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 Dissociated Id

There is a third reason why The Narrator invented Tyler. As he continued to project his personal problems onto society, his id (the primitive, impulsive part of himself) began to develop a seething hatred against it and a desire to lash out in increasingly violent ways. Had The Narrator not been so sleep deprived, his ego and superego would’ve stepped in right from the start and said, “Look, Id–we know you’re angry but you can’t go around acting on this anger. You’ll get arrested and hate yourself in the morning.”

But now, thanks to The Narrator’s insomnia, they become too weak to do anything to stop his id. Too ashamed and embarrassed by his id, The Narrator dissociates himself from his violent impulses by imagining that someone else is causing mayhem. And who is that someone else? Tyler, of course.

The Narrator’s desire to lash out at society starts out innocently enough. His id does silly, little things in the beginning like pull mean-spirited pranks on people, sell bath soap made out of human fat to rich women and splice penis shots into family movies. But as The Narrator’s superego and ego grow weaker and weaker because of sleep deprivation, his id ups the ante with the invention of the fight club. The Narrator deludes himself into thinking that the fight club is for a noble purpose (to allow men a safe space to act out their frustrations), but it’s really an excuse for him to act his aggression out on society and reaffirm his rejection of women.

By the time his id decides to use the fight club as a recruitment tool to start Project Mayhem, The Narrator has lost complete control and becomes an agent of destruction in the real world. We see the turning point of his rage when he beats a young blonde man (“Angel Face”) to a pulp, as well as the bar owner who comes to take control of his establishment. All the other fight club members start slowly gathering around him with a look of awe and fear, sensing that the direction of the fight club has changed. That’s because it has changed. Now it’s not this harmless little underground scene The Narrator has created to blow off a little steam. Now it is a reflection of The Narrator’s murderous rage beginning to boil over. The fight club then morphs into Project Mayhem, the conduit through which he can then take his rage out on society itself.

By the time Project Mayhem is underway, The Narrator loses complete control of his id, and all he can do is sit back helplessly as things get worse and worse. All things seem horribly lost until the death of Robert Paulson, the man with the big tits. For the very first time since he unleashed his id, The Narrator’s superego (which contains his conscience) kicks in and begins to take control of the situation.

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