Questioning Reality in Fight Club

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As anthropologists in training, it is our job to learn how to question our surroundings and the surroundings of others not known to us. It is important to question what makes something within a society `real’. People make assumptions about reality and determine what they think is `real’ through sensory receptors and presume that their ideas of the world can be molded into those of other groups of people. However, in order to really decipher someone’s reality it is necessary to study the perceptions people have that make things meaningful to them, or in other words, phenomenology. In the popular book and film Fight Club, the main character reveals what his reality is and shares the content of his consciousness – or so he believes.

The main character of the story remains nameless, or unknown to the reader or watcher until it is later revealed in a fiasco he experiences with his own consciousness. He is described as a young businessman who owned a well furnished condo and had a stable career. He had everything necessary for the perfect American adult life according to the socially acceptable norms that his consciousness recognized. The only issue was that he was experiencing insomnia and complained to the doctor that he was in pain. The doctor refused to give him the sleeping pills he so desperately wanted and recommended that he go and visit a support group for men with testicular cancer to witness what real pain is like. So he did just that, and for the first time in a while was able to sleep like a baby. By doing what the doctor recommended he was bracketing ideas of his conscious to discover he had taken for granted what it really meant for him to be in pain. Going to support groups then became addictive to him, he was attending groups for ailments that he never had, writing a different name on his name tag everywhere he went.  In these places he could be whoever he wanted to be or be no one at all, while during most days he had a certain role to fulfil in society. It was not until one day that upon arrival home from a business trip that his world was truly turned upside down by a man named Tyler Durden. He went back to his condo building only to find out that his unit had been blown up, to which he proceeded to call the only phone number on a business card in his pocket from Tyler Durden, who he had just met on the plane hours before. The two men met up at a bar where they proceeded to get intoxicated and persuaded one another to start punching each other. This was the end of his need for going to support groups, and the beginning of their Fight Club.

Tyler Durden was the antithesis of the societal norm. The main character began living in an old house with him, spending time with him, and attending their growing Fight Club. Fight Club was making him rough, turning him into the opposite of what he was. The influence of Tyler was substantial on his life. Tyler rejected material things, and the need to live life according to the constraints of society. Tyler began another group called Project Mayhem in which they carried out a series of crimes for what they considered to be the greater benefit to the people. For example, in the film they show a scene where the two approach a young worker at a convenience store and hold him at gun point until the victim states what he has always wanted to do with his life. He then states that if he is not on the path to doing what he dreamed of within the next two weeks, he will come back and kill him. Tyler called these “human sacrifices”, without actually killing anyone, he ensured that the next day of their life will be the best, because they are alive and going to set out to what they really wanted to do instead of dying working at a convenience store. These were like breeching experiments, that disrupted people’s assumptions about life. The main character experienced several breeching experiments throughout the story by breaking the barriers of the constraints of being a ‘white businessman’, but those old ideals still remained within his consciousness, only now his reality was different.

When he came to the realization that things with Project Mayhem and Fight Club were getting out of control, he started putting puzzle pieces together to find Tyler, who was suddenly MIA. All things started pointing in a direction that only led to himself. It was after an epiphany that he realized HE was Tyler Durden all along. This Tyler was everything he could not be, so therefore he existed as another person to him, and not the same. During this time all the people around him operated with the notion that he was Tyler Durden and the only person not aware of this was himself. His imaginary friend was very much real to him, he was responsible for everything life changing and damaging that occurred. Margaret Atwood argued that “the real world and the world of the imagination are not separate and opposed but are deeply interconnected”, and Fight Club is a demonstration of that. All realities vary from person to person and from group to group. Our consciousness structures our reality, therefore we need to question what is real for different people and not assume that all realities are the same.

 

Brianna Hayden

References

Fight Club. 20th Century Fox, 1999.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Sears, Alan, and James Irvine Cairns. A Good Book, in Theory: Making Sense through Inquiry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

 

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4 thoughts on “Questioning Reality in Fight Club

  1. Very interesting. I would argue that Tyler is not the antithesis of the main character. I would argue that it is his true self that society forces him to suppress.

    1. That sort of behavior is not considered acceptable. However, Tyler Durden is still a part of the main character. It is impossible to remove Tyler Durden from the main character because they are one in the same. Their separation in the movie is to allow us to have a visual for two different people. At the end of the movie (spoiler alert) the main character kills Tyler, in effect destroying that performance. Both of these characters are separate performances of our main character. Durden is simply a performance of the main character. The main character is forced to act in the usual every day manner at the start of the film. By the end, he has destroyed this performance through his alternates performance of Tyler Durden. These two act very differently, but are in fact the same person, just viewed through a different lens.

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