Being someone in David Fincher’s Fight Club:

overcoming the superman

 Ben Outram


University of East Anglia.



home list theses  


“Phallic lust is seen as a fusion of obsession and aggression […] Phallic lust begets phallocratic society, that is sadosociety, which is, in fact, pseudosociety.”


                                      Mary Daly, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy, 1992.   


“Is making up people intimately linked to control? The answer […] might conceivably be yes.”


                  Ian Hacking, Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality,

                   and the Self in Western Thought, 1986.



“It is […] the responsibility of people making films and people making all art to specifically address dysfunctions in the culture.”


“I thought this is a piece about the challenge of individual self-overcoming.”


                                           Edward Norton, interviewed at Yale University, 1999.



David Fincher’s Fight Club is very much a product of its time, reflecting and examining the felt crisis of masculinity. This essay will be an examination of Fight Club as a piece of philosophy, as a contribution to the debate of what it means to be a man, focusing on the validity of the question itself and examining the relationship between the narrator and Tyler in the context of labelling theory as discussed in Ian Hacking’s article, Making Up People. It will discuss whether the very posing of the question “what does it mean to be a man?” is in fact a hindrance, and whether or not the very question itself is flawed and is not the way to finding out what being a man involves. It will examine what Edward Norton terms the “seduction of negativity and nihilism” and consider the characters of Tyler and the narrator as versions of the Nietzschean uebermensch, examining the different versions of self-improvement and the Superhuman explored in the film. It will also examine Tyler’s close bind to phallic lust as discussed in Mary Daly’s book, Pure Lust.


To better understand Fight Club as a piece of philosophy, it may be useful to understand it as a moral tale, as essentially a story of good versus evil. In good-versus-evil stories, there is usually a victory for one side or the other, and the story becomes a tale not just of good and evil, but of right and wrong, with the victor established as right, as an example for the viewers. Tyler and the narrator are essentially two different ways of answering the question, “what does it mean to be a man?” The film can then be seen as deciding between which way of answering it prefers, which way it sees as right. When the narrator eventually is triumphant over Tyler by killing him, this is simultaneously the end of the philosophical investigation. The film reaches the conclusion that the narrator, as he is at the end of the film, is the version of masculinity and way of life in general which is preferable to that of Tyler. To say that Fight Club glorifies violence and fascism is simply not true. Comments such as Alexander Walker’s: “it uncritically enshrines principles that once underpinned the politics of fascism, and ultimately sent millions of Jews to the death camps[1]” show a failing to recognise the difference between what the film shows and what the film promotes. As in a philosophical argument, all viewpoints must be argued through. Tyler Durden’s masculinity does enshrine fascism; Fight Club as a film does not. Again, Alexander Walker writes that “The fights themselves disgust and deafen eye and ear. They are grotesquely explicit […] They exceed the limits of all screen violence I’ve seen in recent years.[2]” The violence is grotesque, but only because it is violence. By showing the effects of violence, the film aims to evoke feelings of disgust at violence. Unfortunately, we often direct our disgust at the film and not the aspect of society, of reality, which it is showing.

Let us examine how Tyler comes to exist, and the narrator’s perceived emasculation. Near the beginning of the film, The narrator goes to the first of several self-help groups, a group for men recovering from testicular cancer. This form of biological emasculation is not the type that the narrator is suffering from. In his one-on-one with Bob, he replies to Bob’s heart-felt claim that, “We’re still men”, with a forced, flat, almost sarcastic, “Yes. We’re men. Men is what we are.” Bob feels emasculated because he has no testicles, and needs his self-help group in order to reclaim his masculinity. The testicular cancer group is not the right place for the narrator to reclaim his. The fight club is where (at least initially) he feels that he is able to legitimately claim that he is a man. The fact that Bob also ends up at the fight club shows that he is otherwise emasculated than merely physiologically. Indeed, when he meets The narrator outside Marla’s apartment building, we find that he no longer attend his “Remaining Men Together” group, and goes exclusively to the fight club, indicating that his severe biological emasculation is insignificant in comparison to this other emasculation. What form does this other type of emasculation take? Emasculation can be seen as due to changes in society which makes normal/expected male behaviour difficult if not impossible. Such elements are certainly present in Fight Club. In The narrator’s case, the main emasculating factors are his job, consumerism and to a large extent the advent of Marla Singer. I will come back to these later.

In his article, Making Up People, included in the anthology Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, Ian Hacking notes that the putting of people into certain categories or labelling them in certain ways is connected with the person doing the labelling and categorisation asserting power over the person who is labelled, a process known as labelling theory. I propose that this process is a central part of the narrator and Tyler’s relationship and that the relationship on film explores labelling theory in practice and its implication on feelings of repression, sexual and otherwise.

What I feel is the greatest contribution that Fight Club makes to the discussion of emasculation and repression is the idea of self-repression. When we consider the narrator’s perceived emasculation through the filter of labelling theory, we realise that a large part of why the narrator feels repressed and emasculated is because of his own label for masculinity. The narrator has his own idea of what falls under the category ‘masculine’ and sees that he fulfils little of the characteristics. It is this discrepancy between how he perceives himself and how he believes he should be which gives rise to his feelings of emasculation, frustration and ultimately, the birth of Tyler Durden, the embodiment of his masculine label. For the purpose of finding out what the narrator feels emasculated by, this is a useful guide: we need only check to see if it fits with Tyler’s character. If the narrator’s idea of the masculine were not radically different from how he sees himself to be, there would be no need for Tyler. If we continue from our perspective of labelling theory, we must recognise that by giving Tyler a label, or, to put it stronger, by constructing Tyler himself as a label, the narrator demands control over him. As the film progresses, so does Tyler’s revolt against the narrator’s control of him.

Marla’s role in the narrator’s emasculation is telling. She too is a faker, going to self-help groups without in fact suffering from the ailments involved. The difference in this respect between her and the narrator is that she visits them out of sport whereas he is enslaved by them. Being dependent on anything is something that is not part of masculinity for the narrator; we need only look to Tyler for evidence of this. Thus when The narrator says that “Her lie reflected my lie[3]”, he is not only recognising the similarity between them as people, but is also made aware by her that he is deluding himself regarding how he is dealing with his felt emasculation. She is a constant reminder of this (“Marla…the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it, but you can’t.[4]”). Her faking is motivated by boredom (“it’s cheaper than a movie, and there’s free coffee.”[5]) rather than The narrator’ parasitic necessity. He is made to feel that his dependence on the self-help groups is in fact a continuation of his emasculation, moving away from the perceived masculine ideal of Tyler. The narrator’s encounters with Marla thus act as a catalyst for this ideal’s embodiment in Tyler.

If The narrator is indeed repressing himself through his appeal to his own label of masculinity, it is no surprise that the corresponding breaking out of Tyler is closely linked with self-destruction and increasing denial of individual self-worth[6]. To be rid of his repressor he must be rid of himself or at least that part of him which is repressing himself. Seen from this perspective, the fact that the first person the narrator lashes out against and fights is himself is unsurprising.

Let us now look at what masculinity involves according to the narrator by looking at the character of Tyler. A curious aspect that will be further explored is Tyler’s fascination (and identification) with the penis. As he talks with the narrator in Lou’s bar, he makes reference to John Bobbit’s castration. Later in the film, we see him punching his sparring partner repeatedly and triumphantly in the groin; Project Mayhem has a special place for castration as a punishment. Tyler’s fascination is shown mainly in the sequence documenting Tyler’s jobs, which splits the narrator’s first fight in two. We see Tyler urinating in soup and it is implied that he masturbates in clam chowder. At his job as a projectionist he splices frames of pornography into family films. In the projection booth, Tyler admires his work with a satisfied “A nice, big, cock[7]”, as we see crying children and distressed parents. We see that the narrator’s idea of a masculine male is one who uses his penis essentially as a disruptive force, aiming to disturb the status quo and force the penis (and perhaps by extension the man) into consideration. It is Tyler / the penis which ruin otherwise settled scenes (high-class restaurants and family films). Tyler is essentially a harbour of Phallic lust, as discussed by Mary Daly in her book, Pure Lust. We read that Phallic Lust “is wanton and playful: unadulterated, absolute, simple, sheer striving for abundance of be-ing[8]”, and also that it is “violent and self-indulgent[9]”, that it “levels all life, dismembering spirit/matter, attempting annihilation[10]”. We see Tyler’s playfulness constantly: when the narrator is talking to Marla on the phone, we see Tyler in the background practising with nun-chucks. It is wanton practice; we never see the nun-chucks again. When in the basement with the narrator, he rides around naked on a bicycle, eventually falling off. He goes to Marla’s apartment on a whim, and treats the exit from her building like a game, dancing to his own music as the police run past them down the corridor. Even when fighting the narrator in the final scenes, he is playful, emulating Bruce Lee’s stylised martial arts. In many scenes, Tyler is constantly mobile in comparison to the narrator’s physical stillness, a set-up used previously by Fincher in the film Seven, which had Pitt, again as the hive of activity and playfulness, contrasted with Morgan Freeman’s relative lack of physical acting.

             Project Mayhem itself can be seen as incorporating elements of both a pseudo and sado- society since it attempts to give its members a feeling of belonging and identity through stripping them of a number of things which make them individual, different from other men. All of the recruits shave their hair completely off. No one in Project Mayhem has a name anymore. The penalty for compromising the goals of Project Mayhem is castration, physiological emasculation to go with the continuation or resumption of the felt psychological emasculation caused by ejection from the group. Project Mayhem is therefore self-punishment, but not in the vein of the fight club’s self-punishment in order to feel good; Project Mayhem’s eventual aim is to annihilate the need for the fight clubs through the destruction of those things which cause this felt emasculation. It is self-punishment and self-denial for a goal that at least is thought of as a greater good.

The asking of the question “What does it mean to be a man?” is instantly recognisable as flawed. Even though the wording of the question appears to be referring to the individual man, it is in fact asking a question like, “What should all men be like?” If we recognise the question like this, we realise that this latter question bears close resemblance to advertising culture. When we consider that our initial question of what it means to be a man is born from a felt crisis that has, somewhere close to its core, advertising and commercialism, it seems that our initial direction is wrong. When the narrator points out the Calvin Klein advert on the bus, featuring a cropped male body[11] showing just a muscle-bound stomach and tight-fitting underpants, and asks “Is that how a man looks like?”[12], he expects the answer no, both from the viewer and from Tyler. The narrator is not only saying that a man does not need to look like the man in the poster, but that our idea of men and what they are need have nothing to do with advertising or the language and thought-processes of advertising. In all advertising we see an image associated with a concept. When we find the image being associated with the concept erroneous or inadequate, we feel in some way that the concept is not being fully explored. The image of Santa is associated with Christmas, but a Christian may feel that this is either completely erroneous (i.e. that Santa has nothing to do with Christmas) or that it is inadequate (that Santa is part of Christmas, but the celebration of Jesus’ birth is needed for an adequate understanding of the concept). Later we will see how the narrator’s feeling that being an exclusively masculine man is a mistake is followed up by the film.

Let us examine a factor identified by Susan Faludi in her book Stiffed, a factor that she calls the emergence of ornamental culture[13]. This trend has caused us to be increasingly surrounded by a culture that encourages people to play almost no functional public roles, only decorative or consumer roles[14]. It is the emergence of celebrity culture, especially virulent in the western world of the latter half of this century. It has removed institutions that gave men some sense of belonging and replaced them with visual spectacles that they can only watch from the outside. Its essence is the selling of the self and the image. It tells us that masculinity is something that you display rather than demonstrate. Manhood does not come from the inside out, but the outside in. The internal qualities once said to embody manhood - surefootedness, inner strength, confidence - are merchandised to men to enhance their manliness[15]. It is no longer enough merely to be a man; you must show the world that you are a man. More pertinently for Fight Club, ornamental culture encourages young men to see surliness, hostility and violence as expressions of glamour, a way to showcase themselves without being feminised. This fear of feminisation, of female contact, is key in Fight Club.

We can see elements of the ornamental male in both Tyler and Jack. Jack hoards possessions and is a slave to marketing and big brands. After his luggage is detained, he says, "I had everything in that bag. My C.K. shirts...My D.K.N.Y. shirts.[16]" He avidly collects stylish furniture, seeking to define himself through dining sets. Here we see the merchandising of identity mentioned by Faludi in a form more extreme and confused than in her introduction to Stiffed. Not only is Jack seeking his masculinity in exterior objects, he is seeking it in household objects like lamps and tables, hardly typical props of masculinity in ornamental culture. Jack feels that consumer culture is in some way emasculating. He says, "We used to read pornography. Now it was the Horchow collection.[17]" Of course this statement must be taken as saying that possessions and household objects are the new objects of our desire, rather than people, but we also need to recognise reading pornography as being at least seen as distinctly masculine, while reading catalogues distinctly female. Naturally these distinctions are not intrinsic to pornography and catalogues, and there are women who read pornography and men who read catalogues. The point is rather that Jack feels he and his perceived masculinity have been betrayed by consumer culture. Despite its promise of masculinity, he sees it as departing from traditional, rugged, violent masculinity towards a more feminised masculinity. Jack therefore simultaneously feels and knows consumer culture is emasculating and nevertheless perpetuates his quest for a recovery of his masculinity within this culture, performing an impressive self-deception.

The fighting at the fight club seems distinctly anti-ornamental. By pummelling the body and turning it into an unattractive mess of cuts and bruises and through this claiming their masculinity, the participants seem to be attempting to refute the claim that the appearance and image make the man. However, this violence is still mere show-violence. Its motivation is not any emotion directed against the person one spars with, but a drive to feel better oneself. There is only one instance where the violence is genuine, when the narrator severely beats Jared Leto's character, Angel Face, due to jealousy. As the fight progresses, the mood of the onlookers changes from buoyancy and cheering to quiet. When asked by Tyler what came over him, he replies that he "felt like destroying something beautiful[18]". The effect of the genuine fight on the onlookers is similar to the effect of Marla’s attendance of the self-help group on the narrator, in that it brings to light a self-delusion, the atmosphere similar to when somebody has spoiled a game. The self-delusion in question is that the fighting is still being imposed from the outside; it is regulated by rules. The fighting is asserted as something inherently attractive to the male psyche by the growing crowd of onlookers in the earlier stage of the narrator and Tyler’s fights, the suited businessman timidly raising his hand and asking if he can be next and the rapid franchising of the fight club outside of the city. To be sure, the fight club has an appeal, but the appeal is not the fighting, but the chance to act at fighting, and by extension to act out their idea of being a man. What binds these men together is not the common denominator of violence, but the common conception that violence is something which they should be a part of.

In the narrator's mind the rage of his jealousy against male beauty becomes a metonym for a wider negation. "I wanted to destroy everything beautiful I'd never have. Burn the Amazon rainforests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn't afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I'd never see.[19]"

At fight club, the participants are given a new, albeit temporary identity, separate from their lives in the rest of society. Within the time of fight club, their identities and bodies are used solely for the purposes of fight club. By symbolically destroying each other’s bodies (products of ornamental masculinity) regularly they attempt to find expression of their disgust at ornamental culture as a whole. Since their destruction of each other can never be fully realised[20], this expression can be at most temporarily achieved, thus necessitating repeated fighting. Similarly, the narrator felt "born again" after every evening's self-help group ended. The ironic fact that the narrator needs to be repeatedly "born again" weakens the being born again itself. The fighting at the fight club is as ornamental as the ornamental, outside-in culture which it seeks to dispel.

The fighting is a stopgap mechanism for coping with the effects of ornamental culture, not the means for its removal, and certainly not a firm basis for masculinity.


“I am free in all the ways you are not.”

An idea running through Fight Club is that the root of the narrator’s felt crisis is not wholly societal and partly within himself. Although initially concerned with struggling against exterior forces causing his crisis, the narrator’s attention becomes increasingly devoted to the struggle against Tyler. In the final scene, the destruction of the credit card companies’ headquarters are not important to his well being; rather, his agenda is the stopping and ultimate destruction of Tyler. The narrator feels released after he has overcome Tyler, not when the buildings collapse, and realises that Tyler is at least partly, if not wholly, the cause of his felt crisis. By achieving power over Tyler, the narrator achieves power over his felt emasculation.

Like the advertising culture before Tyler, what Jack initially wanted to set him free has in fact re-enslaved him. Like advertising, Tyler paraded a version of masculinity that the narrator simultaneously wants and cannot achieve. Because of Tyler’s constant presence, the narrator feels that his inadequacy is reinforced. In this way, Tyler becomes an extension of the world which the narrator initially felt was causing his crisis, and it is only by the narrator overcoming his own idea of how he should be (personified in Tyler) that he achieves at least satisfaction.

We see the narrator in constant need of being set free, of liberation. Yet what is it which he really needs to be set free from? Is there truly something concrete which is keeping him captive, or does he really need to escape from the feeling of needing to be released itself? The narrator’s suffusion with advertising has led to him seeing himself as a work in progress, continually needing to refine herself, working towards the distant goal of a perfect self. Since this perfect self can never be achieved, the desire to change becomes an end in itself[21]. If the narrator feels the constant need for change, he simultaneously feels the inadequacy that the felt necessity of his change carries with it. So it would seem that his relationship with advertising is partly to blame for his felt captivity insofar as it has given him a feeling of inadequacy and captivity. The fact that Tyler has, eventually, an identical impact to advertising on this feeling of inadequacy (i.e. reinforcing it) instead of releasing him from the cycle implies that to be free from such feelings, we need to do away with our ideas of self-improvement.

           Thus, when Tyler tells the narrator, “…and most importantly, I am free in all the ways you are not”[22], he seems to be correct. He is not in the same cycle of self-improvement as the narrator, since he is the narrator’s ultimate aim; he is the end of the cycle. He is free from the felt need to be freed from imperfection. We see a similar thought occur to the narrator at his first support group meeting with Bob. He says, “I let go. Lost in oblivion -- dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.[23]” Here, the narrator abandons, momentarily, all aspirations for himself as regards the cycle of self-improvement he feels caught in, and loses himself in the emasculation of the testicular cancer group. Here we see a man shifting his focus from self-improvement and restructuring of his life to an appreciation of his current situation, an attitude foreshadowing Tyler’s advice to “never be complete[24]” “and stop being perfect[25]”. Tyler’s advice here is to disregard the versions of “perfection” and “completeness” propagated by advertising.

When considering the way Fight Club looks at the concepts of self-improvement, self-realisation and self-overcoming, we need to look at the film’s dealing with Nietzsche’s views on these ideas. To the phenomenon of growth and decay, of change and recovery, Nietzsche gave the name, “self-overcoming”[26]. The next section of this paper will examine the ideas of growth, decay, change, recovery and self-transcendence found in Fight Club.

The Nietzschean concept of self-overcoming is broad enough to encompass the process of change in all of its manifestations, including periods of relative stability. On the other hand, it may be applied more specifically to what is active, rather than reactive, in life. That which is active is able to transcend itself and keep an open-ended future before itself. What is reactive simply perishes without self-transcendence[27]. In Fight Club we see the narrator and Tyler trading places from being active to reactive. Important to later considerations, the moments of transition involve destruction, whether of a character or property, which allows newness. The first of these instances is the explosion of the narrator’s condominium. Prior to this, he was reactive. He was not experiencing self-transcendence, but was stuck in a series of events over which he has little control. We see repeated shots of the narrator in an essentially somnambulant state[28], indicating that he is sleeping through life, although, ironically, he is an insomniac and can barely sleep at all. What we are shown here is the lack of something that might be called progress in his life, even though he believes that, “he was so close to being complete”[29]. At this point, the narrator undergoes a perishing of sorts, in that he begins to distance himself from his old, reactive life. After this point, and when we come to understand that the narrator and Tyler can be called the same person and so form a self to be overcome, the process of continual self-transcendence begins in the person of the narrator, as illustrated by the continual power struggles of Tyler and the narrator. 

The perishing of Tyler is distinctly abrupt in contrast. Having been thoroughly active prior to the conclusion of the film, it seems that Tyler has, in effect, painted himself into a corner. However intentional, the destruction of the credit –card buildings effectively ends any chance he has to transcend himself and keep an open-ended future, and so he becomes inactive through the extent of his own actions. By seeing that Tyler has in actual fact literally perished as opposed to the narrator’s perishing of his previous self, it seems that Tyler is the one who has perished not because he is inherently inactive in the sense of the narrator’s laziness and torpor, but because he has experienced self-overcoming to such an extent that there is nothing left for himself to overcome, and so becomes reactive by default. It seems then that being active in this Nietzschean sense involves having something in reserve that can be overcome by life.

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra says this: “And life confided this secret to me: ‘Behold’, it said, ‘I am that which must always overcome itself’.”[30] The “I” that speaks for life’s self does not refer exclusively to a human self. The “I” that speaks for life is not intended to match the human individual. What is overcome may be an aspect of an organism, a set of beliefs, a process, a goal. The “I” refers to the dynamic process of life[31]. So we see that a large part of self-overcoming is surrender to this dynamic process, which means not only being more active than one may be inclined to be but also to restrain one’s activity so as not to exclude the possibility of future self-overcoming. Perhaps it is this out-stripping of life itself that seals Tyler’s fate and leads him to die. Nietzsche’s personification of life makes it easy to insert it, if not as a further character in the film, then certainly as a plot device. So we see that Tyler’s eventual death comes at the hand of both the narrator and the force of life.

When we consider the narrator’s maxim that “losing all hope was freedom” in light of the relentless dynamism of life, it seems that the loss of hope and aspirations for oneself lessen the chance of losing step with life, which provides relief for the narrator. This loss of hope enables the narrator to be reliant on the force of life for direction instead of attempting to find his way himself. Of course, this way of life[32] can not be taken too far and life cannot be relied on to somehow miraculously attain results which must by necessity result from human action. If life wishes that Tyler perished, the narrator still needs to pull the trigger. The result which life wishes to attain still requires a human agent. The Nietzschean superhuman may be understood as the one who most closely follows life as a dynamic force and allows life to work through him (embodies it) to the greatest extent.

This paper stated that it was concerned with masculinity, yet its focus has changed from talking solely about masculinity to talking about the superhuman and Nietzschean values. I feel that this too is what the film does. It becomes less concerned with how men are supposed to act as men, and more concerned with how we are supposed to act as humans. The task of the superhuman is the creation of a new ideal, a new supreme value for all of humanity[33], thereby lessening the importance of how the human race, in its gender divisions, is to act. The establishment of a truly pan-human new ideal appears to be hindered by the fact that the superhuman must necessarily be either male or female and hence this new ideal is male or female. However, this fact is only really a problem when we use the terms “male” and “female” as signifying something other than the biological differences between humans, that is, if we use the words “male” and “female” as charged terms, i.e. as terms which already have certain characteristics embedded in their usage (e.g. “male” meaning muscular and extroverted, “female” meaning slender and introverted).

Tyler refuses to interact with Marla in any way that might put him in danger of “feminisation[34]": their constant sex, according to Tyler, is “sport fucking[35]”, distant from love. He shields himself from her with a heavy-duty rubber glove, which we see him wearing earlier when flipping fuses in the flooded basement. The connection is made that he views Marla as a danger. The sight of the used condoms in the toilet show Tyler’s fear of any exchange of male and female fluids, reminiscent of a young boy’s fear of contamination by “cooties”.

In terms of the gender of our superhuman and the ideal incorporated in the superhuman for the rest of humanity, the importance of a balance between man and woman, male and female characteristics is stressed. By extension, the ideal for humanity appears to be acceptance, not only of others, but also ourselves. We see that the question of what masculinity is is subsumed by the question of what it means to be a superhuman. If our aim is to find out what it means to be man, we only achieve half of what is required to be a superhuman, if the version of masculinity (Tyler’s) we arrive at involves a complete fear of feminisation and lack of readiness to exchange with females.

  We need to ask whether we can legitimately state that the true superhuman is a perfect marriage of the male and female without using these gender terms in charged ways. If there are truly characteristics which are eternally male and eternally female, then the answer to this is no. The difficulty lies in separating what characteristics are truly male and female (if such characteristics exist) and which ones are constructs. This disparity between the actual and the psychological is hinted at when the narrator visits the testicular cancer group. All the other members’ emasculation is a result of something physical, biological: the removal of, or pervasive damage to, their reproductive system. The narrator’s felt emasculation is portrayed as being psychological (granted the felt emasculation of the others is partly psychological as well; what I am driving at here is the symbolic nature of the difference between the causes of their felt emasculation), in his head, if you will. This disparity is echoed in one of Tyler’s speeches: “We have no great war […] Our great war is a spiritual war.[36]” Here, the great war mentioned comes across as an archetypal great war: what is evoked is images of soldiers in trenches, dirt and death, and an experience shared by and uniting a large number of people. It has a visceral quality that we associate, however correctly, with objective reality. The spiritual war is an individual experience, occurring solely in the mind of one person; because the experience is not shared, it becomes subjective and its existence becomes more questionable. The difficulty of recognising originally male and female characteristics is clear. Fight Club goes so far as to show that not even the body can be successfully pinned down as either inherently male or female without outside help: the body of Bob has no testicles and in their place has acquired large breasts. We are told that he is male by other sources: the name of his self-help group, “Remaining Men Together”, the fact that he is referred to as “he”, our recognising him as the actor and singer Meatloaf, who we “know” to be male. Of course, even when we talk about body parts, our language is charged, with testicles being used as a signifier of male and large breasts as signifying female. It seems that we are cursed to always use such terms in charged ways, which interestingly puts us in a predicament which continues the film’s theme of being continually trapped or re-trapped by those cycles which we try to escape from or promote escaping from.

We have already noted the negativity of unattainable ideals in the life of the narrator. Nietzsche wrote that there has never been a superhuman, a statement which met with criticism, most noticeably from Walter Kaufmann and Arthur Danto. In order to avoid becoming an ascetic ideal, which Nietzsche juxtaposed his philosophy against, then the superhuman must be an attainable human goal, argues Danto. Schutte writes that what is attainable for human beings now is the working toward the ideal, not the ideal itself. It could be understood from this statement that the working towards the ideal is in fact the true ideal. Fight Club is not as exclusive as Nietzsche seems to be, with regards to who is a superhuman and who is not, by making the ideal into a process. The ideal is personified in Marla and the narrator’s relationship and its development. Their scene together at the very end of the film is the high point of the relationship in terms of acceptance, because Tyler is dead, and so the narrator now has full control over his body to use it in the way he wants to, without the possibility of interference from Tyler. Furthermore, we feel it is the high point because it comes at the very end of the film, which we associate with a climax, which we in turn associate with a final resolution of some sort, a stabilising of characters and who they truly are, and a cessation of character development. The victor at the film’s end is not just the narrator, but the narrator in acceptance of the film’s only main female character, Marla. His acceptance of her is reciprocated in their joining of hands. The film’s final frames pull out from the pair as they stand in symmetry in the frame, both looking at each other[37]. The superhuman here is a man in acceptance of a woman combined with a woman in acceptance of a man. This conclusion is supported by the context of the film, in which there are few such moments of quiet, calm acceptance between them elsewhere, and none where Tyler is involved with Marla. There are other similar moments of acceptance elsewhere in the film: the narrator’s checking of Marla’s breast for cancer, her tender kiss and the relative quiet of the soundtrack (a rarity in a Fincher film, especially when the silence is not meant to be ominous or threatening) lies, as an instance of non-sexual, non-violent touching, in clear juxtaposition to Tyler or the fight club. Earlier, Marla and the narrator manage to agree on something, pointedly, something indicating a common insecurity[38]. Thus the relationship of acceptance between the narrator and Marla is an evolution; it is not instantly achieved at the end of the film.

Fight Club satirises our ideas of masculinity and femininity in order to show that they are problematic and a hindrance to what we should really be worried about, which is the lack of understanding and exchange between the sexes and between those personalities we like to call male and those we like to call female. By setting up this understanding as no less than a Nietzschean superhuman, as an ideal we should all be aiming at, it shows the benefit of women for men to understand who they are[39]. As Susan Faludi writes in Stiffed:

“Men and women […] hold the keys to each other's liberation”.





home list theses  


[1] A. Walker – “A Nazi Piece of Work”. Weekly Standard. London, 11.11.1999. p. 29.

[2] ibid.

[3] Jim Uhls. “Fight Club final shooting script.” (8/8/2002)

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] “Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. We are the same decaying organic matter organic as everyone else.”

[7] Uhls, “Fight Club script.”

[8] Mary Daly, Pure Lust: elemental feminist philosophy. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), p. 3

[9] ibid., p. 2

[10] ibid., p. 2

[11] Interestingly, Shields mentions studies in Measuring Up indicating that the removal of a model’s head from a picture facilitates objectification of the body pictured, and because of this, violence against the body.

[12] Uhls, “Fight Club Script”.

[13] Susan Faludi, Stiffed: the betrayal of modern man. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1999),  p34

[14] ibid.,  p. 35

[15] ibid.

[16] F.C. script

[17] ibid.

[18] ibid.

[19] Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (London:Vintage, 1997)

[20] "The third rule of Fight Club is, when someone says, "stop" or goes limp, the fight is over."

[21] Vickie Rutledge Shields, Measuring Up: how advertising affects self-image (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), p.80

[22] Uhls, “Fight Club Script”.

[23] ibid.

[24] ibid.   

[25] ibid.

[26] Ofelia Schutte, Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche without Masks (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1984) p. 32

[27] ibid.

[28] We see the narrator in a variety of sleepful situations, e.g. sleeping properly in his bed, lying on his sofa in front of the television, waking up on an aeroplane. He often has bags under his eyes.

[29] Uhls, “Fight Club script”.

[30] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Trans. Walter Kaufmann, New York: Viking, 1966), p.   115.

[31] Schutte, Beyond Nihilism, p. 33.

[32] Perhaps by way of life we should mean way of interacting with the personified dynamic force of Life.

[33] Georges Chatterton-Hill, The Philosophy of Nietzsche: An Exposition and Appreciation (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1914), p. 256.

[34] See reference to “being feminised” on p. 8.

[35] Uhls, “Fight Club Script”.

[36] Ibid.

[37] See front cover.

[38] The narrator: When people think you are dying, they really listen, instead--

     Marla: --instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.

     The narrator: Yeah. Yeah...


[39] And vice versa?