“I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”
What happens when you’ve reached a certain point, you’re bored stiff, your youth is slipping and you realize you’re not happy because your whole life’s been circulating around the success and failure you’ve seen on television and on billboards? Fight Club shows 30-year old men with no place to go, no direction – it was all fake happiness fuelled by adverts telling you that if you have enough money to buy a great car, you’re sorted.
They had become a “generation of spectators”, “hunters in a society of shoppers”. The idea that material possession was perceived as the only real importance anymore had become the ultimate emasculation. In this way, the film reveals a metaphor for the clash of youth with material desires. The Narrator (Edward Norton) is the character who has emerged out of a world where advertising and consumerism has, in a way, shaped a ‘moral code’ by which the population has been numbed, placed in a bubble. In this world, the Fight Club had to emerge. The club – where youngish men gather and beat the hell out of each other – was a kind of spiritual revolution, something that emerged out of the need to break-free of the material objects that we’ve come to depend on.
The ‘Fight Club’, which the narrator forms with his mysterious ‘friend’ Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) was a reaction to the emasculation suffered as a result of a televised, advertised society where pain, strength, courage is stripped of the 30-something men in the film who feel like they need a way to break out. The pain experienced in the film feels like a counter to the falseness of self-importance fed to us by television sets, raising people to look up to millionaires and aspire to building self-worth out of material wealth. The pain was a way to revert back to basics, where one could be sure that there was still something of real value left to feel. The ‘man’ in the traditional sense of the word is found through this violence and through this pain, claiming back a fraction of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ nature that had been lost through years of material comforts.
The Narrator is the ultimate example of defeated masculinity in the beginning of the film, while Tyler seems to stand for an example of a violent, anarchic male, free of the pliers of consumerist society. The former is an ‘everyman’, suffers from insomnia, works as a company employee and hates his life. He starts a strange relationship with Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) and meets Tyler on a plane who he subsequently starts the fight club with. The film has been compared with coming-of-age tale, The Graduate, for the reason that it portrays a man with no future and no idea what to do with his life. The difference being that Dustin Hoffman plays a man in his early twenties, numbed by the simple fact that he is both sexless and loveless. Fight Club serves as a metaphor for a generation kept bottled up by the value system of advertising.
Like The Graduate, Fight Club is the story of the Narrator’s maturity in stages. At the start of the film, he finds a way out of his ‘existence’ by participating in support groups for the terminally ill. “When people think you’re dying, they really listen to you”. In this way, we see him effectively killing himself, to be reborn again as a happier man. This might be seen as his first stage of maturity. When this isn’t enough, the fight club becomes his escape. He uses the club as a way to identify himself, along with Tyler Durden by his side. The last stage is reached at the end of the film upon killing his ‘God’, Tyler. This progress seen throughout is his ascent to adulthood, his development as a character and what essentially drives the film from beginning to end.