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 Alter Ego

There is one last reason why The Narrator invents Tyler. Just as Professor Kelp in The Nutty Professor created Buddy Love to express an idealized version of himself, The Narrator uses Tyler to express his idea of who he would like most to be:

“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”

Now, this raises an interesting question: if all The Narrator had wanted was to become sexier and cooler, why go through such extremes as creating an alter ego? Why not start using gel to spike his hair, wear edgier clothing and stop shopping at IKEA?

Again, it all comes down to fear. As much as he hates his life, The Narrator is too afraid of doing anything that could rock the boat, because it’s the only boat he has known. Rather than just make a few changes, he resorts to the defense mechanism known as compartmentalization. He splits up both the rebellious and conformist sides of himself so that they are each living, thinking and acting independently from each other. By day, he continues to go to work and live his life as “Jack,” a respectable company man and conformist drip with a steady 9 to 5 job and an IKEA-furnished apartment. By night, he gets to live the life of “Tyler”, the bad ass renegade who spits in the eye of society and lives in a derelict abandoned house.

By compartmentalizing his life in this way, The Narrator thinks that there’s no way that Tyler’s antics can screw up Jack’s neat and tidy life. However, like all the other defense mechanisms he uses, this one only works for so long before giving way. Slowly but surely, the compartments The Narrator put up break down, and halfway through the movie he starts to actually show up to work as his alter ego (as we can see by the tell-tale cigarette dangling from his mouth in one scene). When he begins beating himself up in front of his boss, this is the pivotal moment in which–in the famous words of Seinfeld–“worlds collide.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Narrator creates Tyler as an alter ego for another reason–out of his own self-consciousness as a potential lover of Marla. Why would he be self-conscious, you ask? They clearly have some chemistry and a lot in common. They showed up at the same group therapy sessions looking for someone to fill a spiritual void. What the heck was the problem?

Well, look at Marla and look at Jack. Marla is an attractive cool chick who wears cool clothes, smokes and has a devil-may-care attitude. On top of that, she seems like the type who would be into sexy bad boys. Jack is the total opposite. He is a conformist, wears button down shirts, buys IKEA furniture and lives a life as dull as dishwater. To be frank, he’s pretty much a dork. You can imagine how for a person like Jack, it would be intimidating to approach someone like her. A person like Marla might laugh at him right from the get go or, worse yet, maybe take a chance then bail when she realizes what a drip he is.

By taking up Tyler’s persona when he wants to have sex with her, The Narrator loses his dorky personality to become the sexy bad boy he imagines she would like. This gives him the confidence to finally have a relationship with her, and also allows him to do it without constantly having to be riddled with Jack’s constant worries of whether she’ll dump him or not.

Fight Club, the Psych 101 of Cinema

If you were able to get this far (I know; it was a lot to take in), hopefully you’ll understand why I started out saying that Fight Club should be required viewing in any Psych 101 class. I don’t really know much about Charles Palahniuk, Jim Uhls or David Fincher’s background other than the fact that they wrote, adapted and directed the story. All I know is that all three men must have had extensive knowledge about psychology to have produced a movie this brilliant. If not, then they clearly did their homework and then some, a rarity in an industry in which most movies can’t even get basic facts right.

Leave a Reply