When viewing and analysing David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), the focus is usually placed onto the subject of violence and capitalism within the film. It received a number of negative reviews and caused upset during its premier at the Venice Film Festival, in which several people walked out (Waxman, 2005, p293). Despite this, it has become a cult classic and several people have interpreted different readings from Fight Club, over its use of violence within the film.
In Henry A. Giroux’s Breaking in to the Movies (2002), he sets about explaining how Fight Club can be read as a ‘critique of late capitalist society’ (Giroux, 2002, p259). In the chapter entitled Brutalized Bodies and Emasculated Politics, he looks at several different aspects of the film from the idea of masculinity shifting from ‘an agent of production to a receptacle of consumption’ (Giroux, 2002, p262) and also the way in which Fight Club uses violence as a ‘voyeuristic identification and a pedagogical tool’ (Giroux, 2002, p272). It delves into the ideas of masculinity and consumerism the film tries to represent through separate scenes. He critically evaluates the films representation in which the consumer culture has had on masculinity and its redefining meaning. The chapter pulls heavy focus on the films recurring themes of feminization from Bob’s (Meat Loaf Aday) ‘bitch tits’ to the ‘feminine qualities of the support group’ (Giroux, 2002, p264). Giroux describes how the film is less of a critique of capitalism and more a defence of masculinity and stereotypes (Giroux, 2002, p271).
In Slavoj Žižek’s An Ethical Plea for Lies and Masochism (2004), Fight Club is referred to within the context of explaining theories of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and contemporary film. In particular it describes the context of the scene in which the character of the Narrator (Edward Norton) beats himself up in front of his boss in an attempt of blackmail. Žižek describes that in this action the character is performing an act of ‘radical self-degradation’ (Žižek, 2004, p182) and in doing so he is blurring the boundaries ‘between fantasy and reality’ (Žižek, 2004, p182). This is due to the unwillingness of the Boss to carry out his own fantasy of beating up the Narrator and thus, in the Narrator beating on himself the Boss does not carry out the Narrator’s ‘perverse masochist desire’ (Žižek, 2004, p182). Žižek describes the act of the Narrator beating himself up as an act of liberation, in a sense of freeing himself from the constraints of his Boss, company and therefore the ideology of what they represent. This liberation is also achieved at the end of the film by the Narrator shooting himself to escape the restraints of the ideologies of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) (Žižek, 2004, p183).
Although these two sources look at masculinity within Fight Club they both do it in slightly different ways. Žižek uses the film as a text to look at the ideologies of Lacan and how the film relates to this ideology. Giroux takes a more political view of the use of masculinity within Fight Club and how this works with the idea of consumerism within the film. Giroux also takes a more negative view towards the portrayal of violence describing how Fight Club and similar films ‘end up reproducing the very problem they attempt to address’ (Giroux, 2002, p260) rather than critiquing the problem. Although Žižek doesn’t outwardly take a positive view of the violence within the film, he describes it as being an act of liberation, through the Narrator’s violent acts against himself. This masochistic act allows for the characters development and liberation from his restraints. In this sense it could be argued that Žižek has developed a greater understanding of the use of violence as a tool of liberation in the film than that of the stance of which Girouz takes. However Giroux delve further into the overall stance of films such as Fight Club becoming an important ‘role in mobilizing meaning, pleasures and identification’ (Giroux, 2002, p282) and helps in the understanding of ‘social, sexual, economic, class, and institutional configurations’ (Giroux, 2002, p282).
Both sources and particularly Žižek’s chapter, look at the representation of ideologies in particular masculinity and capitalism. The character of Tyler Durden is seen throughout the film as a figure of anti-capitalism. Tyler and the members of his anti-corporate group ‘Project Mayhem’, set about destroying the principles and ideologies of consumerism. However an argument could be made that the ideology of capitalism changes throughout the film within the character of Tyler Durden. If we were to take a view from political theorist Ernesto Laclau, who describes an ideology as being constantly changing and adapting into something new and in which ‘closure is impossible’ (Laclau, E. 1996. p205), we could see that the idea of capitalism as an ideology changes throughout Fight Club. The film is based around the anti-establishment ideas put forward by Tyler Durden, however it could be argued he becomes the new establishment along with the members of Project Mayhem. The consumption of material possessions has been taken over by the consumption of ideas and views set forward by Tyler Durden. As the large corporations were looking for society to consume their goods, Tyler is looking for society to consume his ideas and ideologies. Indeed, Tyler explains in the film that the majority of the members of Project Mayhem are made up by the working class members of society they inhabit. In being the leader and the one who makes the rules, Tyler Durden holds the monopoly of what society believes buys and consumes. Thus, Laclau argument of an ideology adapting and changing can be seen evident. In this sense the appearance of violence within the film is simply a way in which Tyler Durden advertises and draws in members of society to his ideologies. This is perhaps something the previous two articles fail to point out as they take the approach of the symbolic nature of violence within the film rather than the ideological stance.
Giroux, H. (2002). Brutalization Bodies and Emasculated Politics: Fight Club, Consumerism and Masculine Violence. In: Breaking In To The Movies. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p258-288.
Laclau, E. (1996), The Death and resurrection of the theory of ideology. Journal of Political Ideology No.1 (3). Department of Government, University of Essex. Journal Oxford Ltd: Colchester. p201-220.
Waxman, S. (2005). Fight Club Fallout; The Fruits of Violence, 1999. In: Rebels on the Backlot. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc. p293-302.
Žižek, S. (2004). An Ethical Plea fir Lies and Masochism . In: McGowan, T & Kunkle, S Lacan and Contemporary Film . New York: Other Press LLC. p173-186.
Fight Club (1999). Directed by David Fincher. 20th Century Fox. US. [DVD].