Fight Club is a 1999 American film directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. It is based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. The movie tells the story of how an office worker (Edward Norton, simply known as “The Narrator”) meets an eccentric man named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and how both start a secret fight club that evolves into an insane underground cult. The film does not belong to a certain genre but we can say that it is a deep psychological action film, which also includes dramatic and thriller elements.(*)
In Imdb.com, the movie is rated 8.8/10 and is considered as the tenth best movie ever made by the votes of people around the world. Fight Club is not a simple film and it forces audience to think. It is full of ideas, ideologies and symbols. Despite its huge success in the counter and its popularity, its critical stance towards the modern American society brought Fight Club only a single Oscar nomination in the “Best Effects, Sound Effects” category. We can say that Fight Club is a rare film that challenges the viewer to come up with his own interpretations.
Historical Context of Fight Club
America became the richest and most powerful country in the world, to the extent that the average American was wealthier than all but the richest people in many other nations. Nevertheless, a new wave of discontent came with the new prosperity in America: some Americans, including (and especially) well-off Americans, admitted to thinking that their lives were meaningless — there was no material shortage of anything, but they felt that they had nothing to live for. The “alienation of prosperity” is a key theme of Fight Club, and also inspired films like Rebel Without a Cause (1953) and The Graduate (1967), both important influences on Palahniuk’s novel and, especially, David Fincher’s film adaptation. (Jackson, 2016)
Conformity in Fight Club
The film fight club has the theme of conformity and can be seen in many parts of the film. The film starts with the narrator’s insomnia then he starts to give details about his daily life. He is a recall specialist in a big automotive company and works 9:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m. and wears suit and tie every day. He has a small condo with full of popular Ikea furniture and other modern appliances like home exercise bike and dishwasher, big screen TV and other design products that can be found on popular magazines.
He is obsessed with creating a self-image that is socially acceptable to others in his life. His “monotonous” life starts to change when the narrator meets Tyler Durden who is his imaginative friend. After the first meeting on plane, in his job he says “If you wake up in a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” Tyler becomes his accomplice. To his resistance over social norms and the narrator needs a support and creates one, his imaginative friend Tyler.
After the scene that narrator’s condo blows away, the narrator and Tyler Durden starts their first fight in the street. As the crowd grows they find an underground place and meet there for the fight club. The more they fight, the more they become crowded and the narrator becomes more motivated to reject social rules and its conformist habits. Actually he rediscovers himself and his position against monotonous life. He is now less interested in his job and gives up attending support group meetings. He doesn’t obey some basic social rules in his job like smoking inside his office and wearing dirty clothes by ignoring his colleagues’ opinion about him. He seems to be freer and less conformist than the beginning of the film.
In the scene that Tyler and the Narrator see Gucci advertisement says,
“I felt sorry for guys packed into gyms trying to look like how Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger said they should,” and remarking to Tyler, “Is that what a man looks like?” to which he responds, “Self-improvement is masturbation…now, self-destruction…”
It may be derived from this scene that, there is a confusion about the narrator’s self-motivation on rejection of conformity in his life after meeting Tyler. As Tyler Durden is the ideal self of the
Narrator who says:
“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.”
In this hotel scene the narrator recognises that Tyler is indeed his imaginary ideal self. However; this imaginary ideal self looks like a guy “how Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger said he should.”
Although the narrator believes he rejects conformity, the identity, he creates to fight against it, is another product of conformity. As he has an attractive image with a masculine body that fits social norms. (James Craine1, & Stuart C. Aitken2, 2014)
Another point is that, as the fight club itself serves as another form conformity in the film. As crowd grows the more people dare to join fight club and do the illegal and dangerous things without hesitation that they normally never do in their previous life. This incident fully fits the definition of the term “Conformity.” As it is basically defined by Crutchfield, conformity is “yielding to group pressures” (Crutchfield, 1955).
These words of the narrator in another scene can also be examined in the scope of conformity;
“The first soap was made from the ashes of heroes; like the first monkey shot into space! Without pain, without sacrifice, we would have nothing.”
As soon as the first member is in, two more show up on the doorstep. It grows and grows and grows until Project Mayhem is no longer a small group, but an army.
The Narrator says during this scene:
“Sooner or later, we all became what Tyler wanted us to be.”
Which was what? Mindless, obedient robots. And, since the first (and second) rule of Project Mayhem is “you do not ask questions,” not a single member can question the tasks they are given, and therefore are forced to conform to Tyler’s wishes.
It is seen that they are group of people performing what is expected from them without asking any questions to be confirmed by someone they admire. Here it can be derived that Project Mayhem becomes a society and their members’ aim is trying to fit it. They commit crimes with the help of conformity of the society they create. As Irwın (2013) asserts, although they believe that they reject social norms and alienate themselves from society, they create another society for themselves and do many actions irrelevant to their personalities to be part of the group. In my opinion Project Mayhem is just a vicious circle that makes the members of the group victims, rather than the heroes against social norms.