Fight Club (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Soap is a much bigger plot point of this movie than you might think.
"You met me at a very strange time in my life."
—The Narrator

The first rule of Fight Club: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club: you do not talk about Fight Club. We intend to break both of those rules right now.

Fight Club, a 1999 movie directed by David Fincher and originally based on a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk, ended up becoming more famous than its literary inspiration (and even the author liked it better). It spawned two notable memes: one involves the first two rules of Fight Club, while the second involves the oft-repeated claim of a mix of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate making anything but the world's third-worst screwdriver.

The story itself follows the life of a man discontented with his life, which seems only to revolve around his dreary corporate job, support groups for diseases he doesn't have, and endless consumerism. During a business flight, the man meets a charismatic free spirit named Tyler Durden, and they eventually start a "support group" -- the titular "Fight Club" -- where other unhappy, unfulfilled men can get together and beat the ever-loving shit out of each other as a form of "therapy." Fight Club eventually escalates as Tyler turns from the man's best friend into a Sensei for Scoundrels -- and, eventually, into an Evilutionary Biologist.

Spoiler Alert: This film has a famous Twist Ending that you will find out if you read the spoiler text. Be warned.


Tropes used in Fight Club (film) include:
  • Ambiguous Situation: Subverted then played straight towards the end (when you start to rethink the scenes).
  • And Some Other Stuff: As noted above, frozen orange juice concentrate and gasoline doesn't really make homemade napalm. Several of the recipes were changed so that people wouldn't actually blow things up.
  • Anti-Hero: The Narrator is Type I. Tyler is a Type V.
  • Arc Words: Too many to count, this trope being a core part of Palahniuk's writing style (Palahniuk referred to them as "choruses".) "On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero," and "I know this because Tyler knows this" are three of the most well-known examples. There's also mentions of "space monkeys," and the "I am Jack's *insert characteristic here*," a reference to a famous series of Reader's Digest articles that described internal organs in the first person and "We have just lost cabin pressure."
  • Asskicking Pose: Tyler.
  • Bad Guy Bar: Lou's Bar.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: After the reveal of the Narrator's split personality, it turns out Marla's sudden change in behavior around him is because of it. Sport sex aside, she see's s sensitive side to who she thinks is Tyler Durden and tries to bring it more out of him only to be rebuffed by the Narrator who had no idea he was having sex with her at the time.
  • Battle Strip: No shirt, no shoes while fighting.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Subverted hard and then Lampshaded.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Marla and the Narrator.
  • Better Living Through Evil: Tyler helping the Narrator.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Bob is a nice guy, but he's also a former body builder and still capable in a fight. The Narrator learned that the hard way when he took Bob by surprise by punching him in the face. Bob then proceeded to get him into a sleeper hold making him tap. Taken further as Bob later joins Project Mayhem, making him one of the many responsible for numerous acts of assault and vandalism the group is known for.
  • Black Comedy: the ultimate "Should I Be Laughing?" movie!
  • Briar Patching: Subverted; see Wire Dilemma.
  • Broken Ace: Tyler, being the narrator's subconscious conception of his ideal self, which he manifests as an alternate personality.
  • Broken Record: "His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson."
  • Bullet Time: The narrator's dream of sleeping with Marla. Director Fincher was apparently embarrassed at the idea of directing a traditional sex scene, so he devised a more abstract way of presenting the material.
  • Call Back: An easy one to miss on your first viewing is the opening scene, when Tyler asks the narrator if he wants to say anything to "mark the occasion". The narrator replies that he "Can't think of anything." The film then goes back and works towards How We Got Here; when the scene plays out again, the line becomes "I still can't think of anything," which Tyler Lampshades with "Ah, flashback humor."
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Once he realizes the full extent of Project Mayhem's plans the narrator goes to the police and tells them the whole story, only to discover that the detectives he's talking are part of a Fight Club themselves, and they almost castrate him.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The cock that Tyler puts onto family friendly films reappears in the end of the film.
  • Cluster F-Bomb

Narrator: God dammit! Fuck you. Fuck Fight Club, fuck Marla, I am sick of all your shit.

Tyler: He fell down some stairs.
Narrator: I fell down some stairs.

"You don't know where I've been!"

  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Ho Yay between Tyler and the narrator is very much intentional.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The story is supposed to show how awful and self-destructive Fight Club, Project Mayhem and basically anything at all to do with Tyler Durden is, but some fans instead think it's glorifying violence and Tyler is living the life they all want to live, to the point where some people are setting up Fight Clubs.
    • Alternatively, the story is supposed to mock both ways. It's meant to scorn the normal corporate suburban life and how people need to learn to let go a little more, but also show the dangers of living completely like someone like Tyler. Both the book and the movie show that you can and need to find a balance, and not become a person solely focused on their appearance, money, and job, but not become a self-destructive nihilistic nut like Tyler. Project Mayhem was an exaggerated version of the very real Cacophony Society, which the author was a member of. The Cacophony Society was formed out of a group known as the Suicide Club (though they did not actually commit suicide) and is more or less the Evil Twin of Improv Everywhere, where they play pranks to make people unhappy rather than happy.
  • Easter Egg: In detail here.
  • Empty Fridge, Empty Life: "Yeah, I know, I know, a house full of condiments and no real food."
  • Escapism: Why the Fight Club's are invented and Tyler is.
  • Everything's Better with Bob: Robert Paulson.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Slide!
  • Everything's Better with Space Monkeys
  • Evil Feels Good: Tyler.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Tyler Durden. Sort of. More of an Evilutionary Sociologist, all things considered.
  • Fan Disservice: Lots of half-naked, sweaty, bloodied men. One of whom is Meat Loaf. With Boobs (capitalization justified).
  • Fan Service: Lots of half-naked, sweaty, bloodied men. One of whom is Brad Pitt.
  • Female Gaze: related to the Fan Service in the form of Tyler Durdan.
  • Fight Clubbing: The Trope Namer.
  • Foreshadowing: Especially obvious with lines such as, "I know this because Tyler knows this", "If you could wake up in a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?" When the Narrator fights himself in his boss' office, he muses, "For some reason, I was reminded of my first fight with Tyler."
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Tyler pops up in the film several times before his introduction proper, sometimes just for one or two frames. In-universe, Tyler amuses himself by splicing single frames of porn into children's films (this happens to the film itself immediately prior to the end credit sequence).
  • Freudian Threat: The threat to cut off someone's balls happens a few times.
  • Funny Background Event: The narrator sighs as he sees his new acquaintance Tyler shimmy up to an expensive convertible and drive away. As the narrator turns towards the camera in a fug of jealousy and self-loathing, the car owner is seen frantically pursuing Tyler down the street.
  • Gag Boobs: Bob is a rare male example.
  • Genre Busting: Looking past the bare-knuckle fights and domestic terrorism, this is probably the best example of a Romantic Black Comedy.
  • Good Cop, Bad Cop: The narrator and Tyler do this to the Project Mayhem applicants, which becomes really weird after you get to The Reveal.
  • Groin Attack: "Anyone interferes with Project Mayhem, we gotta get his balls."
  • Happy Place: The icy cave the Narrator imagines. Subverted during the chemical burn scene.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: By the end, Tyler has shaped his group to be just as conformist as the consumerist society he's trying to overthrow, and in some cases, it's even worse.
  • Hit Me Dammit: "I want you to hit me as hard as you can!"
  • Hollywood Nerd: The narrator is a Type 2.
  • How We Got Here: Thrice, actually. First scene-last scene, the 'help yourself group' and the traveling scenes
  • Ho Yay: All over the place, and in fact is an important part of the plot, since much of the conflict may stem from the Narrator's sexual confusion. The phallic imagery gets so out of control that at many points it's not even imagery. It should be noted that the Ho Yay was taken down a notch in the movie.
  • Hypocritical Humour: To summarize: "We were shaving our head and cutting our nails for Fight Club, this is entirely different from people who shave their head to be Cool.
  • I Ate What?: The movie has several references to people urinating or worse into food, based on stories told to the author by waiters who spoiled the food of bad customers.

Narrator: And clean food, alright?
Waiter in the Tyler-staffed restaurant: In that case, may I advise against the lady eating the clam chowder?

Tyler: "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."

  • Looks Like Cesare: Marla Singer.
  • Made of Iron: Lots of characters, but particularly Tyler.
  • Male Gaze: in regards to the Ho Yay.
  • Maniacal Laugh: Tyler Durden's, several times but especially, and most disturbingly, during his fight with Lou. This laughter is also used at the beginning of the DVD menu.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Darkly subverted with Marla. Tyler is sort of a Manic Pixie Dream Guy.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Tyler.
  • Marshmallow Hell: This is Bob. Bob had bitch tits.
  • Masquerade: If you're not allowed to talk about Fight Club, you might never know who is in on it and who isn't. This is especially true for the book, in which the narrator mentions that nobody knows whether a prank pulled in public was pulled by Project Mayhem or not because the first rule is you do not ask questions. This is lampshaded in both the book and movie when police officers the narrator is counting on to save him from castration appear to be part of Project Mayhem.
  • Meaningful Echo: A lot of them, too many to cite. Possibly as much as ten percent of the script.
  • Medium Awareness: Lots of deliberate film artifacts, including "cigarette burns" and sprocket holes. And, of course, a nice fat cock.
  • Memetic Mutation: Played darkly with in the In-Universe example, "His name is Robert Paulsen", when the Narrator first realizes that no matter how much he tries, any members of Project Mayhem not present at the birth of a rule will just become the Misaimed Fandom of the mutated meaning.
  • Mental Story: In large part, but a lot of interesting stuff happens in reality, too.
  • Mind Screw: The movie is weird from the start, but after a certain point, everything gets thrown out the window.
  • Missing Time: The plane sequences.
  • Mr. Exposition: The "Narrator".
  • Mr. Fanservice: Most conversations about how attractive Brad Pitt is will mention this film.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer focused on the fighting elements instead of the psychological elements.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Tyler sounds like one at first glance, but it soon becomes apparent that he's anything but a true nihilist.

Tyler Durden: 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.

  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • The "fights" in the film are usually sloppy brawls or lopsided beat-downs, particularly "Jack" vs Angel Face, and Tyler vs "Jack".
    • Lou beating the shit out of Tyler, who refuses to defend himself until Lou turns his back.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The Narrator's hometown is never given, but clues suggest that it is Wilmington, Delaware. Other cities are mentioned by name as locations of satellite Fight Clubs.
  • No Name Given: Ed Norton's character is known in the script only as the Narrator, and is never given a name in the film.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The Reveal throws everything that you thought was going on out the window, both for the audience and the Narrator.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Towards the end of the film, the Narrator figures out Tyler Durden exists as a hallucination of his id. Once this happens, the film shows previous scenes involving both the narrator and Tyler -- without Tyler in them.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Near the end of the movie, a major characters gets shot through the cheek, but seems to come out of it fine, except for the (plot-important) mental shock.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Jaret Leto's character is credited as "Angel Face". And of course the nameless Narrator has become known as "Jack" to fans, after one of the movie's most memorable running gags.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Helena Bonham Carter's English accent comes through at times, most obviously in the scene in which the narrator explains that he actually quite likes her.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall: Many scenes, especially the "Let me tell you about Tyler Durden" scene. Also: "Ah, flashback humor."
  • Pay Phone: The Narrator calls Tyler on a payphone after his apartment is blown up. Tyler doesn't answer, but calls the payphone back to talk to him. A few years later, this scene would probably never have happened.
  • Percussive Therapy: A big part of the movie's premise.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Marla compares a bridesmaid's dress to a rape victim. Since other dialogue indicates Marla's had other abusive partners in the past, she probably knows what she's talking about here...
  • Product Placement:
    • Fight Club subverts this by showing numerous name-brand products and companies -- while holding them up as examples of the failure of modern society. One notable scene involves Ed Norton's apartment morphing into the not-IKEA "Fürni" catalog page he ordered his furniture from. In the DVD Commentary, the filmmakers wondered what 7-UP thought about their glowing logo providing a silhouette for Tyler's gun. Hell, the Narrator himself says it outright: "When deep space exploration ramps up, it'll be the corporations that name everything. The IBM stellar sphere, the Microsoft galaxy. Planet Starbucks."
    • To shoot a scene where Project Mayhem destroy a Starbucks shop with a dislodged street sculpture, the producers needed permission to use the Starbucks logo. According to the DVD Commentary, they tried to use it anywhere they could manage when they received permission.
  • Rated "M" for Manly: Fight Club's story imparts the idea of society neutering male nature and discouraging traditionally male impulses and activities by labeling them shameful. The Fight Clubs (before Project Mayhem) exist as a way for the characters to subvert society's expectations by allowing them to release their impulses in secret (the dialogue makes sure to emphasize the Club's male-exclusive status). This theme makes Fight Club one of the most notable masculist works in recent pop culture history.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Tyler is impulsive and rash, whereas the Narrator is a calm and cool corporate executive. Their different personalities are, of course, all mixed-up in the heat of the fight, and then we find out that they're actually Not So Different.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Tyler
  • The Reveal: that Tyler is the Narrator
  • Revised Ending: In the book, the protagonist tries to destroy one building, but fails when Tyler botches the explosive mixture (which the book foreshadows in the opening chapter). The Narrator ends up in a mental institution -- though he considers it Heaven -- and some of its wardens are members of Project Mayhem, who patiently wait for Tyler to return from the depths of the Narrator's mind. The book also explicitly says the mental split happened the moment the Narartor fell in love with Marla -- the Tyler psyche loved her, while his regular psyche hated her -- while the movie only hinted at this. In the movie, the Narrator manages to regain his sanity, but eleven buildings end up annihilated by Tyler's explosives, with the Narrator and Marla hold hands while watching in awe. Big black cock, roll credits. Chuck Palahniuk liked the movie's ending more than his.
  • Rule Number One: There are eight rules, though people only remember the first two (which are the same rule) due to Memetic Mutation.
  • Rule of Cool: Tyler's clothes.
  • Rule of Sexy: Tyler.
  • Screw Yourself: Ho Yay between Tyler Durden and the Narrator is something akin to this.
  • Second Person Narration: The "You wake up at SeaTac" scene.
  • Secret Other Family: The narrator's father, repeatedly.

"Fucker's setting up franchises."

  • Sensei for Scoundrels: The trope was originally titled "The Tyler Durden".
  • Shirtless Scene: The sixth rule of Fight Club says "no shirts, no shoes". Bob averts this rule without comment. Guess why? (It also saved money on makeup effects.)
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Bob, the testicular cancer survivor. Look, our comical friend Bob joins Fight Club, and he's awesome! Look, Bob gets shot in the head! The remainder of the film is much more somber.
  • The Snark Knight: The narrator and Tyler, Tyler more so, since he is literally the narrator's uninhibited id.
  • Subliminal Seduction:
    • Tyler inserts single frames of pornography into children's films -- and later threatens to reveal this to the public unless the boss of the projectionists' union pays him off.
    • Tyler shows up this way in a few scenes before his first proper scene, generally as a way to trip out the audience.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: One of the potential recruits for Project Mayhem has bright yellow hair. When the Drill Sergeant Nasty-equivalent starts cutting the recruits down, he rips into the blonde's hair color, as he can't find anything else to riff on.
  • Tagline:
    • How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?
    • When you wake up in a different place at a different time, can you wake up as a different person?
    • Losing all hope is freedom.
    • Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.
    • Works great even on blood stains.
    • Übermut. Chaos. Seife. (Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.)
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Because we all invent alternative selves and then rename ourselves to get out of crappy jobs.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: A classic example.
  • Trailers Always Lie: Most of the trailers made the film look like a straight-up fighting movie, which didn't help it at the box office.
  • Trickster: Tyler.
  • Troll: Tyler.
  • Ubermensch: Tyler. Charismatic? Check. Atheistic? Check. Has agenda intended to tear down the existing establishment (mindless consumerism coupled with a society where masculinity cannot be expressed openly) with a new paradigm after rejecting all previous moral codes and overcoming the inherent nihilism? Check. Has a Last Man equivalent (and in the protagonist, no less)? Check.
  • The Unfettered: Tyler Durden

"I look like you want to look, I fuck like you want to fuck, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not."

Tyler Durden: Hi. You're going to call off your rigorous investigation. You're going to publicly state that there is no underground group, or we are going to take your balls. […] The people you are after are the people you depend on; we cook your meals, we connect your calls, we guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us.