Restrospective: Fight Club at 20

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As a teenager, I had always assumed that Fight Club was an orgy of excess and violence; largely mindless but nonetheless occasionally whispered about on the school playground. Truthfully, those school-ground discussions were likely referring to the scuffles that would take place behind the science block, but I still had a clear expectation of what David Fincher’s 1999 movie would be like.

When I finally watched Fight Club for the first time, instead of only simple, gratuitous ultra-violence, I was met with a smart social commentary that had plenty to say on modern-day masculinity and consumerism. To me, the film is more than relevant today. There is simply little else like it. The fighting itself is an outlet for which its protagonist, and other like-minded individuals, can vent their frustration with the mundanity of everyday life. Our unnamed protagonist works a tedious job that he hates, while being plagued by his constant addiction to consumerist culture. While his apartment is perfectly furnished with the best IKEA has to offer, his refrigerator contains only condiments: a metaphor for where his life has taken him.

“We buy things we don’t need with money, we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

He first uses meetings for the likes of cancer survivors as an outlet – the sadness he is allowed to freely exert literally helps him sleep at night. But soon this addiction becomes a thirst for further expression, and thus, with the help of Tyler Durden, the first fight club is formed. Tyler represents everything the protagonist wants to be: good-looking, confident, liberated. He is unshackled from the constraints that consumerism imposes, instead he lives freely, without responsibility.

Tyler talks of himself and the men that Fight Club depict as being a ‘middle-generation’ with little purpose, without a way to articulate or understand themselves and their place within society. This is a group of men, which eventually span the entirety of America as subsequent fighting ‘chapters’ crop up, who are disenfranchised and unable to express their emotions in any other way. This need for expression, born from an anger that capitalism has instilled within them, is what brings men together in Fight Club.

“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, no great depression. Our great war is spiritual war, our great depression is our lives.”

As a young man, Fight Club was a formative moment for me. It taught me of the importance of seeking an outlet for self-expression, where for men like myself there wasn’t one (I didn’t start fighting people, FYI), and it reflected my frustrations with a vapid, all-encompassing consumerist culture. I didn’t want to waste my life working in an office doing something I care nothing for, and then subsequently waste my earnings on unnecessary possessions to replace the void of meaningful employment. I’ve always wanted to do something I’m passionate about. And while I understand that this is always a luxury, and a job that allows you live sufficiently should always take precedent, Fight Club taught me that following your passions was still a pursuit worth exploring. You can find purpose in yourself through your job, and not necessarily by conspiring with others commit acts of terror on chain coffee shops or banks housed in skyscrapers.

One of my favourite scenes from the movie is one that encompasses this. Tyler Durden takes a man from behind the till of a shop and forces him on his knees with a gun to his head. After questioning the terrified man, Tyler and the protagonist learns that he lives in a cramped basement apartment and wanted to be veterinarian but stopped in his pursuit of it because it was “too much schooling”. Tyler threatens him by saying that if the man is not on his way to becoming a veterinarian within six weeks, he will kill him.

As Fight Club turned twenty last year, I think that the message of anarchy and utter contempt for capitalism is often what many take away from it. Ultimately, Tyler himself goes too far in his methods, but along the way, there are clear seminal lessons. Rather, I think its biggest take away should be an inspiration for following your passions and the need for expressing yourself better – especially so for men. It is a movie I return to often, and it never fails to remind of what is important.