Rarest-of-the-Rare Movie Analysis: Existentialism in Fight Club

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-11 at 22.36.31

(Spoiler Alert: This review is for those who have seen the movie beforehands. There are both spoilers and spoiler-splashed analyses which may diminish the viewing pleasure for those who haven’t seen the movie.)

One of the guiding ideologies operating behind the scenes of Fight Club is existentialism. This deeply evocated ideology forces itself through questioning or searching for the meaning of life and the movie provides us with enough evidence to narrate a completely existentialist story for the protagonist.

“Existence precedes essence” is the main motto of existentialism, which basically means that human beings exist and, only afterwards, they define themselves. According to existentialism, there is no fixed and inherent meaning of existence and humans are free to define their essence and how they should live. However, it also means that everyone must take responsibility for their actions. Therefore, freedom and authenticity are the primary virtues of existentialism. According to Sartre, people are stuck with bad faith if they adopt inauthentic values because of social constrictions and if they cannot embrace their existential freedom.

Fight.Club.10th.Anniversary.Edition.1999.1080p.BrRip.x264.YIFY.mp4_20170611_223104.659

In the beginning of Fight Club, Jack, who lives with the values of consumerist and materialistic society and defines his existence by material objects, suffers from insomnia. Dehumanizing effects of his job and his alienation of himself cause a false sense of permanence which helps him escape the inevitable clutch of death. However, materialistic progress that consumerist culture provides can lighten the burden of existential freedom, but cannot hide the inevitability of death completely. When Jack begins to join the support group meetings to cure his insomnia, he gains some sort of awareness of mortality, which causes a realization of the absurdity of life. However, this awareness is not authentic but only an illusion, because he cannot actually experience death by talking to dying people. When he meets another faker, Marla, his insomnia immediately resurfaces. According to Camus, “at the end of the awakening comes, the consequence: suicide or recovery.”[1] Jack does not commit suicide, but creates Tyler for his recovery.

Fight.Club.10th.Anniversary.Edition.1999.1080p.BrRip.x264.YIFY.mp4_20170611_223812.506

First, Jack lets Tyler blow up his condo, with which he defines himself, for confronting the void by embracing self-destruction, which is a beginning of his existential enlightenment and creation of authenticity. After that, Tyler initiates the first fight with the idea of knowing more about himself by fighting. Jack’s self-discovery continues with this initiation. Fighting provides Jack with the means to deal with his fear and anger by simulating death, which is similar to the idea of attending support groups, but works more effectively. This recurring theme of confronting with pain and reality of death is essential, because it is used in the film as a way of achieving authenticity. When Tyler burns Jack’s hand, lets the car throttle in the wrong lane against the incoming traffic or downright causes the car to tumble down the side of the road, he reminds Jack of the reality of death, absurdity of life, his insignificance in the world and that there is no inherent meaning of his life. He basically shows that everything happens just happens and anything that might count as reason or meaning is just his artificial import. We can also clearly see the idea of authenticity and existentialist thought in the scene that Tyler terrifies Raymond K. Hessel by threatening him with death, because afterwards he overtly claims that this confrontation with death will be the reason of an existential crisis for Raymond K. Hessel, which would lead him to live more freely and authentically.

Fight.Club.10th.Anniversary.Edition.1999.1080p.BrRip.x264.YIFY.mp4_20170611_223523.056

As Tyler claims, a generation of the modern world without a war or a great depression needs something to battle, which provides some meaning for their existence. The idea behind the Fight Club is acting against the absurdity of the structure of modern society by means of self-destruction for achieving authenticity. While the way of meditation through support groups provides an escape from reality of the pain, Fight Club provides a kind of escape from bad faith by embracing pain. After founding Fight Club, Tyler goes further and chooses rebellion as a way of achieving authenticity and Fight Club is transformed into Project Mayhem. This time he wants to destroy the bank records to destruct the falsely defined existence of people who defines themselves with “how much money they have in the bank.” However, this poses a problem for the path of authenticity. According to Sartre, human beings desire to attain the ideal of consciousness that would be the foundation of its own being-in-itself which is equal to the desire to be “the” God. However, this is paradoxical and causes one to live in bad faith.

Fight.Club.10th.Anniversary.Edition.1999.1080p.BrRip.x264.YIFY.mp4_20170611_223252.369

Tyler comes as a savior for Jack and gives inspiration for authenticity, but turns into a fascist, who negates his initial philosophy. Space monkeys are not much different than the slaves of consumer society who live in bad faith. Because Tyler tries to overcome the absurdity by trying to take control of the world in a brutal way, he becomes an oppressor. “The slave starts begging for justice and ends up wanting to wear the crown.”[2] Therefore, the conflict between Jack and Tyler arises. Jack shoots himself/Tyler to reject Tyler’s values. By doing that, he also rejects the path of destruction. In my opinion, at the end of the film, Jack reaches a deeper level of existence.

Overall, we can see in the film that an existentialist dread, weariness may lead to some kind of existential freedom and authenticity. This strongly suggests that we can consistently interpret Fight Club as engaging existentialism not in a completely philosophical fashion, but through the magic of cinema.

[1] Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1951, p. 31.

[2] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942, p. 11.

Works Cited

Bennett, Robert. “The Death of Sisyphus: Existentialist Literature and the Cultural Logic of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.” Stirring Still, The International Journal of Existential Literature, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall/Winter 2005. 65-80

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1942. Trans. Justin O’Brien. London: Penguin Books,2005.

Camus, Albert. The Rebel. 1951. Trans. Anthony Beaver. London: Penguin Books, 1971.

Crowell, Steven. “Existentialism.” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N.Zalta. 23 Aug. 2004. Revised 23 Jan 2010. 28 Apr. 2010. .

Detmer, David. Sartre Explained: From Bad Faith to Authenticity. Chicago: Open Court, 2008.

Fincher, David. Fight Club. 20th Century Fox, 1999. Film

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology. 1943. Ed. and trans. Hazel E. Barnes. London: Routledge Classics, 2003.

Wenley, Stephen. Existential Thought In American Psycho And Fight Club. Victoria University of Wellington, 2011.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s