A2 Education: Fight Club (Film Studies FM4)

Here is a top level response to a WJEC Film Studies FM4 question based on the theme of identity I wrote a few years ago, hopefully it'll help out some fellow film lovers! 

"In developing a response to your chosen film, how valuable did you find the application of a specific critical approach?"
(30 Marks)

Fincher's Fight Club (1999) has gained critical acclaim and a cult following since the poor box office return upon the films initial release, which may be due to the exploration of alternative subject matter. The fictional world represents the real life issues of contemporary society, including one’s search for their identity in a world of passive consumers. The works of Nietzsche, Wiker and Kesler allow one to develop their understanding of Fight Club by illuminating key issues and offering alternative interpretations.

The narrator (Edward Norton) physically embodies the films exploration of one's identity as he does not have a name and maintains a persona of anonymity during the support group scenes by using aliases. It may be insinuated that the lack of identity can be credited to the overwhelming consumerist culture that the narrator is absorbed by. This is because capitalist society creates a passive consumer which can be observed in the IKEA nesting scene. The slow panning shot tracks the narrator across his room as he becomes engulfed in the labels that have been added post production which serves to suggest that an individual status is the sum of their belongings.

This idea can be synthesised by the studies of Nietzsche, who was a German philosopher of the 19th century. Nietzsche believes that through evolution, man will gain an 'overman' status and be free to express one's individual values and beliefs. Meaning that man will not be master nor slave which dismisses capitalism and a hierarchical valuing system and instead relies on a sense of equality being maintained. Nietzsche stated that in order to reach the ‘overman’ status, nihilism must first be overcame, the belief that life is meaningless.

When applying this to Fight Club, it can be understood that the narrator is a nihilistic individual, his monotone narration and cynical comments is indicative of this. Therefore, Tyler and Marla are catalysts for the implementation of the narration's transition from nihilism to a state of 'overman'. This is because Marla attends the support group sessions which prevents the narrator from using the sessions as an emotional outlet and simulated human connection, thus triggering the return of his insomnia. For Tyler's character, he disrupts the narrator's personal life's narrative by blowing up the narrator's apartment, which shatters his dream of 'completing' his life, and essentially living vicariously through his materialistic items, Marla and Tyler have forced the narrator into action which leads to the formation of the Fight Club and Project Mayhem.

Even though the Fight Club and Project Mayhem may be viewed as an attempt to over throw consumerism, though Wiker’s research the organisations may be interpreted as a man’s search for his masculinity. Wiker believes that one's masculinity and identity are intertwined and should be analysed in light on one another. This is evident in Fight Club as Tyler, who is a figure of the narrator's imagination, helps the narrator search for his identity by creating the Fight Club and reverting back to their primal instincts, fighting.

Tyler appears as subliminal flickers throughout the first few scenes. This demonstrates the power that Tyler has over the narrator’s mind, and becomes ever more present as the film progresses. It becomes more apparent when we see Tyler in a mid-tracking shot at the airport on an escalator, as the camera shows a preference to following his movements rather than the narrator’s, which is suggestive of the power that Tyler has over the narrator. This idea is furthered when Tyler is stood in the middle of a ring of men after a fight. The camera is positioned below Tyler and looks up at him amongst other men, this not only conveys a sense of empowerment and Tyler’s dominance in the scene (as well as over the narrator), but unity amongst the men. The men in this frame represent the 'overman' status as a result of reclaiming their identity, which is defined by their masculinity. The men are now empowered enough to rebel against mainstream society as they have overcome their nihilistic tendencies which allows the men to impose their own beliefs and values, instead of living as a passive consumer.

Wiker's works allows one to understand that the men's identity is in fact their masculinity, without the men reverting back to their primal instincts (fighting); they are unable to break free from the social constraints of mainstream society. The gritty reality of the men's search for identity is depicted by Fincher during the fight scene with Angel Face (Jared Leto). Fincher uses a close up aerial shot of Angel Face's beat up face covered in blood as he lies on the floor in order to create a shocked response from the spectator.

Fight Club mocks the ideas surrounding masculinity presented by contemporary society as Tyler asks "Is that was a man is meant to look like?" (In reference to the male model poster) This creates a sense of irony as Tyler is the ideal that all men strive for and his very existence is based on the fact that the narrator views Tyler as a symbol of masculinity. This therefore suggests that the ideal created by society is unattainable and simply does not exist, as even Tyler wonders what a man should look like. Society is able to use a man's insecurities in regards to their masculinity in order to sell products, like the brands Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger that are advertised in the posters. This is so effective as a man’s identity is valued by his masculinity in Fight Club. However, Project Mayhem, the organisation that once stood for individuality, equality and resented government control morphs into a hierarchical pyramid that strips the men of their identity. This is suggested by the fact that Tyler refers to the men as "space monkeys" instead of their real names who work under the dictatorship of Tyler within the club as project mayhem has been infiltrated by contemporary consumerist society. 

Kesler’s believes that Fight Club is about “man’s search for his identity” which highlights Bob’s journey throughout the narrative and suggests that the issue of women and femininity poses as a hindrance to “man’s search.” This is suggested when Tyler asks the narrator: “A generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is the answer we really need." Perhaps Kelser fails to evaluate the importance of women in man’s search for his identity; however he does highlight one of the main purposes of Fight Club, which is the search for identity, this therefore drives the narrative and the actions of the character forward.

Fight Club is film that follows the narrative of a conflicted man, the narrator, who experiences a journey that allows him to discover his own identity. Kelser’s belief that Fight Club is about a “man’s search for his identity” is supported by the film’s ending as the narrator finally lets go of Tyler and his constructed reality and re-discover himself, rather than live out his life through the actions of Tyler. This is suggested by the films distanced position which gives the impression that the spectator is placed within the real reality of the film, rather than the narrator’s as previously the camera closely followed the narrator and very rarely ventured away from close ups and mid shots of the scene. This insinuates that the audience experiences Fight Club through the narrator’s mind. It is also obvious to argue that the film is also about, what Nietzsche describes as the “overman” and the men’s journey as they discover and re-define their own identity. Throughout the essay, it has been difficult to decipher between themes in Fight Club in order to isolate and explore the theme of identity, which validates Wiker’s argument that the themes all link together. The critic’s that have been referenced throughout the essay have been essential in highlighting key issues as well as offering alternative interpretations to the film’s messages and meaning, which assists one’s understanding of Fight Club