*warning: having seen/read fight club is necessary to grasp this post. read at your own risk.*
tyler durden is one of my favorite ‘fictional’ characters. he served as the inspiration for my final paper in my recent studies in film class. so here’s me breaking rule #1:
i have a theory. tyler durden in fight club is not just a projection or a figment of the narrator’s imagination. he is very, very real. not in a physical sense, but intellectual.
though the narrator suffers from insomnia, his struggles are not a byproduct of his sickness. his problems are those of our own. we all have an internal battle just like the narrator. & whether we recognize it or not, we all have our own tyler in us.
the unnamed protagonist is coping with insomnia not because a doctor refuses to prescribe him medication, he cannot cry, or marla singer has invaded his support groups. the narrator cannot sleep because he cannot feel. life becomes mere existence to him. this is evidenced when he says, “when you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep, & you’re never really awake.” he loses all meaning.
the lifestyle he has chosen prevents him from feeling. he is completely undermining & compromising what he truly wants. it comes to a point where there is such discord between how he wants to live & how he is actually living, that he subconsciously creates tyler. tyler becomes the overly-sensationalized & exaggerated ideal form of self to the narrator. just as tyler says, “all the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. i look like you wanna look, i fuck like you wanna fuck, i am smart, capable, & most importantly, i am free in all the ways that you are not.”
the last part of that quote really emphasizes what made the character tyler durden. he had a sense of freedom that the narrator deeply yearned for. for the narrator began to feel like a slave to society. at one point, the narrator says, “at the time, my life just seemed too complete, & maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.” but, the ‘complete’ he mentions speaks only to extrinsic materials. his life was consumed by working & buying furniture from IKEA. he felt chained to his job & possessions. he was far from complete, as he was stuck in a rat hole cycle. tyler highlights this style of living when he says, “advertising has us chasing cars & clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
for tyler, this became a massive problem that plagued the masses. people started pursuing that which was not important & did not matter. his angst is clearly demonstrated when he says, “you’re not your job. you’re not how much money you have in the bank. you’re not the car you drive. you’re not the contents of your wallet. you’re not your fucking khakis.” tyler also adds at one point, “…the things you used to own, now they own you.” the narrator fell into this trap of consumerism. materialism started to drive people’s lives & attaining status became a focal point.
tyler shows that not only do we not need these things to control our lives, but we didn’t want them in the first place. author seth godin harps on this fact as well, saying “sometimes, though, we get sold a dream instead of creating our own.” one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie is when tyler holds raymond k. hessel at gun point & threatens to kill him if he does not become what he truly wants: a veterinarian. it was only in the face of (seeming) death that raymond was able to recognize what he should be doing.
the same can be said for the scene in the car when tyler drives in the opposite lane, asking the narrator “if you died right now, how would you feel about your life?” during a heated argument with the narrator, tyler tells him “stop trying to control your life & just let go.” at this point, the car crashes down a hill. all survive, & tyler responds, “we just had a near-life experience.”
these scenes portray how tyler is willing to go at any lengths to achieve his goal. however unorthodox or extreme his methods are, the end always justifies the means to him. more importantly, it sheds light on how tyler wants us to focus in on being the person we want to be.
letting go. to me, this is the central message that tyler is trying to communicate. we need to let go of our possessions, our status, & our conception of who we are. we need to stop materialism, consumerism, & most importantly, ourselves, from getting in the way. when we don’t, we let fear control us. the key is to overcome & surpass this fear. tyler states, “no fear. no distractions. the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”
we see this in the movie. tyler lives a humble & minimalist life. his apartment is broken-down & barely functioning. he works a handful of odd jobs that doesn’t make much money. most of his time is spent on fight club. he has let go & is free. the first time in the entire movie when we see the narrator truly feel is in fight club himself. he says, “you aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club.” this comes after his apartment burned down & he lost all his possessions. it comes after removing all the clutter in his life so he could focus on what was important.
over the past year, i have become fascinated by the idea of minimalism. i have been fortunate enough to come across several individuals who are living out this kind of lifestyle.
colin wright (exilelifestyle.com) is a graphic designer who lives life with a twist. after working one year on his own branding studio in los angeles, he felt like something was missing. so he decided to make a drastic change. he condensed everything he owned down to a carry-on suitcase (52 items in total) & left the country. he now moves to a different country every 4 months, where the readers of his blog vote where he will go next.
amber rae (heyamberrae.tumblr.com) is a self-described “creative catalyst & starter of meaningful things.” after college, she started working at a technology startup in san francisco. but, she felt stuck. so, in one week, she sold her car, furniture, & all but 12 outfits, & moved to new york city. describing her move, “feeling uncomfortable, i think, is one of the greatest pleasures in life. it embodies the length at which you’re willing to push yourself to learn, grow & truly experience life.” among many projects, she is now the chief evangelist of the domino project, working with seth godin to reinvent publishing.
weezie yancey-siegel (eduventurist.org) is a sophomore undergraduate student at pitzer college in southern california. she became captivated by the notion of lifestyle design. feeling that school wasn’t sufficient, she took this past semester off to experiment with a self-designed, experiential approach to learning. she created a personal syllabus of her own & traveled across the country.
these three stories perfectly relate to the narrator in fight club. each of them were longing for something more. to make a change, they each had to make sacrifices. they had to give up possessions. they had to leave family & friends. they had to go against the traditional path & conventional route of life. most importantly, they had to give up control. in each of these scenarios, little planning was involved. they weren’t prepared, but they went. they didn’t wait, they just did. they were able to harness the tyler within them & make a change for the better.
now, tyler is not perfect. in fact, he is a very flawed character who is driven by impulse. in the story, tyler becomes more & more powerful who continues to seek greater action. in the end, he develops a plan for complete equality & anarchy. ultimately, tyler cannot win. thus, it is imperative we recognize the shortcomings that tyler comes with. he can be immensely self-destructive. but, for all that is bad with tyler, there is just as much good if we can properly channel him.
at the end, the narrator finally realizes he has power over tyler. that he can control him. he ultimately decides to ‘destroy’ tyler. however, i do not perceive this act to be one that communicates we need to rid tyler from ourselves. rather, i view it as an evolution. the narrator & tyler become one. the narrator comes to grow as an individual from tyler & the lessons he left. he is a different person because of tyler. this is exactly how tyler wants us to live as well, saying “i say never be complete. i say stop being perfect. i say let’s evolve. let the chips fall where they may.”
letting go doesn’t necessarily lead to a happy or successful life. i’m not here to argue that. what i can say, though, is that if we don’t we hold ourselves back. we prevent progress. i reckon that we need to spend more time with the tyler in us all, so we can acknowledge & embrace him.
we need to so we can ultimately create a harmony between what we should be doing & what we are actually doing. so that those two are one in the same. so we & tyler become one. so we enable ourselves to truly feel alive.
“it’s only after you’ve lost everything,” tyler says, “that you’re free to do anything.”