A while back, I started assembling video tributes and one of them “Carnival of Souls”. As you can see this is a very old movie, honestly it’s very low budget but it manages to be captivating and frightening as it’s a clever story with a psychological thrill factor.
This is not a full critique, for the time being I just want to share the video with you and later I will do a full-blown post about the movie, since I believe it’s worth the effort!
If you recall, the last article ended with a semi-conclusion, so no harm in picking it up right where we left it! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please read this first.
Enter: “The Liberator”
How the rupture of a single mind into personalities came to happen or even how realistic the phenomenon that created Tyler Durden is in a real-life pathology, is really beside the point, and let’s be honest, going that route can probably spoil the magic. But regardless of what a psychiatrist could say about it (I would be very interested in hearing the opinion of such a professional by the way), I believe that the creation of an alter ego, and a very strong one at it is more common than we may want to acknowledge.
Tyler was really the last resort; I actually think very positively that the narrator created this character to help him, it’s tough though to think someone could be this lonely, and in this despair to be understood, that he had to break his consciousness into two.
Remember this is not entirely a chronological analysis, not a re-telling of the story, so I’m analyzing Tyler for what he is, not what he seemed to be when we first watched the movie.
Tyler is an emanation of a soul craving for power, the power to change its own situation, to understand a reality that was, for the most part, distressing and unbearable, and to take an active part in rewriting such a reality into something more meaningful. And that’s why Tyler is almost ideally strong, bold, rebellious, and even good-looking, precisely because he is that: an ideal; Tyler himself says it right in the narrator’s face:
That’s quite a confrontation! How many of us have at a certain stage of our life, been working on a Tyler of our own?
This is interesting to think about:
Ever had imaginary rewrites of past conversations? Like answering back to your boss, spouse, or parents (someone with power in your life), real upset, real powerful instead of shutting up the way you did, or even worst, saying something weak?
Have you ever gotten lost in fantasies where you look much better, or simply act like a true badass and awaken the admiration of everyone?
Ever fantasized to be someone so important that anyone who despised you would be ashamed and have no option but to feel powerless that they can’t stop your success?
Maybe you haven’t been in this situation, but then again, life is not equal for everyone. I have definitively been in such situations, and I do believe our mind is able to use resources such as fantasy to help us deal with otherwise unbearable situations. But then again, Tyler Durden is the extreme of this situation, he’s a fantasy to extensively desired, and worked in such detail by the frustration of our narrator, that it had to materialize, it had to become a savior and liberator.
Once again, nearing the end, Tyler’s defense is: “hey! you created me! I didn’t create some loser alter ego to make myself feel better”, oh dear, the genius of this writer.
Now, there’s a catch to it all, Tyler is so strong that he doesn’t just want to takeover occasionally, Tyler wants to become the materialized potential of the narrator and this causes a conflict because what he’s capable of, goes beyond what his weaker brother is able to accept. So the interesting thing is, that Tyler’s ultimate accomplishment is to bring back a narrator who’s no longer a weakling, but a challenger who can prove to be stronger than the alter ego. Now, this is almost a conclusion, but there’s more to see so let me backtrack a little and end this section with a contrast between these two characters:
Tyler is detached from material requirements; he ridicules the narrator’s “tragedy” of losing “a lot of versatile solutions for modern life”.
Tyler smokes, he offers the narrator a smoke and he says he doesn’t. How is this even relevant? Well, maybe our narrator had a “Marlboro-like” concept that tough men, real alpha cowboys smoke.
Tyler has no restrictions, he can insert pornography in family films, or urinate in the soup of bigwigs and get away with it.
Tyler uses pain as a tool, which makes him badass as no one; at the very core of self-preservation is not being physically destroyed, but this guy takes a brutal beating by “Lou” the tavern-owner, and still laughs at his face, or is able to cause himself a chemical burn just to get liberated from fear and the restrictions of the possibility of pain. How many of us could have experienced more freedom if we were more welcoming of pain?
Tyler despises the modern system and way of living, and is able to start disrupting it greatly; this means Tyler is not only a spectator, but he’s also the bringer of change, through chaos. He’s above the System that oppresses the weak, common men.
Tyler is straightforward, not shy, there’s no need to be shy when you’re someone like Tyler, you really say what you want and have everyone else fuck themselves.
What is it with anti-heroes that after a while, you don’t really want them to “come around”? But everything has an end, I mean, after all, in real life ideals are not historically proven to prevail, and Tyler was an ideal.
There’s a conflict between the narrator and his savior, it’s a conflict that comes from the expanding chaotic nature of Tyler; it starts with a private street fight, becomes an underground club in a bar basement, branches out throughout the city and later throughout the country, start assigning tasks which as illegal, punishable activities, becomes project mayhem, targets the entire financial system as a first step to the attainment of Tyler’s ideal society, and in Tyler’s plans, it won’t stop until such a society is achieved. What does that society look like? Well, let’s allow him to describe it to us:
“In the world I see you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rock feller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Towers. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying stripes of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighways.”
So Tyler’s ideal is the destruction of what most people would call modern civilization, something like how the world in “The Walking Dead” looks like, minus the zombies. Tyler here seems to hint us to what some authors would call the neo-Luddite movement, you know who else thought similarly to Tyler?
So give or take, the differences in style and execution, this is similar to Tyler’s profile, although Tyler being way more charismatic and having an army of angry men from all walks of life available to him, would have been infinitely more dangerous than the loner “Unabomber” who still manages to do enough harm to guarantee him life in prison.
Now, I don’t want to get into judgemental arguments here (courts have taken care of these matters already), I’m not a zealot, nor an apologist, but I’m also open enough to try to understand where these people are coming from, I feel they’re a big, red alarm about things in our society we should be paying more attention to. But, after the self-inflicted car accident, this is really what everything points to and Bob’s death is a big wake-up call to our narrator; he seems to be more absent than ever, Tyler’s gone, and he’s abandoned once more by his father figure of sorts. He feels something’s wrong and starts taking matters into his own hands until he’s confronted with the truth.
Showdown: “This Head Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us”
Well, when it comes to the story as presented by the movie, there is a huge crescendo from the point where the narrator is confronted by Tyler in the hotel concerning both of them being the same person; obviously, this triggers a frantic succession of events culminating in the final showdown at 1888 Franklin St.
Badass as Tyler is, and even with the relief he’s brought to the narrator’s life, it’s time to make a choice: become the “leader of a terrorist organization” as he attempted to tell the police and go with it until the last consequences, or somehow fight Tyler to become the personality in control of his mind. Tough call, yet as we know he chooses the second.
It seems our narrator has more respect for life than he’s been willing to show through the frustration of his discourse. Tyler has stepped on two boundaries:
Bob is dead: Bob’s death was a big shock, he realized the difference between his point of view where he saw people as people (recall the “his name is Robert Paulson” creepiness), whereas Tyler was growing an army of anonymous men, expendable and willing to die for a common goal.
Marla should die: “She knows too much”. Tyler had warned the narrator that he should not discuss his existence with Marla, after this actually happened Tyler’s mind is set on “tying up loose ends”. This is the final trigger that causes the narrator to desperately begin to attempt with all his might to destroy the upcoming Project Mayhem operation. More on this on the “Relational Dimension” part of the series, coming soon…
So yeah, there’s really a point of no return, and the movie begins by telling us so, repeated again at the end on the top floor of the 1888 Franklin St. building: “ground zero”.
Now, the epiphany concerning the narrator actually being in control is pretty much the point where Tyler is lost forever; I will not question the artistic decision of Mr. Palahniuk concerning suicide, let’s face it, the movie wouldn’t be the same with that extra weird sauce added at the very end with the guy having a fatal shot in his face telling Marla “everything is gonna be OK” and sending one of his minions to “find some gauze” for his wound. It’s weird and cool. But again, to me, Tyler is lost as soon as the gun moves to the narrator’s hand and he takes control over his renegade alter ego.
Fight Club is a weird story, it’s an amazing story and it’s written with unique style and genius, and equally brought to the big screen with excellence. And the funny part is, it’s not exempted from some degree of idealism, I mean, at the end of the day the financial credit records are destroyed, no one else dies, Tyler is defeated, and the narrator is a far stronger man than before (we could say he was able to integrate Tyler into his own personality while keeping it on check with his rationality), oh yeah and he keeps the chick (or so it seems).
So Tyler and Marla are triggers of a big conflict, and this radical conflict which is absolutely real and raw (almost lethal), ends up bringing up the man to his potential. Excuse me hardcore fans if I’m too optimistic but in the end, there’s a bit of self-improvement in Fight Club, “hitting rock bottom” seemed to have more bugs than expected but without it our narrator would have never come to know himself truly, and be at peace with his perception of life (or at least in better shape than he started).
-BIG PENIS-. (Sorry, needed to do this at some point). xD
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:
It’s his mind that brought us this masterpiece
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.
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:
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.
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):
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”.
Monday evenings are so tiring! I mean, it’s 8:27 pm where I live, and I feel like I just want to hop into bed. Well since I’m back to one job that’s something I can do, so that’s why I’m writing this early, so I can read 1984 in my bed and fall asleep like an elderly man (which I am, internally, an old soul). It’s been raining non-stop so that’s like, the best plan 🙂
I’m back at the gym and that’s quite a challenge for me; since you don’t know me physically I got to confess I’m a heavy guy, I used to be very slim and when I started taking a certain medication I gained weight like a motherfucker and ever since I’ve been a fat-ass dude. I’ve always hated it and recently I came to accept that I will always hate it and therefore the best course of action is to lose that weight rather than complain while eating a fried chicken bucket (that’s obviously a cliche joke). So I’ve been eating really healthy and working out violently and I’m super happy about that, I feel like I’m moving in the right direction and have already lost about 10 pounds in less than one month; at least for me, that’s a big deal.
Now, one thing that I find very interesting is that when I’m working out intensely and right after my session I feel plugged into a primal version of myself, like VIP access to the amygdala / reptilian brain. I start thinking of working out earlier, getting into martial arts, taking cold showers, and becoming a weird kind of urban warrior, with no one to fight 😦 but a lot of testosterone and determination! LOL.
And well, since I’m on that subject, I’ve kept working on my content related to Fight Club (I think it’s getting under my skin now after writing that last paragraph), and although I haven’t written the second piece yet, I did finish a video tribute I’ve been working on and I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed building it! (although that probably makes no sense :/). Anyhow, hope you like it!