The film ‘Fight Club’ is based off a book by Chuck Palahniuk. On first glance, the movie would not seem to hold any philosophical meanings. However. it does seem to advocate violence, toxic masculinity and gender segregation. But after a slight deeper analysis, it can be easily read as a parody of the same. Even its philosophical concepts become much clearer. The film surely makes its audience think and connect the dots. Despite the film and book being released years ago, it is still very relevant to today’s times. The film tackles concepts such as identity, consumerism, and beauty standards. The Narrator of the film acts like our guide, we all are essentially the Narrator. The film is basically through his eyes. We too are taken on the path of enlightenment by the choices the Narrator makes.
John Zavodny’s writing, “I Am Jack’s Wasted Life: Fight Club and Personal Identity” starts off strong and direct, he almost seems to declare his thesis right in the beginning. John calls the Narrator as ‘Jack’ due to a reference made in the film while also noting that he has no real identifying name throughout his entire journey. His namelessness could be interpreted as him representing us. This way it would become easier for the audience to relate and connect to the Narrator/Jack. From the start until end he continues to connect the film to philosophy and the meaning of life. Jack’s existential crisis is clearly highlighted right in the beginning. Zavodny starts off with the motif of consumerism and a good example of this would be the iconic line Jack says, “I’d flip through catalogues and wonder, what kind of dining set defines me as a person?'. The opening scenes of the film made clear that Jack spends a lot of time going through catalogues to buy things for his flat and himself. Zavodny sees this as Jack trying to seek peace and some sort of connection in his life. Jack is so desperate to feel alive that he turned to materialistic goods to fill the void in his life. The film also shows us the effects of capitalism and all of it has emasculated Jack, since the film considers going through catalogues is a female thing to do. Jack says, 'I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was close to being complete.' This ties in with the fact that Jack had alienated himself; he had no friends nor a love life. He did not enjoy the job he had either, but the only things that kept him going were his work and consumer lifestyle. Jack truly identified with everything he owned, and we are reassured when he says, “That was not just a bunch of stuff that got destroyed - IT WAS ME!”. Also, the mention of retail store IKEA in the film, is ironic since all goods sold there are mass-produced, and the fact that Jack wants something that relates to him, raises the idea that he too is just as standard as the rest of society. Therefore, this can be interpreted as we too are made to follow norms that does not really let us live the way we truly want. Unless we are a part of the minority that live life like Tyler (in the moment).
Throughout the film Tyler seems to portray a person who is the literal definition of masculinity. Tyler makes it known that he does what he wants, when he wants to. Something that stood out was the scene on the bus when Jack questions an advert that had the image of a fit and muscular male and asks Tyler, “That’s what a man should look like?” Tyler dismisses the ideology of that being the ideal picture of what a man should look like. However, Tyler does seem to fit society’s criteria of what a man should look like (other than his questionable dressing sense, which he still manages to pull off). Does Jack hint that he thinks by living up to these standards he would find satisfaction and meaning to life?
Tyler’s attitude toward life and his surroundings are the complete opposite to Jack’s. A good example of Tyler’s ‘live in the moment’ attitude would be when they steal a car and drive it recklessly. Jack could not wrap his head around what was happening was trying his best to control the situation. It is here when Tyler highlights that the possibility of death should make us appreciate the present more. Another example of Tyler teaching Jack a lesson, was when he causes a chemical burn on Jack’s hand. This was meant to encourage Jack “to pay attention both to his immediate experience” (Zavodny 52). Through his actions Tyler becomes the natural leader of the fight club despite the fact it was co-founded by Jack. This shows us that Tyler is in control of his life.
Zavodny connects Tyler to, “The Romantics' legacy” that was prevalent in America. He goes on to describe it as, “a transcendental spiritualism that encourages personal renewal by getting in touch with nature-nature as in animals and wilderness, yes, but also conscious nature as spirit manifested in one's own distinct and inherent personal human nature.” (Zavodny 53) Zavodny sees Tyler as a modern Romantic, he is self-reliant, and he also helps Jack to try and connect with his own primal urges. In other words, he wants Jack to be a ‘Man’ and take responsibility for his own actions. Tyler emphasises to Jack, “You are not your job; you're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis.” It is here Jack realises that “his consumption-based bid at meaning and identity.” (Zavodny 51) is meaningless and is headed nowhere.
As the film unfolds, we see Jack go through changes. Zavodny points out, “Since Fight Club began as a way for Jack to better understand himself, it only makes sense that its development mirrors Jack's own personal growth.” (55) Jack’s own self-destruction is a part of his growth according to Tyler and Jack at one point is convinced of this. Tyler’s charismatic personality works like a charm on Jack. We also see Jack also starting to turn into Tyler. Could this be the reason why Tyler encouraged Jack to let go of his old self? This makes sense as during this point Tyler was moulding Jack into a new person. We also see Jack’s feeling of hopelessness and meaninglessness of life evaporate. But towards the end for the film Jack breaks free from the trance he seemed to be in and tried to stop ‘Project Mayhem’. We see Jack reject what he had come, and he also appears to kill Tyler. We were meant to see this as experiences shape you as a person. Tyler wanted jack to think for himself and break free from what society expects you to do. But did he know this would backfire since Jack starts to see himself as independent. Zavodny says, “Maybe Jack's original ideas of personal identity didn't fail Jack. Maybe Jack failed his ideas. (56) This can be interpreted as maybe Jack’s original state was best suited for him, but the way he went about to achieve and live in that state was wrong, therefore maybe after living like Tyler Jack realises his mistakes.
Another take on Jack’s existential crisis can be spoken about through the lens of Susan Wolf’s views. “Meaning in Life” is written by Wolf and in this she advocates the concept of meaningfulness in life. Wolf’s theory includes 3 elements i) One must have strong attachment to the project ii) One must contribute actively to the project iii) The project must worth and value. We now know that in the beginning of the film Jack is desperate to find comfort and connection and thus indulges in buying goods that are advertised to him. But Wolf would not encourage this behaviour. Jack have a strong attachment and might actively seek out to purchase these goods. But does it really hold value? Despite him spending so much he does not find what he is searching for. His actions do not hold value at the end of the day. The fact that Jack does not enjoy his job is made very clear in the film, Wolf would not approve of him living like that, she would essentially see it as meaningless (the same way Jacks feels about his life). Wolf might also point out that she does not approve of his solitary lifestyle. She would encourage Jack to have relationships that are meaningful. In the film, Jack finds himself oddly attracted to Marla Singer, Wolf would encourage him to pursue that. She would also expect him to do something other than following his mundane routine, she would want him to focus on, “the cultivation of personal virtues” (Wolf 209) This is where ‘Project Mayhem’ comes in. The 3 elements could be tied to ‘Project Mayhem’ in Fight Club. The main goal of the project was to bring down modern civilisation. But it did follow her 3 elements. Jack had strong sentiments for the project, he put in a lot of work and commitment, and he even considered it to be of high value. Wolf would probably be okay with this, or maybe not. Harm would not necessarily negate meaning for the pursuer but since at the end of the end it would cause harm to others, it would unethical to pursue. Jack and Wolf’s view could go hand in hand if Jack is willing to go through a complete lifestyle change, this could be possible since he already had a change when he started to behave as Tyler. In the end, Jack rejects ‘Project Mayhem’ and tries to stop it from happening. It is here Jack rejects his Tyler-self, he does not see it as useful to him anymore. Maybe him experiencing life as Tyler was the changing point that he needed in his life to find meaning. Wolf’s ideas can be considered a bit extreme especially since she categorises them so rigidly. Projects that bring joy but do not really have value should not be discredited.
We now know that one way of interpreting Fight Club is that Jack is a visual representation of all of us, and that he is portraying “what is wrong with our culture” (Zavodny 59). The film shows Jack livening in monotony which is a hint at how a majority of our society live. Many are made to feel that by focusing on main goals that have an outcome will bring you satisfaction and joy. This is similar to how Wolf thinks the meaning of life can be attained. However, many feel satisfaction doing things that do really have a valuable outcome (according to the rest). For example, if someone likes to paint in their spare time, they should not be discouraged from doing so just because it does not hold societal worth. However, it may hold worth to the one painting. Doing things, you enjoy and that make you happy should be a part of what makes the meaning of life. Often people who do not have access to doing what they love, alienate themselves from the rest. The same way Jack is shown doing in the film. But the film also shows good solutions to alienation. While the film points out that most people spend a majority of their life work for the material goods advertised to them, it also shows us that due to this people tend to forget the true meaning of life. While striving for a materialistic life, many feel incomplete and too focused on goods. This results in people working tirelessly for little to no outcome. When Tyler comes into the picture, we see that he instils fear into Jack’s life so that he can learn to live in the moment and not take life too seriously. This is a major hint at what can solve alienation. Learning not to take life for granted is something we all must know. Life could always be worse than it is, being happy for what you have in that moment should be kept in mind.