With the film release in 1999, the Fight Club story became a cult classic and now the original novel is widely regarded as one of the deepest and most thought-provoking of all time. But how did writer, Chuck Palahniuk, come to create such a controversial and yet well-received book?
Those who hadn’t read Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club would be forgiven for thinking that, on their viewing of the film trailer, it was a straight-up action film about a group of men who become a part of an underground fist-fighting club. But the story draws upon some important and shocking aspects of human behaviour, particularly in males, which make the plots of firework blockbusters of modern times meaningless in comparison. Male dominance, advertisement, commercialism, life disillusionment; these are some of the issues that Fight Club addresses, and by the end you’re left with something deep to think about, no matter if you read the book or watch the film.
But of all the social and psychological themes in Fight Club I feel the one that plays the key role and has the greatest effect is that of materialism; how normal, regular people have become a consumer of things they don’t necessarily need. They’ll buy furniture, designer clothes and massive televisions with the initial opinion that it will make them a better person and make them happy; and to some extent, they do for the latter part. I myself admit to buying stylish guitars, video games and the odd gadget which soon becomes outdated, and these things have become a large means of enjoying my free time. But through the lifestyle of the protagonist – known only as Jack in the Script – we see that it’s dangerous to become consumed by consumerism:
The things you own end up owning you
Tyler Durden, Fight Club, 1999 (film)
It’s interesting to note that the above quote came from Jim Uhls’ script, not Palahniuk’s original book, and yet it sums up the messages stronger than any; spend the time doing something with your life rather than spend it collecting the souvenirs of others. There have been many times when I’ve heard people say… “a book/film can change your life”… and whereas I don’t necessarily believe this, Fight Club has come closest to having an effect on my lifestyle choices than any other fictional story I’ve experienced.
Because of this, and the fact that the themes are incredibly relevant to society in this modern age, I feel it is an ideal narrative for me to express my opinions on. Jack is a normal every-man who has become a victim of materialism, making impulse buys of Ikea furniture with the impression that the perfect apartment will make him ‘complete’. He meets Tyler Durden, a man completely opposite to our protagonist’s lifestyle, and after Jack’s apartment explodes along with his years and years of precious purchases, the two of them end up living together. Jack becomes fascinated and taken with Tyler’s non-conformist ways, and the two of them form Fight Club, an organisation to exhaust male violence. But when the club eventually becomes Project Mayhem and organised crime starts to creep into its operation, Jack begins to question this new life he has made for himself.
And who’s responsible for this original plot? An American man called Chuck Palahniuk, well known for his controversial novels and outlook on society. His gritty and often disturbing story-telling style was always received well by publishers, but is first novel, Invisible Monsters, was rejected because it was… “too risky, obscene and unmarketable”… Obviously enraged by this, Palahniuk determinedly began writing again, this time something even edgier than his first. The story became Fight Club, and luckily for his readers, it seemed publishers couldn’t resist Palahniuk’s unique ideas anymore.
But before his interesting in writing eventually became a career, Palahniuk was a large part of a society called The Cacophony Society, described on their website as:
“a randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit
of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society through
subversion, pranks, art, fringe explorations and meaningless madness.”
The Cacophony Society (website)
I would imagine that Palahniuk’s experiences in this unusual society must have been a huge inspiration for Fight Club‘s Project Mayhem. Similarities are substantial; grown adults going out into the world and causing mayhem and bizarre consequences for society and the establishment. Of course, Project Mayhem is depicted as a far more unlawful organisation, but even though their actions are extreme it’s still easy to feel convinced by their reasons behind doing them. Even at the end of the film, where Jack and Martha watch the collapse of buildings that run bank accounts, you feel a sort of freedom, that as crime-breaking as it is it feels fair and right. Perhaps anarchy is underrated.
“it’s only after you lose everything that you are free to do anything”
Tyler Durden, Fight Club
Another example of being convinced of our characters’ motives is Tyler’s treatment of Raymond Hessel. Hessel works in a run-down diner. He’s chosen not to pursue his ambitions when he was younger so he’s stuck in a dead-end job. So Tyler forces him out of his work at gunpoint, shouting at him to tell him what he wanted to be, asking him if he’d rather die than pursue his idea of a good life. There are no bullets in the gun. Whereas governments control people by fear, Tyler is using it to change someone for the better, make them realise their lives aren’t what they want them to be, that if they died right there and then that they wouldn’t be happy with the life they’d lead. This scene was hugely influential on me and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be influential on anyone else.
“people have to really suffer before they can risk doing what they love”
In so many ways this quote spreads a lot of truth. All the time we hear of people who have gone through emotional strain or tragedy, whether it be the loss of a loved one or overcoming a drug addiction. Palahniuk himself is a prime example of this, his father being murdered by a love rival and his grandmother murdered by his grandfather many years previous. Of course, you wouldn’t wish these awful things upon yourself or anyone else. I’d rather stay ignorant to the world and have all my family than have my eyes open and be completely lonely, and in this sense Palahniuk’s life is a complete tragedy. Through all that emotional strain, though, he’s come out of it as one of the most talented and important writers of these modern days.
Click here for PART 2… COMING SOON!