Every so often, a film comes along that shocks people and forces them to acknowledge issues and realities that are normally taboo in open society and are fodder for conversations with therapists. The film “Fight Club” (1999) directed by David Fincher is just one of these films. How do people react when challenged to question the purpose and perspective of their lives as influenced by society, isolation, fear, survival and their own vulnerability and mortality? Narrator: This chick Marla singer did not have testicular cancer.
She was a liar. She had no diseases at all. I had seen her at Free and Clear my blood parasite group Thursdays.
Then at Hope, my bi-monthly sickle cell circle. And again at Seize the Day, my tuberculous Friday night. Marla… the big tourist. Her lie reflected my lie. Suddenly I felt nothing. I couldn’t cry, so once again I couldn’t sleep. What happens when people are faced to accept the negative side of what they do? As what happened to the narrator when he was forced to see his actions for the perverted and voyeuristic nature that it had, discovery almost always leads to guilt and self-loathing.
Sociology propounds the thinking that every individual’s behavior and values are influenced by factors within his environment.
People have a need for a certain level of security, control and belonging in society. These needs are often met by actions chosen and motivated by fear of being isolated and failure. The narrator, for example, has led a fairly routine life.
He is a mild-mannered employee that makes him fair game for his more arrogant bosses and other more outspoken people such as his doctor. One might say it is his need for job security to sustain his materialistic life style that makes him meek and generally docile. People are bound by the need to be accepted and recognized as good, moral and reliable people who follow rules.
The rules that bind society may either be judicial, social, or the tenets ascribed to by one’s faith or religion. It may be reasonable to think that while at the back of the narrator’s mind, he knows his participation in group therapy has turned into a perverted and voyeuristic addiction. Having made to come to face with the reality of his actions in the person of Marla, he begins to get angry. Even people in real life are like that. They can delude themselves into acknowledging only the more acceptable part of their actions to the point of rationalization it.
It’s the Machiavellian adage of “The end justifies the means. ” But almost always something or in this case, “someone” happens that shatters the delusion and people then turn angry and experience guilt once they are confronted with the truth and reality of what they have been doing. There is a belief that for a man to discover what he is made of, he must first be stripped of all his possessions and pre-conceived notions of existence. Buddhism was founded on such a premise. Symbolically, that is also what happened to the narrator’s character when he was stripped of all his worldly possessions by a fire.
Human nature exists within boundaries. One can take the losses and negativity up to a certain point. Once that point is reached, the need for assertion and self-preservation takes over. One might almost call it “the feather that broke the camel’s back. ” Losing the reassurance of a comfort zone and being plunged into unknown territories is probably one of man’s greatest fears that turns life into a matter of survival. In society, people take on roles that come with certain expectations. It is satisfying because it is “familiar.” Be it defined by their job title, family or role in personal relationships, people are more often viewed by the actions and responsibilities entailed by their roles. Employees are expected to be subservient to management and perform well, a husband is expected to earn and sustain his family, friends are expected to be good buddies and be there when their friends need them. If one thinks about it, in these roles, a person’s identity is determined by the value that one brings to a relationship. And for people to earn their “survival” in familiar grounds, they do their best to fulfill such roles.
There is however, the secret “self” that is part of every person that is kept hidden from the world. Tyler Durden: 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. How often is it that one feels anger that produces pictures of violence within their heads? In today’s fast paced and stressful times, different modes of therapy and tension busters have been designed specifically to deal with repressed emotions. “He made me so angry I could have killed him…”
Violence occurs in the thoughts of people whether they admit it or not. It could be from the pettiest irritation to the more dangerous rages. Beneath a veneer of social graces and smiles, a person could be imagining the most violent thoughts against the person they are smilingly chatting with. Tyler Durden: People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it. What is freedom? One would think that if people were to take freedom for its full definition, they would be able to do whatever they wanted as long as they took responsibility.
In the same sense, what defines a free man? Is it the ability to do whatever he desires without thought to anything else or is it the ability to assert and maintain one’s identity in the face of social expectation and laws? Take the case of the narrator: He is unhappy with every aspect of his life from his job to how he deals with others. His life is defined only by material possessions. He is meek and subservient towards a boss he detests. He is free yet constrained. Freedom therefore is constrained by man’s fear of consequence. This is a common experience.
People are forced to do things as if in a barter. In the work place, tempers are controlled and respect is forced. In return, there is material gratification in the form of salaries, survival in the sense that employment is maintained and of course, advancement socially and personal economics. This kind of existence meets its most supreme challenge however in the inevitable for, human mortality. “Tyler Durden: Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted. “
In the scene where Tyler put a gun to Hessel’s head, it is a reasonable belief that the character Hessel fully expected to die at that very moment. To be given a reprieve when he was let go is literally being given a second chance at life. Death is a very powerful concept and eventuality. It is interesting to note that people faced with their own mortality experience a shift in perspective when it comes to how worthless or meaningful their lives have been. The definition of life changes from day to day waking existence to something that is much more valuable and dynamic.
From the roles a person takes on due to necessity, mortality makes them face the reality of what they really are complete with their wants and desires. The realization of a life led without personal truth and realization makes a person desperate to grab at the few chances to actualize their desires before death claims them. “Tyler Durden: Guys, what would you wish you’d done before you died? Steph: Paint a self-portrait. The Mechanic: Build a house. Tyler Durden: [to Narrator] And you? Narrator: I don’t know. Turn the wheel now, come on! Tyler Durden: You have to know the answer to this question!
If you died right now, how would you feel about your life? ” Certain things happen that changes a person’s view of life completely. Be they positive or negative, the life experience and human individuality are complex yet intertwined. Some may find it easy to dismiss Norton’s character as simply schizophrenic or “weak. ” Yet the truth is that within every person is an honest being that has individual needs, desires and desired freedoms that may just be unacceptable in an organized and tradition ruled society. Everyone also has the potential to rebel against it and prescribed conventions.
The dialogue between the narrator and Tyler best summarizes this: ” Tyler Durden: Did you know that if you mix equal parts of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate you can make napalm? Narrator: No, I did not know that; is that true? Tyler Durden: That’s right… One could make all kinds of explosives, using simple household items. Narrator: Really…? Tyler Durden: If one were so inclined. “
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