Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) is one of my favourite films for many reason but manly for its hidden messages and meanings, the most common of which are power and control over people, masculinity, love and self.
There are constant themes and images of empowering and controlling people. The most evident image comes from the creation of Project Mayhem being brain-washed through the control of Tyler. The members of Project Mayhem have lost control over their lives that they wear matching uniforms with shaved heads. Clear characteristics to conformity and de-individualised making them seem equal as they all own nothing. Tyler who is controlling Project Mayhem has been represented throughout the film as likeable with his outgoing and strange sense of humour. This is clear from his clothing contrasting Project Mayhem, as he preaches about equality but is not dressed the same as them in muted and matt colours. Tyler wears bright colours and shiny textures giving him a higher position then everyone else evident from him keeping information to himself suggesting a leader role. Though remember everyone’s equal but I, Tyler, am everything you want to be.
In turn, Tyler is using the idea of liberation to hold power over everyone around him. When the Narrator and Tyler are in a bar and Tyler talks about “the things that you own start owning you”, hints that Tyler is giving the Narrator the idea that he is being controlled and needs liberating. By using this power he makes them mindless slaves obeying his will and ignoring their own thoughts in order to achieve a goal that he thinks is necessary. This mindlessness is apparent when Project Mayhem don’t know Bob’s name when he dies and doesn’t realise they’re being controlled when the Narrator tries to tell them his name. This confirms the complete power and control over the members of Project Mayhem as they repeat Bob’s name as a mantra. They are so de-individualised that they cannot understand that they are making a martyr out of someone who was taking part of illegal activities, alerting the police and risking getting arrested themselves. They still treat him as a martyr just because the Narrator insists upon it. This signifies the loss of individual thought from Project Mayhem but also The Narrator needing Tyler to control himself, making the death of a Bob significant to comfort them all from the huge loss of control; life itself.
Tyler is obviously the character who possess power and control more than another one else. Even in the beginning of the film flashes of Tyler’s appear at important aspects of the Narrators life visibly trying to control the Narrator at his lowest moments, even before they meet. At the office which the Narrator hates, at the hospital when he can’t get help and at the support groups. Nihilism is one reason why Tyler is created, as the Narrator has no belief in anything, not living his life and completely unaware of himself. This is marked when Tyler lets go of the steering wheel of a moving car and Jack tries to take control but Tyler convinces him to just ‘let go’. This scene clearly indicates to the audience Tyler’s control and power towards the Narrator. He can convince him to effectively drive himself to death.
In the driving scene Tyler also says, “we are not special”, this is contradictory to the message he is trying to get through to the Narrative. Tyler initially begins by getting the Narrator to rebel against mainstream ideology of consumerism, community and progress and “be different”. The phrase “we are not special” throws many different ideas at the Narrator from what he had been told before. It is only when fight club turns into Project Mayhem that the Narrator finally sees what’s happening. He finally begins to see the control Tyler has over him. This begins a whole new liberation process. He needs to free himself of Tyler’s influence. Free himself of his nihilistic personality to regain his own control and have his own actions overwrite that of Tyler’s. This can only be done by killing this part of him… with a gun.
Power is the other common theme in the film, through the emphasis on the importance of being a “man” and the fear of losing that. This fear is the driving force in Fight Club as it empowers them to do anything to prove their masculinity. The threat of losing their masculinity in the film suggests that a “man” can only have power if they are hyper-masculine, dominating and powerful. The telling of the rules in fight club before each meeting is control, as it limits what the members can do creating a sense of fear if they should disobey the rules. This goes against their messages of liberation, while it frees the members of fight club from society it is controlling them at the same time through the use of unknown consequences if they do not obey. While there is a contrast between the normal society and the society of the fight club that gives the men their own physical power and allows them to turn that power into a mental confidence.
Even though Tyler has told them they are being liberated, in fact, both societies they live in are telling them what to do. In the capitalist society, men are told that they need to buy objects and continue to buy from mass producers in order to have completeness, and they need to conform to the normal rules of society. This is evident from the Ikea furniture scene that defines who the Narrator is but doesn’t buy food in his Ikea fridge and so puts his masculinity first. The ideology of consumerism is going against traditional ideologies of men suggesting western culture is changing and men need to change to them. The consumerism ideology is clearly controlling the Narrator as the burning of his flat is a symbol of his rebellion against mainstream society and trying to liberate himself from it. The Marxist idea that is strongly shown through this escape would suggest society and corporates are controlling the Narrator through advertising and consumerism. Demonstrated by David Fincher places a Starbucks cup in every shot.
In modern western society, women seem to have more power than ever before, confusing men. This is indicated through the Femme Fatal-like character of, Marla. At the very opening of this film, the Narrator’s voice over tells us that “Marla is at the root of it all”. This warning of her is inflated by the constant diegetic alarm bells that sound every time she appears in the frame. It would seem that masculinity is questioned throughout this film and Marla is the character that threatens to undermine the Narrator’s masculinity. She does this in different ways, from her apartment having limited furniture and is a complete mess contrasting with the Narrator’s furnished and clean apartment, traditionally opposites of the two genders. Her authority over the Narrator by being honest and blunt in her situation whereas he pretends things are fine, confuses the Narrator and his traditional masculine mind set of being a man in control of his life and not taking about his problems.
The character of Bob is another example of how the definition of masculinity is changing, due to him having his testicles removed and the medication giving him breasts. The symbolism of a man’s masculinity is in his genitals so when Bob’s testicles are removed it suggests his manhood is removed. This is confirmed from Tyler being the only man to be seen to have sex, dominating with his genitals. The only other person who is seen to have sex is Marla confirming her authority and “masculine” power. Bob is the only character killed confirming that his lack of masculinity was a weakness for Project Mayhem. However, Bob teaches the Narrator a lot or tries to before Tyler intervenes. Bob was the only Mother figure in the film, not only because he has breasts, but because he was caring and kind that were characteristics you couldn’t have in Project Mayhem. Tyler could be argued to be the father figure but I believe there isn’t any father figure and the Narrator is trying to project it on Tyler. The Narrator is not a father and causes him to question his masculinity as it’s one way to prove it. Therefore, his projection of a father figure on Tyler comforts him as he’s the child in the relationship confirming why he does everything Tyler tells him to do.
Fight Club initially starts as a form of liberation for them, only men are allowed. It allows them to fight with their fists, to regain the feeling of masculinity that is considered to be lost in modern society and leading them to their cavemen roots. The underground nature of this club brings the men together. “We are still men. Men is what we are”. Fight Club is about liberation and regaining the male status, but then to be controlled by the male status and finally giving up power and control for something completely different. Love may be, because at the heart of Fight Club it’s a rom-com. “Marla is at the root of it all”.