Fight Club: An Examination of Mental Health, Masculinity, and Consumerism

Paper by Gus Hernandez.

Introduction The 1999 film Fight Club follows a nameless mentally ill man that starts an underground club with strict rules where men fight one another. The film is an adaptation of the novel by Chuck Palahniuk and was directed by David Fincher. Fight Club was filmed in California in various locations in Los Angeles and on sets in Century City. The film is a fictional narrative falling under the genres of action, thriller, and drama. Though initially not well received at the box office, it was considered one of the most controversial and discussed films of 1999, and remains a classic today (“Fight Club (Film)”). Ironically, it was granted a $75 million dollar budget by companies that the film itself critiques (Ramey 25).

Fight Club follows a man, who from here on out will be referred to as “the Narrator,” who is wrapped up in the rat race of life. Motivated by consumerism and capitalistic values, he begins to lose appreciation for life and develops insomnia. He seeks distraction in an unlikely place in the form of a support group. The support group seems to give him temporary release and he is able to finally sleep again. The Narrator’s world is rocked when Marla Singer infiltrates his support groups. He develops another personality which allows him to live freely from society’s restrictions, even creating his own group, Project Mayhem, which commits increasingly damaging acts of anti-capitalist vandalism. This persists until the Narrator’s other personality,Tyler Durden, threatens his own existence, so the Narrator claims his life back by simply shooting himself.

Perhaps the most critical scene of the film comes at the very ending when the Narrator shoots himself. It represents the film coming full circle as this location and time is where the film begins. It also represents a major turning point, solidifying the film’s plot twist, and bringing the film’s ultimate resolution. This scene gives insight into society’s relationship with consumerism and masculinity. Through its use of mise-en-scène, editing, and cinematography, the film utilizes the characters of the Narrator and Tyler Durden to assert the overarching themes of mental health, hyper-consumerism, and masculinity.

Part 1
The final scene begins immediately after Tyler Durden and the Narrator fight. It takes place in a poorly lit room on the top floor of a building that is currently under construction; said building overlooks the city – in specific, the major credit card company buildings that Project Mayhem is set to destroy. In the scene, the Narrator confronts Tyler Durden, acknowledging that he is of his own creation – meaning that the gun Tyler has been brandishing at him is actually in his own hands. Thus, he realizes that in shooting himself, he can eliminate Tyler Durden, effectively reclaiming his own life. He proceeds to shoot himself in the cheek, killing Tyler. Shortly after this, the Project Mayhem members arrive with Marla. The men leave, one offering to get medical supplies, and the Narrator begins explaining himself to Marla. They are interrupted by the large financial buildings exploding in the background, and the two hold hands as the towers crumble to the floor.

The succession of shots that comprise the scene draw up the drama of the plot and keep the audience intrigued as to what will happen next. The mise-en-scène of the scene is generally composed to incite a sense of eeriness, intrigue, and anticipation from the audience; it also affirms the characters’ identities. The lighting is dark, and everything appears in a cool tone. Most of the light in the shots comes from the skyline outside the window, or from the side from various fixtures in the room. This creates a feeling of uneasiness in the audience as something about the setting feels off. The characters appear as representations of their personalities: Tyler Durden wears a loud, bold tank top that show off his muscles and therefore hyper-masculinity, while the Narrator wears a simple, dark trench coat and has a freshly beaten face, indicative of his more reserved, timid, and submissive nature. Tyler’s top is somewhat contradictory to traditional gender roles as such loud patterns could be considered feminine; it is also not necessarily in line with what is “cool” and fashionable. In a way, this challenges the traditional sense of masculinity as well as hyper-consumerism. Conversely, the Narrator’s attire is more conforming to societal expectations. Their clothing alone emphasizes their roles as one another’s character foils.

Beyond this, the shots are arranged in a way that typically centers whomever is speaking. This creates a sense of division between the two characters, and gives the audience insight into what it is like to be the Narrator with the two truly seeming like two completely different people, when in fact they are one. In terms of cinematography and editing, the scene is effectively composed of short takes, majority of which are done as medium shots and utilize eyeline shots. By keeping the shots so short and by stacking so many short takes, the scene feels very fast- paced, jumping from one character to another, quite literally creating visual back and forth. Together, the shots work to show the rapid-fire progression of the scene. This is confirmed from the beginning of the scene where the narrator is still confused as to who Tyler is. Separately, the shots emphasize the Narrator’s confusion and internal back-and-forth. There is also notably a nod given to Tyler Durden’s cinematography work at the very end, as a pornographic image is spliced into the scene as a quick flash. This creates confusion in the audience and begs multiple questions such as: is Tyler really gone, and namely, why? It is possible that this instance re- emphasizes the film’s theme of masculinity, and falls in line with the Narrator reclaiming his own sense of self, including his own version of masculinity, or that it simply bolsters questions about Tyler Durden – as well as the Narrator’s stability.

Overall, the acting is well-delivered and highlights the internal conflict and external goals of the characters. Both Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are believable, and maintain their roles appropriately. The Narrator comes off as confused, then empowered, while Tyler projects confidence and then notably tries to hide his worry as the Narrator pieces together reality. The sound is used to draw up drama and curiosity within the audience. For example, an instrumental drum beat plays steadily while the Narrator figures out what is going on and devises a plan to overcome Tyler. It picks up slightly once he points the gun at himself, increasing suspense in the audience. The beat only stops once the Narrator pulls the trigger. At this point in time, the sound emphasizes the gunshot, subsequent casing hitting the floor, and ringing in the characters’ ears. From there, the sounds are nothing beyond footsteps and dialogue until the very end of the movie, when “Where Is My Mind” by the Pixies plays following the sounds of the buildings exploding. This is an appropriate song as it alludes to the Narrator’s new state of mind and bolsters curiosity in the audience as to what the Narrator and Marla’s future will be – especially after their major criminal act against consumerism. Collectively, these elements create a sense of drama in the scene and affirm its importance. They help highlight the Narrator’s unpacking of what has been occurring in his head, while drawing focus to the film’s themes of mental health, hyper-consumerism, and masculinity.

Overall, meaning is created and imparted to the viewer directly through dialogue and mise-en-scène, and subliminally through images, such as the collapse of the financial buildings. As the buildings fall, the audience is reminded of the anti-consumerism messages in the film, and as Marla and the Narrator look toward one another – quite literally standing up to capitalism – it is also a question of what is to come with the ending of the buildings and the inevitable start of something new. In general, the shots back and forth between Tyler and the Narrator convey information by showing the audience that the two characters are the same person. The shots convey characterization by showing what is happening in the mind of the Narrator. He is figuring out that he is Tyler and Tyler is him. The back and forth is a literal representation of what is going on in the Narrator’s head. The shots in this scene were used to create a sense of urgency and rapid-fire. Everything leading up to the Narrator shooting himself occurs rapidly, jumping back and forth between characters from varying camera angles. Upon shooting himself, the shots become slow motion initially, and then the takes become gradually longer, until the end, when the buildings collapse in the longest take of the scene. This is done to emphasize what is most important and make said instances the heaviest in the eyes of the audience.

Meaning is built up in the scene by revealing the plot twist of the Narrator’s disorder and the great lengths he goes to reclaim his sense of self. Though it does not spell them out, the scene itself provides several reminders of the film’s themes of masculinity, hyper-consumerism, and mental health. This is done particularly through mise-en-scène, which gives nod to these topics which were more evident in the dialogue throughout the film.

Part 2
In terms of form, this scene ties all of the others together and brings the film full circle. Having opened with the start of this scene, the audience becomes up-to-speed with the Narrator and can finally begin to understand what led to the Narrator’s situation as shown at the very start of the film. While the scene touches on mental health as a theme, it most heavily relates to masculinity and hyper-consumerism as it displays two characters on different sides of masculinity, while also taking a very clear stance against consumerism as the financial institutions literally collapse to the ground. By drawing this conclusion after having hashed out several instances of dialogue that speak against consumerism or highlight various notions of masculinity, this scene is able to drive home said themes with subtlety that ultimately burn lasting images in the head of the viewer: from the gunshot, to the buildings collapsing, to the inserted pornographic image.

This scene relates to the overall narrative as it represents some of the film’s falling action as well as its resolution. Without this scene, the film would be completely unsatisfying and leave too much to the imagination of the audience. The film loosely follows a 3-act-structure, although character goals are somewhat difficult to discern at times. While some of the Narrator’s motivations are evident as he rants about consumerism and troubles in his work life, his literal goals – as the viewer finds out by the end – were not exactly spelled out as the audience arguably never has a clear image of who exactly the Narrator is. The film deviates from the Classical Hollywood Narrative in this sense; it relies on an unreliable narrator so the plot remains questionable and at times, is enigmatic to the audience. It is this narrative structure that makes this final scene stand out so significantly. It is at this point that the protagonist becomes arguably his most reliable, and the narrative therefore seems most familiar to the audience.

Overall, Fight Club’s use of mise-en-scène, editing, and cinematography asserts the themes of mental health, hyper-consumerism, and masculinity. The ending scene in particular upholds these notions, highlighting a significant shift in the Narrator’s mental health, showing his alter-ego/subconscious self’s acts against consumerism, and showcasing a notable step in the Narrator’s journey through masculinity – especially having navigated dissatisfaction with his own life channeled into primal, aggressive fighting that ultimately yielded brotherhood and a major rebellion against the system. Understanding this scene is vital to understanding this film as a whole in the sense that it culminates the themes of the film and finalizes the plotline with a resolution that not only solves the Narrator’s problem, but also leaves space for the audience to desire more of the story. Without this scene, the plot’s telling of the Narrator’s internal navigation of his own mental health, masculinity, and thoughts on consumerism would be pointless.

Works Cited

Ramey, Mark. Studying Fight Club, Auteur Publishing, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, “Fight Club (Film).” Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, 2022,

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