Fight Club (1999) is David Fincher’s movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. The film is about one person’s attempt to overcome the alienation of himself. He achieves this by turning his whole life up-side down and subconsciously following his inner feelings to do the things he has always wanted to do but has thought it inappropriate and a great risk to his safety and security. The narrator (Edward Norton) is “an insomniac office worker looking for a way to change his life” he achieves this after he “crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker and they form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more.” (IMDB, 1999)
Fight Club has strong links with Marxism throughout the film in many different aspects, both supporting and disproving their theories and beliefs. During the film the narrator starts off as a card-carrying member of capitalist society, who takes pride in his appearance and his possessions until his whole ideology of what life should be is taken from under his feet when his apartment explodes.
He believed his apartment was his life and was what everybody should aim to achieve. This is linked with the Marxist theory that the bourgeoisie (upper class) force the proletariat (working class) into believing that they should go through life being a “slave to the Ikea nesting instinct” (Fight Club, 1999). The bourgeoisie use this to keep control of the working class, convincing them they should continue working for a wage to be able to afford the material everyday things they are lead to believe are necessary.
According to Marxist doctrine, the proletariat are prevented from realizing the power they possess because the bourgeoisie heavily impose their ideology, making them believe the ruling class’ ideals of normality (Dino, 2011). The narrator believes he is living the ‘correct’ life until his apartment explodes, destroying everything he held dear. It is at this point that he turns to Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and he starts to realize the potential he possesses and the power he has over the bourgeoisie. In Durden he sees the perfect life, the life with no restraints and nobody controlling him; this gives him the power to start a revolution.
His ideas start out small, with moving from his catalogue home to an abandoned house miles away from anybody else. He then continues to disfigure himself and his well-dressed appearance he originally has; this is the start of his uprising and he realizes the oppression from the upper classes. All his working life has been controlled by his boss, giving him statistics and equations not only to work by, but how to live. The equation he is using in his field of work, “You take the population of vehicles in the field (A) and multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B), then multiply the result by the average cost of an out-of-court settlement (C). A times B times C equals X. This is what it will cost if we don’t initiate a recall. If X is greater than the cost of a recall, we recall the cars and no one gets hurt. If X is less than the cost of a recall, then we don’t recall” (Palahniuk, 1996, p. 30-31) shows the thought process of the money hungry bourgeoisie who will risk the proletariats’ lives in favour of more capital for them.
The narrators counter-part, Durden, starts to get his own back on upper classes. Firstly single handedly, by urinating in their soup bowls and other ways of contaminating their food in the restaurant he is a waiter at. It is in this time that the narrator starts to see how the richer people live and describes the party guests as “titans and their gigantic wives” who “drink barrels of champagne and bellow at each other wearing diamonds bigger than I feel”. The guests “lift forks of butterflied lamb chop, each bite the size of a whole pig, each mouth a tearing Stonehenge of ivory” (Fight Club, 1999). He begins to see that the bourgeoisie “just want to see you run around for their money…because they know they can’t threaten you with the tip, to them you’re just a cockroach” which infuriates him and makes him want to bring everybody to the same level of class and wealth, similar to Marx’s ideas.
The narrator and Durden start to form an underground fight club, for members who want to feel a part of something and enjoy the rebelliousness of the fighting and permanently marking your skin. The fight club grows in numbers rapidly as more and more people find out (contrary to the first rule which is “Don’t talk about Fight Club”) (Fight Club, 1999). To begin with this club is just somewhere for the working class to go to get away from their stress and emotions from the day, however it soon starts to turn into a unified following, doing as Durden commands. The first time there is a clash between classes is when the owner of the bar they’re using demands they leave because it is his property. This is the beginning of the proletariat revolution as Durden confronts the owner, something that wouldn’t have been expected, and allows him to repeatedly punch him and just laughs it off. Eventually he fights back and is allowed to continue using the basement; another Marxist philosophy of using violence to get to where they want to achieve.
At this point the fight club begins to turn into a revolutionary group, it spread worldwide and Durden starts up Project Mayhem without the authorization of the narrator. The proletariat begin to realize that “we’re everyone you depend on. We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you’re asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life” and understand the true strength they have. They begging to comprehend that they have part of the mass majority of citizens, the bourgeoisie are the minority that only have the capital, not the skill that they need from them. Project mayhem is set to bring the mass together to reform the class system and rebuild society from the bottom; where everybody is equal. However to do this they start to use strategies that contradict Marxist theory.
Durden gives the “space monkeys” tasks to do to begin the revolution and they get more and more violent. The main task they are set is to go out and start a fight with somebody. From a Marxist perspective this is to teach them they have the control not the upper classes. The narrator decides to go to his boss for this task as he says earlier in the film if he could fight with anybody it would be him. He enters the boss’s office and confronts him, he tells him he is going to leave but still wants all the pay; he blackmails his boss with telling everybody his secrets about the car recalls. This is the first time the proletariat has the power over the bourgeoisie as he knows he has the upper hand because he is needed to keep the company running.
Marx teaches that a consequence of capitalist society is reification, a process which turns people into commodities; this is something that Marxism tries to eradicate (Lukacs, 1923). Despite this Durden’s project mayhem turns all the “space monkeys” into numbers and objects. They become a slave force for his dictatorship. His aim to bring down the system by a series of explosions that would wipe all the debt and bring all classes to the same wealth is in line with Marxist theories, however his method is contradictory.
The only time any of the “space monkeys” become human again is when they die. We find this out when “Big Bob” dies as the narrator is still trying to understand what the idea of the project he created in his false consciousness is aiming to achieve. It isn't till this point in the film that we learn Bob’s really name (Robert Paulson), showing that although we believe it is always a Marxist idea that the narrator and Durden are planning, they never truly stick directly to the Marxist beliefs as everybody was still just an object along the way.
Fight Club shows the world that they don’t need to follow the capitalist society it currently resides within and they don’t need to succumb to commodity fetishism. It gives them the idea that they are the mass, the ones with the power that are dictated by the minority bourgeoisie. If the proletariats group together they can revolutionize the world and make it much fairer place where everybody is equal.
Fight Club (1999) Directed by David Fincher [Film] Fox 2000.
Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Marx: On Ideology." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory (2011) Available at: http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/marxism/modules/marxideology.html (Accessed 25th April 2014)
Palahniuk, C. (1996) Fight Club. Vintage
Lukacs, G. (1923) History & Class Consciousness, Merlin Press