Fight Club – Nonconformism, Manliness and Soap

Fight Club.

To those who expected explosions, fast cars and hot women, I must say – this is not really the type of film for you.

The film Fight Club is so much more than that. Not without a proper reason, this film became a Cult classic and one of the most controversial films of the time.

I think the best way to present the subject of this article would be to lead with a selection of influential quotes from the script, and so, that’s what I’ll do.

“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!”

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On the surface, this rule makes a lot of sense. Fight Club is a group of people formed in order to create a place where men can beat each other up for fun, or out of some kind of other need. That’s a pretty good reason for them to want to keep it “underground”, and be discreet about it. But if that is the case then, why are the first 2 rules identical? Could it be that there is more than meets the eye here?

First time – the rule in its regular form, keep Fight Club a secret. We don’t want anybody busting our “Party”.

Second time – the real and hidden meaning: Fight Club represents the authentic part in a person’s soul. It’s a basic need that is not met until a person breaks all conventions and goes after his heart’s desire. This issue is presented again and again all throughout the film- people’s personal unfulfillment, and all the wasted potential.

There lays the film’s biggest point of criticism – which we will focus on analyzing here.

“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it! an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Wow, that is definitely a powerful paragraph; in that paragraph lies the film’s essence.

“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived”
Here, you can clearly see meaning number 2 manifested.
The people who came to participate in fight club are people who are true to themselves. They are people who do not give up when they face failure. They are not deterred by battle (physically or metaphorically). They are people who stand on their own. They are the people who know that what we are missing, among other things, is MEANING.

“I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it! an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place” – Another very powerful quote.

Here, also lies the inner conflict presented in the film.
On the one hand, humans are not living up to their potential.
On the other hand: “Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else”. However, those among you who have a keen eye, may find, in this very quote, the first meaning I’ve mentioned above.
Tyler says to them – You are not special or unique, you too will die some day. Out of death and destruction, comes meaning.
“First you have to give up, first you have to *know*… not fear… *know*… that someday you’re gonna die”.
In the quote above, you can also find a double meaning.

The first meaning, which I referred to earlier, is turning death into a crucial part of life, that actually provides life it’s meaning.

If we were to live forever, we would have absolutely no reason to do anything right now. We would have no reason to try and advance in life, since well, we could do this action or that action, achieve this goal or that goal, anywhere from now to eternity.

The clear acknowledgement, that we too are going to die, gives us perspective. It makes us realize what’s really important in life.
Those are NOT the things we buy that we don’t need (that expensive desk from IKEA, or that luxury leather couch), it’s not our job, nor our upcoming longed promotion.

It’s the little things in life that matter: That hug from your partner when you’ve returned from a rather difficult day at work. Playing with your dog. Taking a nice hot bath. Drinking that ice cold beer you’ve been waiting for all day. Sitting on some random bench in the street looking over the horizon and thinking deeply about the meaning of life. Having an amazing meal, or taking a long walk on the beach.

Those small precious moments of happiness, are the only assets that provide meaning to our lives.

The second meaning, is a little more grim.
That meaning, is a little like the meaning as depicted in the book of Ecclesiastes, “there is no new under the son”, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.”

It appears that no matter what we do, everything loses it’s meaning in the end. This lovely apartment you spent half of your life working for? will not change a thing, in the end. You would still rot in the earth like every other living organism. Have you been a Billionaire? That’s fine work, but you could also find yourself dead in a car crash, what good will all your money be then? It probably won’t come with you to the afterlife.

I’d be honest with you, I don’t like this second meaning.
But even those who do embrace it as their life philosophy, could take solace in the second meaning (of the second meaning) – If nothing actually matters in life, there is absolutely no reason to be unhappy. No reason to be all bummed up for that test you flunked, or that you’re not as successful as your friends, or that you lost your apartment to a terrible fire.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
I want to make this quote even clearer – you’re free to do whatever you truly want to do.

We sometimes forget that. We forget that we don’t really have to do this thing or that thing. In our essence, we are all FREE.
That feeling and acknowledgement that we all arrive at the same place in the end, that in the end, everyone reaches the final equalizer, can set us free. It sets us free to understand what we truly want to do, how we truly want to live our lives.

In that context, Tyler continuously urges the hero to “Hit Bottom”, which doesn’t seem like a very productive advice. However, throughout the film we start to understand that only when we take off all of our masks, get rid of all our material possessions, and every other external thing that seems to define us, only then we can truly be free and emerge as our authentic selves.

In order to reach that state, we must go as low as we can get in regards to “normal” society, although we don’t actually go “low” but rather “deep”, into our core, our essence, our true authentic selves.

The Manliness element is also very prevalent in the film.
“We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.”
The concept behind fight club, in its most superficial level, is the process of uncovering our true “self”, our essence of pure manliness that wants to release it’s aggressions, to fight, to stand on it’s own.

But, is this what defines us as men?
Does street fights, aggression and our ability to take a punch, define who we are as men?

“How much can you know about yourself, if you’ve never been in a fight?”

Going deeper into the hidden meaning of this quote, as I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s about being a man in the 21st century.
What defines you as a man?
When gender equality starts to gather momentum (which is amazing, If it’s not clear, I’m all for gender equality, but I also believe that men today need a sense of direction), one needs to ask, what defines me as a man?

Fight club gave us the answer – the ability to stand on your own, take part in physical combat alongside other men, getting to know yourself in the deepest, rawest way possible, finding your path in the world.
Not according to what society dictates, but according to our most basic, ancient needs, that each and every one of us possesses. According to our unique desire to be unique, special, significant.

Now, I would like to address the part that intertwines the missing element of manliness in Tyler and the hero’s lives, and their choice of a different life, of nonconformism.

During the beginning-middle of the movie, Tyler and the hero talks about the meaning of their lives and their families.

The hero says that his father left them when he was 6 years old, since his father had this “habit” of going and raising a new family every couple of years (maybe to find meaning to his life? to feel manly?).

Tyler, however, said that his father accompanied him throughout his life, but it didn’t really feel like he was present. He was some sort of an echo, the echo of “normal”, conformist society. Tyler continued to say that every couple of years, he would ask his father what he should do with his life.
When Tyler was 18, his father told him to study. After school, he told him to find a job, and after that – get married and raise a family.
Seemingly – the “normal” order in which a man lives his life.
However, does his father’s words really count as “advice”?
Or maybe, his father wasn’t really present in his life, just like the hero’s father. He simply served as the mouthpiece of society?

The criticism that is given in this specific part, is against society in general – people don’t raise doubts, they just go with the herd, hoping it will provide them with happiness and fulfillment.

Another part in the movie that has a strong connection to the definition of manliness and nonconformism, is the scene where Tyler gives the hero an “initiation” through chemical burn. The hero tries to escape the pain using the techniques he learned (during his visit to the various health fascilities and support groups), but Tyler stops him. Tyler urges him to face the pain. He tells him to deal with the pain, for once, do not run away, do not deny it like you were taught. You must live in the here and now, for better or for worse. You must live the moment, and not spend his time living in a fantasy world. He must deal with difficulties and overcome him, by himself.

Soap – The yardstick of civilization.
Tyler mentions the story about an old river who was used both as a laundry site, and as a sacrificing site. The bodies, mixed with the other ingredients in the river, made a byproduct which had a similar effect to that of soap. Therefore this site became a popular site for the residents of the area to do their laundry. Out of this low and vile act of human sacrifices, we have discovered soap.
Therefore, one may claim that soap can symbolize our very human mistakes, out of which we’ve learned and evolved.
So even the choice of putting an emphasis on making soap in this film, is not accidental.

Furthermore, soap also serves as another criticism against modern society, and particularly against modern happiness – They were selling rich women their own fat asses back to them. It comes to show, that we became such a consumerist society, that we don’t even use our natural resources efficiently. Instead of recycling, we buy a new can. Instead of eating every part of the cattle, we eat only the “selected” parts, and we toss away everything else. Instead of donating our surplus of food, we throw it away.

In conclusion, I would like to address the two most meaningful parts in the film (at least for me).

The first scene, is when Tyler takes an unloaded gun, and starts to threaten a store clerk, which on his behalf, was sure he was about to die.
Tyler knew exactly what that fear of death would cause. His actual aim was to show this man that he was living a mediocre life, a life of a person who gave up on himself. However, the moment Tyler pointed a gun to his head, the clerk quickly becomes extremely motivated to fulfill his dream, since he’s realized that he is wasting his time in a mediocre job that he is not content with. He’s wasting his time, and isn’t realizing his potential.
And why? because he had a tough time, it was challenging. He was ready to give up on his dream because of a few hardships, thereby giving up on his life.

After the clerk sweared he would fulfill his dream, Tyler gives him a second chance and does not shoot him. That second chance that the clerk got, brings him renewed perspective towards life. It’s as if he was reborn again.
Hence, Tyler says the following sentence: “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessell’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal he has ever eaten.”

That is to say, it’s all a matter of perspective. When you get a second chance to live, and fulfill your dream, when you wake up to understand that “you’ve got the power”, you learn to appreciate life.
Out of this perspective, everything in your life becomes better, you become full of life and exuberance.

The second scene, is when Tyler and the hero ride in their car, and the hero starts to question Tyler about project “Mayhem”.
After a pretty “bumpy” ride, Tyler then starts asking the other people in the car, “What will you wish you’d done before you died?”
The other people in the car gave their responses immediately, silly as those answers were, the hero could not give a straight answer: “I don’t know!  Nothing!”.

That is probably because the hero is a metaphor of the common average joe, living his life according to what society dictates, without a purpose, without anything personal or unique to him. This criticism says a lot about the average man, who lives a grey, purposeless, aimless life, without any sense of “self”.

One could also claim that the question the hero asks himself throughout the film are questions each and every one of us asks ourselves during the course of our life. That’s probably because the hero is a representative of the average, common man – Notice that the hero identifies himself every time in a different name, and we do not truly know his real name (it’s not jack, The Narrator’s name is never specifically stated in either the novel or the film).

Furthermore, the different names the hero uses throughout the film indicates his attempts to find himself, to define who he really is, and to form his identity as an individual.
As it was said close to the end of the film: “People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it.”

I would finish with an open question – if you were to die soon, what would you want to do before you are dead?

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