Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

1990s Movies, Classic Movies, Film Criticism and Analysis, Mind Bender

The Psychology Behind Fight Club (1999), Explained

The Narrator and Marla

The Narrator and Marla

Tyler Durden as The Narrator’s Externalization

After all I’ve said, it seems as if The Narrator created Tyler to deal with his internal conflict regarding Marla and changing his life. However, there was another important reason why he invented Tyler.

Jack could’ve changed his life if he wanted to, but he couldn’t. He was too crippled with fear. Consequently, he became trapped in the very life that was suffocating him. Feeling completely powerless to change the circumstances of his life, The Narrator decided to engage in a defense mechanism known as externalization.

Externalization is the act of framing your thoughts and feelings as though they were a condition of the world at large. It’s saying to yourself, “The problem isn’t within me; it exists outside of me.” To use an example, let’s say you have crippling social anxiety because you’re self-conscious about your appearance. A form of externalization would be to say, “Because our culture keeps pushing unrealistic standards of beauty in its media, this is making people feel insecure about themselves.”

As you can expect, externalization is used as a way to blame outside forces for your problem, as well as to avoid accepting responsibility for them. However, for The Narrator, it’s not just about blame and avoiding responsibility; it’s also about giving himself the illusion that he has the power to change a personal circumstance he is too emotionally powerless to do anything about. In other words, it’s him thinking, “I’m too emotionally crippled to change my life. But if I imagine that it’s American society that is the reason why my life is the way it is, maybe by changing society, I can change my life.”

Many people watching Fight Club think that when Tyler goes on these tirades against materialism, capitalism and corporations that they’re supposed to be taking him seriously. Some people have even gone as far as to adopt Tyler’s philosophy in real life. What these people aren’t realizing is that Tyler’s ramblings aren’t meaningful at all; all they really are is The Narrator trying to convince himself that whatever problem he’s going through isn’t personal; it’s a problem that exists “out there” as external forces afflicting him and the rest of society. In short, Tyler is an expression of his externalization.

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