Is the Fight Club “Real”?

Fight Club (1999) is a film, directed by David Fincher, based on a novel of the same name published in 1995 by Chuck Palahniuk. It stars Edward Norten and Brad Pitt.

The Tacoma Film Club discussed Fight Club this month as representative of the theme Masculinity: Collateral Damage.

I was surprised to discover during The Tacoma Film Club discussion of Fight Club that some of our members interpreted the actions portrayed, especially the fight scenes, as actually having happened, as opposed to taking place “inside the head” of the narrator (played by Edward Norton). I think such a literal interpretation is totally implausible.

The first images we see, during the opening credits, are of what appears to be brain tissue. As these opening credits end, the camera shot pulls out of the brain to see the face of Edward Norton as he starts narrating the film. I take this opening scene to be a pretty strong hint from the director that what we are going to be watching is a story that originates inside the head of the narrator.

Within the first few minutes of the film the narrator tells us, “For six months I could not sleep. With insomnia, nothing is real.”

Then the narrator adds, while operating a copy machine, “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.” And just in case we are not paying close enough attention to the narrator’s words, or to pick up on the potential copy machine metaphor, the director flashes at the same time a brief image of the character Tyler (played by Brad Pitt) standing behind the narrator. We learn later in the film of course that Tyler is not real, but exists only in the narrators mind.

Later in the film we see graphic fight scenes that apparently leave the impression in some viewers that they appear “too realistic” to be figments of the narrator’s imagination. In response I would point out that we see similar graphic fight scenes between the narrator and Tyler that appear just as “realistic”. In fact there is nothing in the lighting, focus, sound effects, etc. that would allow one to differentiate the reality, or lack thereof, of the scenes in which Tyler is present (that we eventually learn are not real) from the scenes in which Tyler is not present.

I could go through the rest of the film detailing additional evidence, but I think this should be sufficient to make my point. It seems obvious to me that the director has provided ample clues, starting in the opening credits and continuing throughout the film, that this is a film depicting a psychological struggle going on inside the narrators head, and should not be interpreted literally as a group of men who form Fight Clubs that exist in the actual world.

Also, the fact that such clubs might exist in the real world now is irrelevant to this argument.  The film might very well have inspired such clubs to come into existence rather than the other way around.

So what is the nature of the psychological struggle that takes place? That is the issue I address that issue in my next posting.
Ron Boothe


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