Saturday, 23 March 2013

Is Fight Club a film about power and control rather than liberation?



Fight Club is the story of an unnamed narrator (from here referred to as Jack) who unconsciously creates an alter ego for himself in the form of revolutionary anarchist icon Tyler Durden. This split in the personality of the hero manifests itself in a whole new person being created who helps Jack to become free from the trappings of modern life. However Tyler is also an agent of control with great power over Jack and therefore Fight Club is both about power and control as well as liberation.

Tyler is virtually a fascist. His ideology is centred on the idea that pain and violence can be progressive. Fascists believed in the benefits of war, particularly for men as war can bring out the best in people. War allows people to come together to fight a common good, allows men to fight and be brave and strong and also helps society to advance technologically. Tyler believes that by creating his own army, he can change society for the better. These changes will include acts of destruction, damage and violence or at least the very real threat of violence. For example he intends to blow up credit card company buildings and threatens to kill a man if he does not strive to reach his potential by becoming a vet.


Tyler also controls his army like a fascist dictator. He shouts slogans at them like ‘you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake’, therefore controlling what they think and taking away their individuality. He makes them dress in an all-black uniform and shave their heads so they look the same. He refers to them as space monkeys who should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. He has great power over his army and controls their actions, their words and their thoughts. Project Mayhem members begin behaving like indoctrinated cult members, unable to think for themselves and chanting ‘His name is Robert Paulson’ simply because they fail to question authority.

Fight Club itself turns into Project Mayhem and the rules state that its members should not talk about it. Similarly Tyler insists that Jack does not talk about Tyler to Marla. Jack even says that sometimes Tyler spoke for him, almost like he is an abused and silenced housewife. Tyler may have some revolutionary politics and appear as a liberator but he is also a very controlling and domineering force in the film.


On the other hand, Tyler is also a liberator, a revolutionary and an anarchist. He is created by Jack because Jack is unhappy with the state of his current life, desperate for an escape from the boring existence of the modern corporate man. Tyler offers him freedom in the form of giving up his possessions, his job and learning to live without the trappings of IKEA catalogues and comfy living. Tyler teaches Jack to let go and ‘hit bottom’. This seemingly cures Jack of his insomnia and allows him to speak up for himself at work, scaring his boss and finally leaving his job. Tyler believes that having unnecessary possessions and media marketing keep people enslaved in their jobs and consuming products that they do not actually need. Tyler attempts to convince young men that they do not need to work boring jobs and keep buying whatever advertising tells them to buy. He wants men to free themselves from the comforts of modern living.

Tyler also tries to start a revolution against capitalism and the culture it has created. He wishes to blow up credit card companies in order to erase the debt record. In this way he is a socialist as he wants everyone to be free from debt so that all human beings can be equal again. He believes that destroying these companies, he can bring about real change in an unfair and unequal society. Marxists believe that a revolution will be necessary in order to bring about social change and to redistribute the wealth of the world to all people equally. Tyler appears s to be a revolutionary but he has to be a dictator to begin the revolution. The question is, in a freer and more equal society after erasing the debt record, would Tyler relinquish his power, leaving society to run itself or would he become an even more tyrannical dictator?


The film is also critical of corporate control over men in the modern world. Jack is bored and depressed because of the monotony of his job. His boss talks to him like a faceless robot and it seems that much of Jack’s life is dictated by work. He has to travel where work tells him and do as he is told. This allows him to afford the life he lives and the life that Tyler tries to get him to reject. Jack even mentions in his voice over that when space exploration develops, it will be the corporations that take control of the planets, naming them after themselves like ‘Planet Starbucks’. This shows that he thinks that corporate control is total and that their profits will allow them to explore and dominate the universe in the future. It is the banks that control the debt that keeps people working all their lives in order to pay it back and that Tyler wants to overthrow.

Advertising also is a key form of control that Tyler criticises for telling people what to buy, what to wear, where to eat and drink and how to look. Fight Club seems to stand against these sorts of control but in the end, the protagonist Jack rejects Tyler so perhaps it is more complex than to say Fight Club is simply anti-capitalist and against corporate control.


Marla appears to be the most liberated character in the film. She does not fear death, she does not let her gender stop her from attending testicular cancer support groups and she steals from others with reckless abandon. Jack/Tyler does seem to have some control over her as he manages to mess with her mind and she keeps coming back to him. She is also literally restrained and dragged back to Jack in the final scene of the film, showing that again, Project Mayhem is as much about power and control as liberating the masses.

The question of whether Fight Club is all about power and control or liberation really comes down to the intentions of Tyler and Project Mayhem. On the one hand their intentions to make a more equal society can appear noble and could help to set free a lot of the wage slaves of the world. On the other hand Tyler is a dictatorial presence and a hypocrite and it is only once Jack destroys him that he can truly be free. Fight Club is therefore about power, control and liberation. It questions corporate control over the world and has a character that advocates revolution but it also represents the revolutionary as a character to be critical and cautious of. Tyler is as much of a dictator as he is an anarchist and contrary to his demands, Tyler must be discussed. We have to talk about Fight Club.


More A2 exam answers:


Is Fight Club a film about power and control rather than liberation?

Analysing La Haine

World Cinema: Distinctive Visual Features

World Cinema: Social and Political Context

WJEC A2 Film Studies Exam Practice Section B

A2 Film Studies Exam Practice Section B