Recently, my film adaption class studied Fight Club and for my final paper, I wrote about how the world that Chuck Palahniuk depicts in his novel is a Biblical take on American culture. If you haven’t seen Fight Club, my essay might be confusing. (It also spoils the movie.) I recommend watching it if you haven’t before or rewatching it if you don’t remember the themes. I didn’t realize how layered it was until I saw it a second time. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it!
Fight Club Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Giving Up)
David Fincher’s Fight Club explores the depravity and internal hopelessness of man’s nature with themes of idolatry, control, and purpose through a narrative that resembles the Christian worldview. There are several allusions to the Bible throughout the film and novel alike. Chuck Palahniuk wrote an extremely anti-humanitarian story, depicting the fallenness of man.
However, he seems to mock the concept that mankind can be redeemed, making the statement that Tyler Durden, a Jesus-like figure, is only a figment of the narrator’s imagination and an extension of who he wishes he could be. Palahniuk’s novel could be called a cautionary tale for people who strive for more in life than the mundane, but depend on themselves as a solution.
While it is a negative portrayal of humanity, Fight Club displays a multitude of truths, providing social commentary and insight to our quest for purpose. Palahniuk writes about how our longing for more than indoor lives can lead us to focus heavily on ourselves, contrasting man’s search for identity with man’s search for God. The film ends with an honest realization in the narrator’s “giving up” that American culture denies in self-help books and an emphasis on therapy: we can’t save ourselves from ourselves.
The unnamed narrator exchanges his life of comfort offered to him in materialism for a newfound god in his ideal self, Tyler Durden. It is ironic that the narrator’s personal idol is a subject of his idolatry, and that Tyler and him turn out to be the same person. He has been looking to himself for answers all along, indicating a reason why he hasn’t found any new, long-lasting solutions to living a worthy life. The narrator doesn’t want to risk anything, and decides to trust in himself, hence the line “in Tyler we trust,” clearly replacing God with his alter ego.
In the end, the narrator must surrender and give up his life regardless of what he has built in fight club, realizing he can’t even trust himself as he watches how his actions have destroyed everything around him, literally.
In the film, Tyler says, “Self-improvement is masturbation. Now, self-destruction…” According to him, trying to be a better person is purely an act of ego, a way to show people how polite or caring you can be, almost as a way to outshine others. It’s a different kind of fight club. The Protestant view of Christianity believes that good works can’t offer salvation or holiness because our sinfulness against God is too great. Overlapping with the Biblical truth that no one can be purely good, Tyler knows that it is an impossible task to become a perfect person. It’s an insincere and self-gratifying waste of time as seen in the stories about the pharisees.
However, self-destruction as an effort to discover the truth of someone’s heart is honorable and brave, because the answer as we learn later on is discomforting and grim. “Tyler says I’m nowhere near hitting the bottom, yet. And if I don’t fall all the way, I can’t be saved. Jesus did it with his crucifixion thing” (Palahniuk, 70). This “hitting the bottom” would be the narrator facing the uncomfortable answer that we are sinful and can’t work towards salvation. Until the narrator understands this truth, he can’t be “free” as he goes onto say. To do so, he first has to leave the things he cherishes, such as the furniture he’s bought overtime from the Ikea catalogues. He must abandon the life he had so that he can grow into something greater than he’s known, an idea similar to what Jesus tells those who want to follow him in the Bible. As it is written in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
In order for Tyler to become truer to who he really is, he has to sacrifice a life that he realizes isn’t heading anywhere. This isn’t much to be asked of him since his apartment blew up and everything he’s known is no longer in existence.
Given no choice but to leave the ashes of his old self behind, the narrator moves into Tyler’s place, an abandoned house with rotting walls and weak floorboards. His new home is symbolic of who he is at heart, representing the narrator’s growth. Accepting the reality of man’s nature is the first step to finding meaning in it. This could also be applied to a person’s conversion to Christianity. In any paradigm shift, a realization about the world acts as a foundation for more knowledge to be built upon. Many testimonies of faith begin with a belief that the world is broken and can’t help itself in becoming better. As Tyler says, “‘It’s only after you’ve lost everything… That you’re free to do anything’” (70). We’re given freedom when we aren’t attached to the things we put too much worth in that consequently harm us. This truth is also seen in scripture as those who follow Jesus are told to abandon the lives they previously had, leaving distractions and idols in the past.
Tyler’s removal of identities from those in fight club by collecting driver licenses parallels Jesus renaming his disciples following their conversions. In the Bible, Simon is renamed to Peter and Saul is renamed to Paul. This theme of rebirth is evident throughout Fight Club, as the nameless narrator, who is given a name in the end, talks about death and the resurrection. The death of Christ on the cross represents a renewal of those who believe in him, releasing them from the blinding confines of sin and doubt. This is how Christians are given new identities, and similarly do those who join fight club break away from their old lifestyles.
Conversion in Fight Club is also seen in “waking up.” Early on in the film, the narrator asks himself, “If you wake up at a different time in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” The narrator is caught between living and dying as he struggles with insomnia. Once he gets past his problem of going to sleep, he begins to take ahold of his life. He has woken up from a life without ambition and not long after, he becomes Tyler Durden.
Just as followers of Christ are told to set an example and represent their faith in the world, Tyler sends members of fight club on missions in Project Mayhem to make a difference in society. As a way to “save the world,” they have to destroy it, much like they have destroyed themselves, to reveal humanity for what it truly is. Christian evangelism is unlike other religions’ evangelism as it doesn’t intend to convert people, but instead to “plant a seed” of the gospel in the minds of others. It isn’t to make new Christians, but to bring an awareness of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Project Mayhem intends to do something similar in revolutionizing the world by changing our view of it.
At this time in the film, Tyler has vanished and rumors of what happened to him have spread. The narrator searches for Tyler and while traveling notices there are more fight clubs forming with the legend of Tyler being passed on. The good news of Tyler Durden and fight club is being told to the nations, just as Christianity spread after the resurrection of Jesus.
It could be interpreted that beneath the narrator’s search for meaning is a pursuit of happiness. The American dream doesn’t hold up in his worldview, and he is looking for something that fulfills the void he has experienced in Ikea catalogues and 9-5 workdays. The narrator recognizes his need for a new narrative that defies the one the culture abides by. The inclusion of faith throughout Fight Club makes sense as Christianity offers answers accompanied by peace to those who believe, both of which the narrator is chasing after.
C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “All that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” The narrator’s lack of happiness in his materialism fits with his disregard of faith. He abuses the church’s support groups by attending them so that he can be relieved of a burden.
His attempts to control his life can be traced back to how he lives in constant criticism of the world. It isn’t until he is told to “let go” by Tyler that he experiences contentment. By letting go, he sees things for what they are, not what he assumed they were out of an arrogant angst.
In the narrator’s death, he is humbled as he lays down the pride he was clinging to. It is much like a deathbed conversion when a person begins to understand the implications of dying and has no choice but to accept the very thing they had rejected throughout their life: faith — a worldview that requires people to rely on something apart from themselves.