WARNING: Please do not read this essay if you’ve never watched Fight Club, as it contains major spoilers.
Let’s face it–movies aren’t credible sources of information. Either they oversimplify reality or stretch credulity to its limits. The last thing anyone should be doing is looking to any movie as reference. However, having actually studied psychology in college, I think that Fight Club (1999) might be the exception to the rule. I don’t think I have ever seen a movie that explored so many complex theories with such depth and clarity. The film does such a good job, in fact, that I think it would be great required viewing in any Psych 101 class.
What is it specifically that Fight Club explored in terms of human psychology? Below, I will go into a fully detailed deconstruction of the movie. However, just to refresh everyone’s memory, let’s do a recap first.
Meet The Narrator, aka Jack. He is a white collar corporate drone living an emotionally and spiritually impoverished existence. His entire life is based around acquiring things, and it appears that he has no one in his life, not even a best friend.
Consequently, he becomes depressed and starts suffering from insomnia. His doctor, annoyed by his whining, tells him to gain a greater perspective on life by going to a testicular cancer therapy group to see real problems worth stressing about. The Narrator goes and before he knows it, becomes addicted to therapy groups in general, because he gains the emotional support from them that is so lacking in his own life.
A few weeks later, a mysterious woman named Marla starts showing up at these same therapy sessions as well, and he instantly hates her on sight because she’s a distraction. Not only does it annoy him that she’s obviously faking illness, whenever she shows up, he can’t cry at therapy group sessions anymore. So now he wants her to quit becoming a “tourist”.
After he confronts her, she agrees to only go to group therapy on certain days. Shortly after, the Narrator goes on a business trip. On the plane trip back, he meets a strange man named Tyler Durden seated next to him. He notices that Tyler has the exact suitcase as his. Tyler introduces himself and hands him a business card. The Narrator disembarks and learns that he took Tyler’s suitcase by accident. To make matters worse, when he goes home, he finds that his apartment has been destroyed by an explosion. Having no place to go, he needs a place to crash. But where to go? He has no friends, no family. He decides to call Marla. Then he hangs up on her and decides to call Tyler.
Tyler, who lives in an abandoned house, happily accepts The Narrator as a roommate. Tyler proves to be a renegade who likes to pull little pranks here and there to show his contempt for American culture, which he feels is mired in capitalism and is in the grip of corporations. At first he seems fairly harmless, but then he proposes something odd: a so-called “fight club”, an underground scene in which men come together several times a week to beat each other to a pulp and reclaim their manhood.
The Narrator has fun hanging out with Tyler, when all of a sudden Marla calls the house one night suggesting that she’s overdosed on pills. Tyler runs to her rescue, brings her home and starts having sex with her. Unfortunately for the poor Narrator, he not only has to put up with the much hated Marla dropping by on a regular basis, he has to hear her and Tyler’s raucous sex marathons every night.
Over time, the fight club morphs into Project Mayhem, a terrorist cell in which fight club recruits are handed out “homework assignments” to vandalize symbols of American capitalism and consumerism. Horrified, The Narrator begs Tyler to stop, as it’s clear what Project Mayhem has become. Tyler then disappears and the next morning, The Narrator wakes up to find that his home has now become the HQ of Project Mayhem, which is now planning more terrorist attacks.
Determined to find Tyler, The Narrator travels cross country, only to learn to his horror that Tyler has been going around to every major city creating new Project Mayhem terrorist cells. He also learns that for whatever reason, these new recruits think that he’s Tyler. After The Narrator retreats to his hotel room, Tyler then suddenly appears and drops a bombshell–he never existed and has been a figment of The Narrator’s imagination the entire time.
The Narrator then realizes that he, as Tyler, had rigged several large high rises to explode. He also realizes that Marla is in danger because Project Mayhem members see her as a threat. He gives her a bus ticket out of town, then goes downtown to start defusing all the bombs Tyler planted. As he’s defusing a bomb at the first building, Tyler shows up again and for the first time, becomes The Narrator’s bitter adversary.
The two men duke it out. Just as their epic battle reaches a feverish pitch, Tyler pulls his trump card. He has the recruits of Project Mayhem abduct Marla and bring her to their location. Desperate to save her and free himself of Tyler, The Narrator shoots himself in the face. Tyler dies.
Seeing that he’s injured, Marla tends to The Narrator, who sheepishly tells him that she’s met him at a weird time in his life. Then a slew of high rises, which Tyler had rigged to demolish, collapse. The end.
Mind blowing, right? But what can it all mean? Why does The Narrator go crazy? Why does he invent Tyler? What is going on? To fully understand Fight Club, we have to learn a few psychological concepts about the nature of the mind and personality.
Many pioneers helped shape psychological theory, but none contributed as much as Sigmund Freud, the Austrian analyst whose theories pretty much laid the groundwork for modern psychology.
One of the major tenets of Freudian theory is the idea that everyone’s personality is made up of three distinct parts:
- The Id
This is the part of ourselves that contains our deepest, darkest and most primitive impulses. To use an analogy, it’s the uninhibited neanderthal that still lives inside of all of us.
- The Ego
This is the part of ourselves that polices the id out of fear of the social and real world consequences that would happen if we acted out on its impulses. Consider it like a parole officer or school principal. For example, if you ever became so angry that you had the impulse to throw a rock through someone’s window but didn’t because a part of you said, “I shouldn’t; I could be arrested,” that was your ego stepping in.
- The Super Ego
This is the part of ourselves that polices the id for the sake of morality. In other words, it’s the part of our personality that contains our conscience. Using our rock through the window example again, if you decided not to vandalize your neighbor’s property because you thought to yourself, “That would just be shameful,” or “I’d probably hate myself in the morning,” it was because of your super ego.
Another important concept in psychology is the “subconscious.” The subconscious is the part of our psyche where all of our deepest and darkest emotions, memories and desires are buried. It’s called the subconscious because it lies beneath our conscious or, in other words, our everyday awareness.
A large part of therapy involves trying to explore the issues buried deep in someone’s subconscious, because those issues are usually the driving force behind a neurosis, or a mental disorder. For example, in the movie, Marnie (1964), the main character becomes emotionally scarred by a horrible childhood event. She then suppresses the memory of what happened, forcing it to be buried deep in her subconscious. However, the subconscious being what it is doesn’t let Marnie off that easy, and without understanding how or why, she eventually develops several neuroses. (She becomes a kleptomaniac and develops an irrational fear of the color red and sex). It’s not until she finally recalls the event and comes to grips with her emotions that she is able to cure her kleptomania and multiple phobias.
Another concept in psychology is the “defense mechanism.” 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. For example, if you’re being bullied by your boss at work, you may then decide to direct your anger at your spouse instead because you know confronting him would get you fired. This would be the defense mechanism known as displacement, in which you direct the anger you have towards one thing or person towards something else.
There’s a belief that defense mechanisms are negative ways of coping with stress and anxiety. However, not all of them are negative. For example, many creatives throughout history have produced beautiful and meaningful pieces of art, music and literature using the defense mechanism known as sublimation, which is to take a negative emotion and channel it into something positive.
The Alter Ego
The alter ego is not really a psychological concept. Nevertheless, understanding what one is will be helpful in understanding Fight Club.
So, what is an alter ego? It’s an alternative identity people adopt that acts and thinks in a way that is very different from who they really are. In the world of fiction, two well known examples are Dr. Hyde from the novel, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Clark Kent of Superman fame. When Dr. Jekyll drinks a potion he’s concocted to separate his evil side from his good side, he becomes “Mr. Hyde,” an evil sociopath who goes on murderous rampages at night. To hide his identity as Superman, the handsome, young superhero pretends to be Clark Kent, a nerdy, effete reporter working at the Daily Planet.
In the real world, alter egos can often be seen in the world of music or comedy, in which a singer or comic will perform as someone other than themselves. For example, Ziggy Stardust was the alter ego of David Bowie, Tony Clifton the alter ego of Andy Kaufman and Chris Gaines the alter ego of Garth Brooks.
One of the most famous alter egos in movie history was Buddy Love from the classic Jerry Lewis comedy, The Nutty Professor (1963). In it, Professor Julius Kelp, who is helplessly nerdy, wishes he was cool, sexy and a chick magnet. To achieve his dream, he creates a potion that turns him into Buddy Love, an attractive, well-dressed and suave nightclub singer.
Have you got all of this? Good. Let’s deconstruct Fight Club and try to figure out what precisely it was exploring in terms of human psychology.
Tyler Durden as The Narrator’s Ambivalence Towards Marla and Change
The Narrator has a major problem. He has succumbed to the illusion that only buying things will make him happy. He is also trapped in a boring, spiritually empty existence in which it appears that he has no interesting hobbies or active social life, isn’t in a meaningful human relationship and doesn’t have a close network of friends. Feeling empty and lonely, he develops insomnia. The insomnia isn’t just a sleeping disorder, however. It’s his subconscious telling him, “Look, you are absolutely miserable, and you can’t keep living like this. You have to do something.”
When Jack starts going to group therapy sessions as a “tourist”, it’s a small step in the right direction. He begins to develop a social life, in that he starts going someplace after work to socialize with other people instead of wasting time looking what to buy next in his IKEA catalog. He also creates a network of friends who he can share his feelings with. After awhile, things couldn’t get any better, and The Narrator is finally able to get some shuteye.
But then Marla shows up at one of the group therapy meetups, and the insomnia returns. Why? It’s not because of what The Narrator says (that she’s ruining his ability to cry at group therapy sessions). It’s because he’s secretly attractive to her and wants to be with her. However, he is terribly threatened by her.
Why is he threatened? Well, for whatever reason, The Narrator is conflicted about women and sexual relationships. On one hand, it seems as if he’s completely rejected the idea of having a female presence in his life; on the other hand, there is another part of him that deeply seeks female companionship. We know this because of the running joke about Robert Paulson and his tits. The movie plays the character off as just a cheap joke about a man with female breasts. But there was actually a very clever reason behind Bob’s character. The Narrator’s attraction to Bob and his tits reflects his subconscious desire to be with a woman.
When Marla starts to show up at the group therapy meetings, one part of his mind goes, “Hmm, I’ve been cradling man boobs for the past several weeks. Here comes a woman with actual boobs. Maybe I should hook up with her.” But then the other side of him that is terrified of the idea of being with a woman immediately puts its guard up and perceives Marla as threatening, to the point of seeing her as The Narrator’s mortal enemy.
There is another reason why The Narrator is threatened by Marla. 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. If he hooked up with her, there is no question that her anti-establishment, rebellious attitude might rub off on him and that she would be the one to help him break out of his miserable consumerist, conformist, buttoned down lifestyle. Yet irony of ironies, although she would be the perfect catalyst in helping him change for the better, he isn’t emotionally and mentally ready to break out of his routine. If anything, he is practically scared to death. It would be too much of a change.
One last reason why The Narrator is threatened by Marla is that he doesn’t feel he’s good enough for her, in the sense that he perceives her to be too edgy and cool for him. She wears cool clothes, smokes cigarettes and would probably be the type to look down on and reject a conformist dork like him. Self conscious, he becomes terrified of rejection.
Now, here we have The Narrator desperately wanting to be with Marla, who could not only alleviate his loneliness but change him. However, at the same time, he is too scared to get into a relationship with her. What do do?
The first thing The Narrator does is resort to the defense mechanism known as reaction formation. This is when you make yourself act and feel the opposite of what you’re really feeling. A classic example of this defense mechanism is of the schoolboy who keeps dipping a girl’s pigtails in the ink well as if he hates her, when the reality is that he has a crush on her. In The Narrator’s case, he decides that Marla is a morally reprehensible human being for being a “tourist”, when it’s obvious that he’s intrigued by her because she is just like him; like The Narrator, she is hopping from therapy group to therapy group to find something missing in her life.
After he confronts Marla, he demands that she only show up at therapy sessions on specific types of the day so he doesn’t cross paths with her. This is a defense mechanism fittingly called avoidance, in which a person deliberately avoids a person or situation that he finds potentially upsetting or threatening.
The Narrator’s decision to avoid Marla works for awhile. However, there’s a problem. Defense mechanisms may be effective in hiding your feelings and desires from yourself, but they don’t eliminate the issue that caused you to seek the defense mechanism in the first place. So, The Narrator finds that in spite of mentally convincing himself that he absolutely loathes Marla and needs to stay away from her, the deepest part of himself–his subconscious–refuses to let the matter drop and decides that he will be with her no matter what another part of himself says.
This results in a personal crisis in which one half of him wants to be with Marla and the other half doesn’t. Because he can’t do both, he has a nervous breakdown. Not only does he have a psychotic break (loses touch with reality), he develops a split personality. In short, The Narrator’s neurotic conflict over Marla becomes a full blown psychosis.
The mental breakdown happens even before he gets on the plane on his business trip. In a clever attempt to force him to hook up with Marla and turn his life around, one half of The Narrator’s mind rigs his apartment to blow up so that when he comes back from his business trip, he’ll have no choice but to live his life without his cherished possessions and call Marla for a place to stay. But the other half of his mind–the part that is terrified of hooking up with Marla and changing his life–thwarts him by showing up as Tyler Durden before the plane touches ground.
When The Narrator gets off the plane and goes to his apartment building to find that he no longer has a home, he is forced to make a choice. Either he can hook up with Marla and change his life for the better or continue to be a conformist loner obsessed with material possessions. He calls Marla, but immediately gets cold feet and hangs up on her. Then he pulls out Tyler Durden’s business card and makes the fatal decision. He chooses to continue being mired in his miserable existence, even if it means inventing an imaginary friend to enter a relationship with over a real human being.
Ah, but does The Narrator make a definitive choice? Does he really choose an imaginary friend over Marla? Does he really make a clean break from her?
To answer these questions, let’s take a look at Tyler Durden for a second in terms of his clothing, hairstyle and attitude. Tyler is definitely a unique, one of a kind person. However, he’s very similar to Marla in that he and she both have quirky personalities, are anti-conformist, wear funky clothing and seem to live life on the edge. They’re also heavy chain smokers and have unkempt hair.
Some people noticing the similarities have argued that this means that Marla never existed and was just another figment of The Narrator’s imagination. But this isn’t the case at all. The reason why Tyler looks and dresses so similarly to Marla is for the same reason The Narrator was drawn to Rob Paulson and his tits. He invented Tyler in place of a relationship with Marla. Yet his attraction to Marla was so strong that his subconscious made Tyler embody some of the traits he found most attractive in her (the wild hair, non-conformist attitude and clothing).
Here is another clue that Tyler is also The Narrator’s wish to be with Marla. What was in Tyler’s suitcase that caused him to be held up by airport security? A dildo. Given Tyler’s anarchism, it’s very easy to write it off as an expression of his eccentric personality. However, we can’t, since The Narrator is the one who bought it and put it in his briefcase. There had to be a reason why he chose a dildo as opposed to something else, like a snake or spider. The reason is that with Marla on his mind, he has sex on the brain. He not only wants to enter into a relationship with her, he wants to bang her in the worst way.
So, in the telephone booth scene when it seems as if The Narrator has made a choice, the reality is that he never did. Of course, he thinks he did. He thinks that by inventing Tyler as his new best friend, he has made the choice to avoid getting into a relationship with Marla. The problem is that because Tyler was born out of his conflicted feelings about Marla, Tyler becomes both a rejection of and a subconscious wish to be with her.
Initially, The Narrator is able to fool himself into thinking that he’s made a clean break from Marla forever. For awhile, he gets lost in Tyler’s “world” (his anarchistic activities, pseudo-intellectual ramblings and home grown soap company). He also gets caught up in setting up and running the fight club.
But lo and behold, look what happens. Somehow, The Narrator’s subconscious concocts a scheme to get Marla into his life. It imagines that Tyler rescues her on the night she tries to commit suicide, then starts banging her. The Narrator then deludes himself into seeing himself as the third wheel in Tyler and Marla’s relationship and an unwanted witness to their loud and raucous sex marathons. But we all know that this is nonsense, since it’s really The Narrator having sex with Marla as Tyler and that it was he who had answered her phone call and rescued her.
What on earth is going on there? This scheme on the part of The Narrator’s psyche is a clever spin on the defense mechanism known as dissociation. Dissociation is the act of mentally checking out of something you are doing or is happening to you, to the point where you either feel it’s not happening to you or it’s happening to someone else.
A form of dissociation is Dissociative Identity Disorder, or Multiple Personality Disorder. In this version of dissociation, you disown your actions and experiences by deluding yourself that they’re being done and experienced by another person. For example, a religious woman can be so ashamed of having sex that the only way she can have it is to switch into another identity in which she becomes a dominatrix who spits in the eye of religion. In The Narrator’s case, he adopts Tyler’s personality in order to have his cake and eat it, too. One half of him fulfills his desire to sleep and engage in a relationship with Marla. The other half of him disowns that desire by imagining that it’s really Tyler having sex with her.
As The Narrator’s personal conflict worsens, the two parts of his personality that are feeling conflicted over Marla start fighting for dominance. A key battle occurs when Tyler decides to pour lye onto The Narrator’s hand to test his commitment to “the cause”. As he’s writhing in agony, he tries to “find his cave” (a peaceful place that he can mentally retreat to when he’s upset). He immediately sees Marla there. But he is unable to hold onto that image for long because the pain from the lye is too unbearable.
Of course, it’s not Tyler torturing The Narrator; it’s The Narrator pouring lye on himself. But what on earth for? This is a twisted take on what’s known as aversion therapy. Based on Pavlovian theory, aversion therapy uses pain or some other undesirable sensation to get someone to quit a bad habit. For example, a smoker might wear a rubber band so that whenever he gets a craving for a cigarette, he snaps it against his wrist. In The Narrator’s case, he burns himself in a desperate bid to associate Marla with pain in order to get himself to stop pining for her. He also scars himself so that he will have a permanent reminder that he is to avoid thinking and feeling for her at any cost.
After The Narrator scars himself, it seems as if Tyler–and the part of himself that wants to avoid Marla–has finally won. But this is yet another illusion, just like the scene inside of the phone booth when he decided to call Tyler instead of Marla. Don’t believe me? Look at what shape the scar takes. Even though it was formed by Tyler kissing The Narrator’s hand, it has more of the shape of a woman’s pouty lips:
Why? Once again, Tyler becomes a symbolic representation of the conflict The Narrator feels within himself. On one hand (no pun intended), the painful scar is symbolic of his rejection of Marla and his commitment to Tyler’s anarchism. On the other, the lips represent his burning desire (burning desire–get it?) to be with her. So, try as he might, he can’t get her out of his system.
In spite of all of these major clues that he’s as obsessed with Marla as ever, The Narrator doesn’t get it. He still thinks he’s completely erased her from his life. It’s not until Bob dies when slowly but surely, the part of him that seeks human connection begins to reassert itself and he is eventually able to “wake up” to the reality of what’s been happening to him. He then snaps out of his psychosis, lays claim to the part of himself that he’s been fighting against since the very beginning and finds the courage to be with Marla.
The Narrator is also finally able to recognize and accept the conflict that initiated his breakdown, which we learn in the opening scene of the movie when he says:
“And suddenly I realize that all of this: the gun, the bombs, the revolution… has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer.”
Tyler Durden as The Narrator’s Externalization
After all I’ve said, it seems as if The Narrator created Tyler to deal with his internal conflict regarding Marla and changing his life. However, there was another important reason why he invented Tyler.
Jack could’ve changed his life if he wanted to, but he couldn’t. He was too crippled with fear. Consequently, he became trapped in the very life that was suffocating him. Feeling completely powerless to change the circumstances of his life, The Narrator decided to engage in a defense mechanism known as externalization.
Externalization is the act of framing your thoughts and feelings as though they were a condition of the world at large. It’s saying to yourself, “The problem isn’t within me; it exists outside of me.” To use an example, let’s say you have crippling social anxiety because you’re self conscious about your appearance. A form of externalization would be to say, “Because our culture keeps pushing unrealistic standards of beauty in its media, this is making people feel insecure about themselves.”
As you can expect, externalization is used as a way to blame outside forces for your problem, as well as to avoid accepting responsibility for them. However, for The Narrator, it’s not just about blame and avoiding responsibility; it’s also about giving himself the illusion that he has the power to change a personal circumstance he is too emotionally powerless to do anything about. In other words, it’s him thinking, “I’m too emotionally crippled to change my life. But if I imagine that it’s American society that is the reason why my life is the way it is, maybe by changing society, I can change my life.”
Many people watching Fight Club think that when Tyler goes on these tirades against materialism, capitalism and corporations that they’re supposed to be taking him seriously. Some people have even gone as far as to adopt Tyler’s philosophy in real life. What these people aren’t realizing is that Tyler’s ramblings aren’t meaningful at all; all they really are is The Narrator trying to convince himself that whatever problem he’s going through isn’t personal; it’s a problem that exists “out there” as external forces afflicting him and the rest of society. In short, Tyler is an expression of his externalization.
Tyler Durden as The Narrator’s Dissociated Id
There is a third reason why The Narrator invented Tyler. As he continued to project his personal problems onto a society, his id (the primitive, impulsive part of himself) began to develop a seething hatred against it and a desire to lash out in increasingly violent ways. Had The Narrator not been so sleep deprived, his ego and superego would’ve stepped in right from the start and said, “Look, Id–we know you’re angry but you can’t go around acting on this anger. You’ll get arrested and hate yourself in the morning.”
But now, thanks to The Narrator’s insomnia, they become too weak to do anything to stop his id. Too ashamed and embarrassed by his id, The Narrator dissociates himself from his violent impulses by imagining that someone else is causing mayhem. And who is that someone else? Tyler, of course.
The Narrator’s desire to lash out at society starts out innocently enough. His id does silly, little things in the beginning like pull mean-spirited pranks on people, sell bath soap made out of human fat to rich women and splice penis shots into family movies. But as The Narrator’s superego and ego grow weaker and weaker because of sleep deprivation, his id ups the ante with the invention of the fight club. The Narrator deludes himself into thinking that the fight club is for a noble purpose (to allow men a safe space to act out their frustrations), but it’s really an excuse for him to act his aggression out on society and reaffirm his rejection of women.
By the time his id decides to use the fight club as a recruitment tool to start Project Mayhem, The Narrator has lost complete control and becomes an agent of destruction in the real world. We see the turning point of his rage when he beats a young blonde man (“Angel Face”) to a pulp, as well as the bar owner who comes to take control of his establishment. All the other fight club members start slowly gathering around him with a look of awe and fear, sensing that the direction of the fight club has changed. That’s because it has changed. Now it’s not this harmless little underground scene The Narrator has created to blow off a little steam. Now it is a reflection of The Narrator’s murderous rage beginning to boil over. The fight club then morphs into Project Mayhem, the conduit through which he can then take his rage out on society itself.
By the time Project Mayhem is underway, The Narrator loses complete control of his id, and all he can do is sit back helplessly as things get worse and worse. All things seem horribly lost until the death of Robert Paulson, the man with the big tits. For the very first time since he unleashed his id, The Narrator’s superego (which contains his conscience) kicks in and begins to take control of the situation.
Tyler Durden as The Narrator’s Alter Ego
There is one last reason why The Narrator invents Tyler. Just as Professor Kelp in The Nutty Professor created Buddy Love to express an idealized version of himself, The Narrator uses Tyler to express his idea of who he would like most to be:
“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”
Now, this raises an interesting question: if all The Narrator had wanted was to become sexier and cooler, why go through such extremes as creating an alter ego? Why not start using gel to spike his hair, wear edgier clothing and stop shopping at IKEA?
Again, it all comes down to fear. As much as he hates his life, The Narrator is too afraid of doing anything that could rock the boat, because it’s the only boat he has known. Rather than just make a few changes, he resorts to the defense mechanism known as compartmentalization. He splits up both the rebellious and conformist sides of himself so that they are each living, thinking and acting independently from each other. By day, he continues to go to work and live his life as “Jack,” a respectable company man and conformist drip with a steady 9 to 5 job and an IKEA-furnished apartment. By night, he gets to live the life of “Tyler”, the bad ass renegade who spits in the eye of society and lives in a derelict abandoned house.
By compartmentalizing his life in this way, The Narrator thinks that there’s no way that Tyler’s antics can screw up Jack’s neat and tidy life. However, like all the other defense mechanisms he uses, this one only works for so long before giving way. Slowly but surely, the compartments The Narrator put up break down, and halfway through the movie he starts to actually show up to work as his alter ego (as we can see by the tell-tale cigarette dangling from his mouth in one scene). When he begins beating himself up in front of his boss, this is the pivotal moment in which–in the famous words of Seinfeld–“worlds collide.”
The Narrator creates Tyler as an alter ego for another reason–out of his own self-consciousness as a potential lover of Marla. Why would he be self-conscious, you ask? They clearly have some chemistry and a lot in common. They showed up at the same group therapy sessions looking for someone to fill a spiritual void. What the heck was the problem?
Well, look at Marla and look at Jack. Marla is an attractive cool chick who wears cool clothes, smokes and has a devil-may-care attitude. On top of that, she seems like the type who would be into sexy bad boys. Jack is the total opposite. He is a conformist, wears button down shirts, buys IKEA furniture and lives a life as dull as dishwater. To be frank, he’s pretty much a dork. You can imagine how for a person like Jack, it would be intimidating to approach someone like her. A person like Marla might laugh at him right from the get go or, worse yet, maybe take a chance then bail when she realizes what a drip he is.
By taking up Tyler’s persona when he wants to have sex with her, The Narrator loses his dorky personality to become the sexy bad boy he imagines she would like. This gives him the confidence to finally have a relationship with her, and also allows him to do it without constantly having to be riddled with Jack’s constant worries of whether she’ll dump him or not.
Fight Club, the Psych 101 of Cinema
If you were able to get this far (I know; it was a lot to take in), hopefully you’ll understand why I started out saying that Fight Club should be required viewing in any Psych 101 class. I don’t really know much about Charles Palahniuk, Jim Uhls or David Fincher’s background other than the fact that they wrote, adapted and directed the story. All I know is that all three men must have had extensive knowledge about psychology to have produced a movie this brilliant. If not, then they clearly did their homework and then some, a rarity in an industry in which most movies can’t even get basic facts right.