not wanting being so impolite as to just ask a stranger for help, instead, take them for beers and wait for them to offer. The world feels easier with predictive messaging and another person offering instead of us asking, but we are taking ourselves out of the equation at our own expense. We aren't putting our true and nuanced emotions down on the page or screen. We aren't trying to conjure up new sentences, different ways of saying things, we aren't trying to do better, to have things be more personal and more real. To understand why real is important just look at emojis. A smiley face can work on many levels words may not, and with just one click, because they mimic what we are used to. We are used to looking at someone as they talk. When they say something we like we smile, we laugh. An emoji or a lol has to suffice on the phone, but all we're really trying to do is mimic real conversations so we feel the genuine emotions humans have been coded for. All this begs the question of why not just put down the phone and talk to someone? These are the exact questions Fight Club begins to probe. It wants true raw emotions and because the characters in this film are so tightly wound around themselves, the only way to get them out is through extreme actions and extreme emotions - fighting and the ensuing ecstasy of pain and triumph.

However, this devolves with the rise of Project Mayhem. But, we'll get into that later. First, it's important to understand the roots of the nihilism, the complete disbelief in belief, and anarchy, the singular belief in disorder, in this film. These two terms have their problems. You cannot be a true nihilist for reasons explored in the previous Thoughts On: essay. (link here).  You cannot be a true nihilist because belief fuels perception and reality. You cannot be a true anarchist for the same reason. People perceive, and perception is simply noticing patterns. You cannot live a life without perceiving, nor experiencing patterns and a certain set of rules and structurings. However, there are healthy doses of nihilism and anarchy that we can all take. By suspending our belief in everything once in a while, we can gain perspective over the absurdity of the society we've created. We are born wanting to sleep, eat and fuck - and feel good, safe and comfortable in the moments between activity. Why, if this is what we all want, must we then work? Why, if this is what we all want, do we get married, struggle after sex, affection, love? These are great questions that allow us to assess the world we live in objectively. It's through a certain degree of nihilism that we can ponder, find out who we are and live by the rules we think make sense. For instance, why must we work? Well, yes, we all just want to be comfortable, but laptops, WIFI, heat and electricity don't just happen. You need to create and maintain these things, just like we need to create charts, move money around, market, produce art and so on. We must produce these things for others so we may also consume what we are not able to produce - and that's society. That's why we work. It might not be fun, but it makes sense. As for the second question of sex and love? Well, it's clear not everyone deserves our love, not everyone wants to be fucked, or have sex with another or every single person. We feel this way for evolutionary reasons, so we don't end up with mates who have bad genetics, or are horrible people. It's nihilism that makes society absurd, but we must not forget that nihilism is just a tool that raises us up for the purpose of perspective, so we can actually see the sense in a crazy system. The same may be said for anarchy. We live in a world that exist without any apparent reason or rhyme. Embracing this once in a while allows you to step back, look at the rules and decide if they make complete sense, if we want to be sending reams of emojis, if we want our computers to talk for us whilst we just watch, if we actually want to test the glass we feel we're made of with a good scrap. Again, this is what the first half of Fight Club sets up so perfectly, but in comes Project Mayhem...

Project Mayhem is perpetually enforced nihilism, it is systematised anarchy. This is what happens when you take the given concepts too seriously and act as if they are philosophies possible for people to live by. What we see with Project Mayhem is a group of guys from the Fight Clubs being taught to let go of rules to feel truth once in a while growing into men that do not believe in anything but Tyler. Project Mayhem becomes a cult. This cult believes in a dogmatic hierarchy, it believes solely in Tyler and what he believes. That's not nihilism - you're not supposed to believe in anything. However, professing you're a true nihilist leads to this. The same can be said for anarchy. The men working under Tyler aren't true anarchists because they have a leader, they are doing what they are told, they have rules, they support control. This is what leads to the final irrational bombing. But, the contradictive failure of Project Mayhem is best exemplified with the death of Robert Paulson.

He dies on an operation, getting shot in the head. The men's first reaction here is that the cops are pigs, that it is there fault alone. But, The Narrator is forced to ask: what did you think would happen!? It's at this moment that we realise the sheer mindlessness of these supposed anarchists and nihilists. Anarchy and nihilism affords the opportunity for perspective and enlightenment - only if you utilise it well. They came into the project to find out who they are, to find their independent and true self. But, it's chanting 'his name is Robert Paulson', a name given in death, that it's made painfully clear that the purpose these lost postmodernists are so desperately searching for, has disappeared within themselves - and that they buried it. They are fighting for purpose, a purpose only felt when dead. What the fuck is the point of that!? There simply isn't one.

What's also poignant is Marla. We mustn't forget that Marla is ultimately the crux of this film. She is what triggers Tyler and she is what The Narrator hides from. She is a person on his level that can help him through his own bullshit. A very important scene that comes midway through the film is one that mirrors the first fight The Narrator and Tyler have. As said, before the fight and after the beers, The Narrator is forced to actually ask Tyler if he can stay over. What this achieves is truth, it solidifies the relationship between The Narrator and Tyler - and is also the driving mechanism of Project Mayhem that brings all the men that it does together. But, during one of their many morning meetings Marla and The Narrator talk, but, as always, The Narrator cannot be honest with the only person he probably needs to be honest to - Marla and ultimately himself. When she tries to push him to talk about himself (Tyler) and her, he backs away from conversation, saying he's mot afraid, but in the end simply mirrors Tyler's words with: this conversation... this conversation... is over... BANG (shuts door)... is over. What this cites is The Narrators inability to be truthful when it truly matters. And just like the Project Mayhem goons blaming the cops for Paulson's death, The Narrator blames the world for his problems. What's horrifying is, like his goons, he has blinded himself to truth. He attributes everything shitty and contradictory that he does to Tyler - as if he's a different person. This brings us toward revelation pretty quick. The significance of The Narrator realising he is in fact Tyler comes with his sudden humanity and surge of morality. He sees that putting men in danger, feeding them lies of anarchy and nihilism isn't helping himself or them. And so he has to turn back to the beginning where he started to find truth in beating himself up. He fights Tyler, he fights with open eyes and wins, gaining his own personal independence and a hand to grab his...

... because, in the end, Fight Club is a romance. It's a search for love and personage in oneself and hopefully with someone standing by your side. Sounds pretty soppy for a film called Fight Club, huh? But, that's the truth. The truth is that The Narrator, much like us all, is an emotive creature. He feels happy, sad, lonely, lost. This changes his perception of self, and to deal with that, he figures he needs to change the world. But, with notions of nihilism and anarchy, The Narrator loses all sense of responsibility. That's why Fight Club is a cautionary tale. It's great to rebel, to question, to want change, but only if you hold in the back of your mind a constant reminder of your own personal responsibility. You should stay true to the idea that our actions are often towards personal growth - especially the pre-planned and questioned ones. But, you should also remember you ultimately want to eat, sleep and fuck - all whilst being happy, safe and comfortable in the moments between - and that's all. The 'moments in between' are the existential focus of one's life, they are only managed with open eyes, with a concept of responsibility - and it's what will hopefully stop you from having turn the gun on yourself whilst blowing up the world to get a fresh start. With perception meeting the reality through the senses our bodies hold, we must remember that we are a tool, but a tool that gets to exploit the system of reality. It's thus then ultimately true that control is the epitomal fantasy in a reality without free will or actual answers, where we are not omnipotent, all knowing, all powerful. This leaves us the only response of trying to control the fantasy we live in, not the world or reality as that is simply impossible. I've said it before, I'll say it again...

Control, the fantasy; control the fantasy.

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