Fight Club in 3-D: The Mental Dimension – Part 1

Yes, yes it is that time my friends, “ground-zero”! Time to fulfill the promise I made in “Welcome to Fight Club” and start my 3-layered analysis of this mind-blowing movie. I know, I know I’m overly excited, so what!

So today, I will present to you what’s probably the most obvious dimension of the movie and that is, the mental state of our friend “narrator” around which the whole movie gravitates. I feel it has to come first because it impacts and links to any other commentary on culture, or society and definitely shapes the nature of the relationships between the characters.

So if you’re a hardcore fan like me, you know saying “narrator” is just an unstable guy having an episode is a seriously simplistic understatement to the wealth and depth of the content presented to us in this story. But before you judge too hard someone who does, let me just say in their defense that the “narrator” himself defines it similarly at the end of the movie, as he attempts to explain the current situation to Marla: “You met me at a very strange time of my life…”

So what’s up with this whole “narrator” thing?

“Sure, why don’t we start at the very core? It’s not like it’ll end the charm too soon, will it?” LOL.

There’s an artistic reason and a psychological reason, why not only me, but a lot of fans of the movie call Edward Norton’s character “narrator”; now I’m writing this to whoever’s interested this is not segmented for-fans-only, after all, Tyler is a “man of the common folk”, the “all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world” a bucket in which it seems most of us (fans ar not fans) fit equally, in his vision of things.

But, I’m getting carried away here, the more obvious reason is that the movie is narrated by the protagonist, who would occasionally address the audience directly and explain things that are happening; the other reason which I find very eccentric is that throughout the movie, this character is never actually named; moreover, there are very intentional moments in which providing the name is avoided as if Palahniuk is mocking us in our own faces, I already spoke about examples of this in the first article, but indulge me with another one I noticed recently: Narrator’s condo just burst in flames, he picks up the phone and calls Tyler, Tyler asks “who is this?” do you recall narrator’s answer?

“…we met on the airplane, we had the same suitcase? the clever guy…”

I love it, the story author’s genius allows such a transgression to conventions to carry on all throughout the story, and you don’t even care and perhaps didn’t notice it the first time. I’m mentioning Chuck Palahniuk even when I mentioned this posts will take the movie as their only foundation, because of two reasons:

  1. It’s his mind that brought us this masterpiece
  2. I came to understand while preparing these articles, that the movie respects a lot of the original lines as they appear in the book

Having made that meaningless clarification, I come back to the original point, besides the artistic eccentricity this entails, there’s a deeper sense to the narrator’s anonymity, it’s precisely the quality of being anonymous and seemingly devoid of an identity that triggers the whole chain of events. So keeping this guy unnamed is a perfect homage to his struggle.

“You wanna see pain?”

So what’s his struggle you ask? Well, I’m glad you ask, this is why I’m writing this entire piece, to answer that very question; in short, our beloved narrator is suffering from a severe philosophical void in his life, he’s nothing, no one, his life is meaningless and the whole world around him is soaked in the same banality, life doesn’t make any sense at all and he’s just too aware of it for his own benefit. But here’s the worst part of the curse: while he’s aware of the condition and suffering from it intensely, he’s powerless, there’s nothing he can do to change the condition of his own life, and don’t even think the world around him.

Now, this manifests in different, more visible symptoms we learn about throughout the movie, insomnia being the key problem in the opening act, yet obviously surrounded by a deep dark depression appropriate to his existential suffering.

“everything is a copy, of a copy, of a copy…”, – is this a wink to the NIN song?

As it usually happens, he’s annoyed by the symptom and he’s not fully aware of the dimension of what’s going on inside his mind and soul (can’t really judge him, it’s so hard sometimes, isn’t it?), so he goes and sees the doctor about insomnia. And here’s where the title of this section gets his name, the doctor really reacts with the apathy and mockery ordinary people of our society usually reacts to mental and emotional suffering: “that’s nothing, you need to do some exercise and sleep better”; as narrator replies “I’m in pain”, the good doctor replies:

“”You wanna see pain? Swing by First Methodist Tuesday night. See guys with testicular cancer. That’s pain…”

As an omen of what’s being triggered here, we see the first “subliminal” apparition of Tyler behind the doctor in a glimpse of a second, right in this scene. Now the big turning point here is, where most people would have taken the doctor’s suggestion for what it was: a rhetorical mockery of his patient’s complaint, our narrator actually decides to go to the testicular cancer group. A fateful decision.

Losing All Hope Was Freedom

You think you’ve seen it all in movies until you find yourself watching a guy becoming addicted to support groups, how crazier does it get? – A lot more.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, let me ask you, dear reader, have you ever been in a real-life support group? Lucky you, who can answer without anyone else knowing, I can tell you that I have. Support groups can be a true blessing, and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them to people who are struggling with addiction, disease, and other conditions; now, they do have their quirks of course, like anything, and such quirks make them a fertile ground for humor.

Now back to our character here, support groups aren’t necessarily anyone’s first choice for relief or socializing, they’re meant to help people undergoing very specific and tough situations. And so we can tell from the whole catalog Marla and the narrator start arguing about, negotiating which one each of them will keep.

Narrator: “What do you want?”
Marla: “I’ll take the parasites”
Narrator: “You can’t have both parasites, but why don’t you take the blood parasites?”

So how is it that our tormented friend is able to recover his ability to sleep and enter a place of “peace” while engaging in these activities? Well, he explains it to us rather philosophically: “losing all hope was freedom”.

I find it very concerning, and very telling of the deficiencies in our society to address mental health properly, that a person with a clear pathology needs to find shelter among people with unrelated terminal illnesses or irreversible conditions. His expanded explanation could be: “by surrounding myself with people coping with loss, people who are hopeless about their condition I also feel like I can let go of any need to find a meaning, a reason, a motivation, an expectation from life; I can imitate that state of hopelessness and thus, let go of my anxiety and find it easier to live”.

That’s a primary, very compelling reason for him to become addicted to support groups; and isn’t just a few steps away from suicide? Think about it, when the proximity of death, and the thought process to accept it seems preferable to the anguish of dealing with life, I’d say we’re talking about rather deep depression. Now, interestingly enough, he’s not hopeless regardless of how he’d like to think he is, if he was hopeless he wouldn’t be in such a conflict, he wouldn’t be seeking to feel free, alive, and listened-to among the people in support groups. So there’s also that tension and contradiction, which is very natural and which leads to the next stages of his crisis.

But then, when relief seemed to be at hand:


Why? Why is Marla such a terrible presence in the support groups? It doesn’t have anything to do with being exposed, she’s also a tourist and doesn’t want to be exposed either; no, the problem is that she’s a mirror to him, she’s another desperate, sunk-in-darkness no one who’s constantly reminding him that he’s not really terminally ill, he’s not in acceptance of death, he’s a faker who’s borrowing from other’s the relief he can’t permanently find for his own condition. This sweet relief is now exposed as fake and temporary, doomed to fail.

In spite of the efforts to negotiate a way out, by getting rid of Marla and distributing attendance to support groups between each other, insomnia returns, and his small existential oasis is now invaded and ruined, by someone perhaps too similar to himself (which is something he would deny and despise, of course). There’s yet another subliminal omen of how Tyler’s appearance is close, right after confronting Marla for the first time (found this cool gif version of subliminal Tylers, the last one is the one I’m referring to here):

Tyler’s subliminal appearances are an amazing symbol of the disturbance in our narrator’s mind and how throughout the beginning of his crisis, an alter ego is taking shape.

A semi-conclusion

Honestly, it’s just that this post is getting way too long, and I will need to split it into parts. But I think this is a great moment to stop, because Tyler’s official introduction into the story is what’s next, and this is really the turning point; so thanks for reading me, and stay tuned for part 2 of “Fight Club in 3-D: The Mental Dimension”.

2 responses to “Fight Club in 3-D: The Mental Dimension – Part 1”

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