How Subliminal Messaging And Unreliable Narrators Make Fight Club One Of The Best

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

SPOILERS are in this post! If you don’t want to ruin the film, go watch it, so you can come back and enjoy this review. Happy readings!

We all have different sides to our personality. Perhaps, you could trim it down to three. There’s the one we show in public, to co-workers or strangers. There’s the one we show at home, to our friends and family. And there’s the one that only we know about. The deep, dark part of screaming to get out, to break free, but we keep on pushing down.

When I watch a good film, I see it’s good before my eyes. When I watch a great film, there’s almost like an uneasy, harrowing feeling inside of me. It’s hard to describe. It’s something I felt so acutely after watching The Deer Hunter. It’s like seeing the world from a different perspective. It’s almost a longing for it not to end as it slowly fades out to ‘Baby Blue’ or ‘Where is My Mind’.

Now that is a sign of a great film. And that is what I’m feeling after watching Fight Club.

The Narrator (Edward Norton), or Jack, or whatever you want to call him, decides to let that third part of his personality free. He starts by going to support groups for conditions like tuberculosis and testicular cancer to try and cure his insomnia. And by crying away his worries, conflicts and anger, he sleeps like a baby. But, maybe ironically, he meets Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), who he claims leads to his downfall.

Out on his job, The Narrator also stumbles upon Tyler (Brad Pitt), who he ends up moving in with after his condo is blown up. By who, you ask? Well, that is the whole point of the film. Oh, and while they are living together, they form the Fight Club – which, in turn, forms into Project Mayhem, a radical terrorist organisation. This film gets very dark and very interesting.

When I started watching it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never watched a David Fincher before, although I’d heard good things, and I had little knowledge on the plot or characters. I thought Fight Club would be some sort of organisation that’s main goal was to just give people ridiculous thrills, and that’s what our Narrator joins. How wrong I was. It’s actually just men who have brutal, gruesome fights as some sort of relief. But what it turns into… Well.

The Narrator has a little thing called dissociative identity disorder. In other words, split personality. Now I didn’t see this for one moment, and if you did, well, all I have is praise, although it must have ruined the film. Yes, dear reader – The Narrator is in fact Tyler. Whilst awake, he’s Jack. When asleep, or when he thinks he is, he’s Tyler. However, when is he asleep and when is he awake? Edward Norton’s depiction of insomnia is impeccable, and this quote sublimely sums it up:

“When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep…and you’re never really awake.”

The Narrator

But, as I was saying, I didn’t see it coming for a split second, till he has his epiphany and realises that he is completely mad. But it’s not like the hints weren’t there – at the start of the film, as we experience Jack’s sleeplessness first hand, there are sudden flashes of a body, which I’m sure most people forget by the end of the film. Well, as a matter of fact, those flashes were actually of Tyler, perhaps suggesting he wasn’t actually real.

Furthermore, Brad Pitt appears as one of the employees in the Bridgeworth Suites welcome video. A penny to anyone who can spot which one is him.

When Tyler gets punched, Jack reacts to it too. When Jack first calls Tyler, who doesn’t pick up, on the payphone in discreet writing it says “No incoming calls allowed”, meaning it was impossible for the phone to ring. So, if looking hard enough, you could find the answer. But why would you?

In my opinion, this film is like a one way ticket. This was my first time watching it, and I think it will never be the same again. Because on the second, or the third, or the fourth, the thrill won’t be there. Some films are re-watchable thousands of times – I think that won’t be the case for Fight Club.

This twist, however, really is what makes Fight Club. Without it, I would probably be here criticising the plot. You’re sitting going, something has to give, something just doesn’t feel quite right, and that sense keeps you gripped. On many other occasions, perhaps I would be let down by the ‘dramatic’ twist, the climax. This one stands up and not only matches the tension it builds but blows it out the water.

If this film was made in the modern day – which it probably wouldn’t be – I think the ending, would be different, which would be a shame. Perhaps, after realising Tyler was his alter-ego, The Narrator would have just been able to really focus, and convince himself that the man in front of him wasn’t real, and be able to defeat his demons as Tyler howls as he disintegrates away. But it isn’t (thank god).

The Narrator manages to rid Tyler of himself, but only by shooting himself, miraculously surviving with the bullet only penetrating his cheek. The Narrator has finally hit rock bottom, becoming hopeless and therefore completely free of his destiny. While it’s always been his opposite personality in control, he finally has the upper hand. He then has the famously iconic scene with Marla, holding hands watching as Tyler gets his final, dying, anarchic wish. Everybody wins, right?

The moment he punches himself in the face to frame his boss you root for his angst. A banshee cry for the disenfranchised. You want him to tear every sinew of society apart.

Jack’s character is also very intriguing due to the idea of an ‘unreliable’ narrator. A narrator can be unreliable for many things – arrogance, self interest, but it Jack’s case, it seems most likely to be delusion. It’s something you very often see, with examples including Life of Pi, Forrest Gump and even with books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Catcher in the Rye. Edward Norton expanded on the idea below:

We decided together that I was going to get very thin. It’s almost a junkie metaphor. This guy is an unreliable narrator in the sense that he’s saying “you became carved out of wood and you felt powerful” and yet his body’s disintegrating and he’s bruised and shattered. And Brad made the decision to go the opposite way because Tyler is the way my character sees himself. Brad got progressively bigger throughout the movie, he bulked up and got huge and tan and beautiful while I became Gollum.

Edward Norton

It’s also interesting going back to The Catcher in the Rye point with the similarities between Holden Caulfield and The Narrator. Both have had childhood trauma, with Jack’s father abandoning at six and Holden’s brother dying. They have different conditions, but relate with their unstable mental condition and also their problematic views – although Tyler is a different person, his pessimistic opinion that destroying society is the only way to save it really roots down from Jack.

And this isn’t something I noticed either – subliminal messaging. Throughout the film, playing the big corporate businesses at their own game, Fight Club have little snapshots here and there of pictures. You might of spotted, although not fully seen, the pornography in tribute to Tyler at the end, but how about this one…?

Or Tyler’s message to the people straight after the FBI notice:

Supposedly there are loads more, so if you’re feeling a bit like blowing something up after watching Fight Club, don’t worry, you’re not going mad.

And here, we come to the end, reader.

Fight Club isn’t a bunch of men brawling in a basement.

It is something far, far greater. It is the story of a man under the strain of conflicting ideals and motives – consumerism and anarchism – tormented by this society that he lives in, so much so that he destroys its most valuable buildings, creating chaos and a new world order.

Fight Club – I bow. Truly superb.

Best character: Ooh, I’m like a kid in a candy store. If you actually think about it, it was a very small cast – Norton as The Narrator, Pitt as Tyler, Helena Bonham Carter as Marla, and perhaps you could include Meat Loaf as Bob in the main characters. So, slim pickings, but imagine those pickings are gold, my friend, gold! It has to be Tyler though, in all seriousness. Fascinating and dangerous.

Least favourite character: I don’t have one. Really, I don’t feel there’s a viable option here. But, because this paragraph is looking quite short, did you know the Julia Louis-Dreyfus auditioned for Marla? She didn’t know who David Fincher was.

Favourite scene: I took a while to think about this one, but definitely the chemical burn. Distressing and painful to watch, so who knows how The Narrator felt.

Best quote: “A condom is the glass slipper of our generation.” And I’ll leave you with that.

Fight Club – 8.5 out of 10

3 thoughts on “How Subliminal Messaging And Unreliable Narrators Make Fight Club One Of The Best

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