How the World of Psychology Applies to This Famous Novel.
by Bryan R. Price.
Yahoo! Contributor Network.
Fight Club was originally a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, and was made into a movie a short time after the book's success. Palahniuk's contemporary and often vulgar writing style has made the author not only a good fortune, but a huge fan base of support. In all of Palahniuk's books, a great deal of psychology theory and ideas are present- and Fight Club is no different.
Fight Club's success is more than just well written content- it was a book and movie geared towards younger men. Books such as "Little Women" and other women-themed movies were plentiful- but the same could not be said for male content. The book and movie differ in many ways- so focus will be put on the movie. In the movie, the main character's name is somewhat of a mystery. Through various clues, the avid film buff will notice that small hints suggest the character's name is Jack Moore, as seen on a check.
Jack is a rather disturbed individual, who suffers from insomnia. Jack sees a doctor, who tells him to visit a support group to see what pain really was- and declined to give Jack medicine. Jack finds an ability to sleep after going to these support groups, often of which he ends up crying to relieve stress from a common office job, common apartment, and a dull, bland, life. This is where things take a turn for the worst- as Marla Singer is introduced. She makes an appearance at one of the support groups for males only- so she is clearly what Jack calls a "faker". Jack is also a "faker", of course, but he finds that he can not enjoy the support groups knowing that Marla is there faking along with him. Eventually, he confronts her and they work out a temporary solution- which ultimately ends up failing.
Meanwhile, Jack meets Tyler Durden. Tyler is a strong hater of common culture, and considered to be a nihilist. Tyler and Jack form a much more involved friendship after Jack's apartment explodes- which effectively ruins his life and everything he owned. Tyler and Jack end up fighting in a parking lot out of being curious, and end up forming a fight club when other men start to join. These applicants are usually the type that grew up without a father- a rather interesting fact to take note while watching.
Throughout the movie, Tyler and Jack start to drift apart, as Tyler forms a project to attack popular consumer culture. Eventually, Jack and Tyler find themselves at the end of their efforts, with Tyler ready to watch a few credit card buildings explode from the amount of explosives he had ordered to be planted. Jack realizes that Tyler is actually him- and nothing more than an apparition or split personality. Jack ends up putting a gun inside his mouth and pulling the trigger, only to still live and realize that Tyler is gone. Jack then wakes up in a mental hospital, with the movie ending with a scene of the fight club members planning to continue their efforts against society- and claiming Tyler will come back.
The movie and book both focus on existentialism- which is the philosophy that an individual must make meaning from a chaotic and empty universe- and this individual is often the object of suffering. Throughout the movie, there are scenes where there is clear cut evidence of this. For instance, Tyler claims, "Only after disaster can we be resurrected" . Another piece of evidence of existentialism comes when Tyler states, "It's only after we've lost everything that we are free to do anything." At one point, Tyler inflicts a chemical burn onto Jack, which is a lesson that tries to explain the sole fact that you will never get anywhere in life until hitting rock bottom. Existentialism defines the need for one to make decisions to better one's life- and that a person is who they are determined to be. Clearly, the movie focuses on this philosophy throughout the entire movie- as several main themes and subtexts are based from it.
Sigmund Freud is a notable psychologist that suggested the existence of the id, ego, and superego. The id is essentially the driving force that demands pleasure constantly . The ego is the checks and balances of the id, as it waits for a safe or healthy moment for pleasure to be obtained. Finally, the superego is the moral standard that suppresses the id. Jack has a very interesting system of morals in Freud's terms. Jack is first satisfied with the common, bland life of having a normal job and condo. His superego is clearly doing a great job. However, it may be functioning all to well- as the id apparently creates Tyler Durden in an attempt to overcome its suppressor. While the id is successful in achieving its purpose, the ego is still operational. While it is hard to see, as Tyler and Jack are exact opposites- the ego acts as a mediator between the two in the end of the conflict. As Jack and Tyler become equally aware of each other, the ego can claim responsibility of bringing a sense of peace to the situation.
Also, there is the matter of gender identity confusion to take into effect. Although Jack shouldn't be considered feminine, there is a definite difference between Jack and Tyler in regards to masculinity. For instance, Jack collects furniture for a hobby. This is far from masculine, and far from the gender identity of Tyler. It would seem that the gender identity confusion adds to the correct balance of id and superego  - and ultimately helps Jack achieve things he otherwise could not. For instance, Jack gets into his first fight, albeit with himself. He defies his boss, in an act of rebellion against conformity. He also finds an attractive woman to date off and on, depending on the state of his identity. This lack of masculinity could be attributed to Jack's lack of a father figure in early childhood- but either way, it ends up causing catastrophic consequences in his personality.
Another psychologist, Abraham Maslow, suggested the idea of self-actualization. This is the idea that all humans try to make the most of their abilities, and to strive towards success to the fullest ability . Individuals who achieve such self-actualization are considered to be creative, embrace facts rather than avoid them, spontaneous, appreciate life, like to solve puzzles, and of course have morals. Essentially, this is the act of achieving the peak of one's potential. Interestingly, there is a paradox within Fight Club concerning this subject. Tyler claims that men who wish to achieve freedom from a controlling father-figure will only be self-actualized once they have children and become fathers themselves. Essentially, the only way to self-actualization in this statement is to become what you are trying to defy. However, the narrator eliminates Tyler through shooting himself- and achieves self-actualization in effect.
Obviously, following a matriarch-style of development has either directly given Jack his problems, or at least contributed to them. As with other characters in the book and movie, most notably in the fight club, the majority of men relate to Jack through not experiencing a father figure. This has led a generation of youth develop without the guidance of a father- and in essence shaped masculinity through much harsher means. Interestingly, this has made an increase in schizophrenics . Poverty is usually a cause of schizophrenia, and this is very much more common among single mother families than that of couples or single father families. This makes it very possible that Jack was suffering from schizophrenia because of poverty- although other factors could have been a direct cause. Heredity is another big cause of the disorder- and Jack's father was not mentioned in this context. It would appear that the exact cause of Jack's possible schizophrenia can not be determined because of lack of evidence.
Finally, it is important to relate psychosis and sleep deprivation to the film. Jack suffers from a bad case of insomnia- which can have detrimental effects. These effects can lead to forms of psychosis  - which makes schizophrenia a very viable effect as a result. When Jack is denied medication, he instead finds release in another form. Because of this he experiences schizophrenia less than he was before, although he might not have known it. It would seem that everything follows a massive chain reaction- which eventually leads to schizophrenia and an eventual internal conflict.
Fight Club is incredibly accurate in terms of validity. This comes to no surprise, as the author is both very qualified and very knowledgeable. Everything that could be explained in medical terms can likewise be explained through several theories or ideas. The effects of these health afflictions are very real- such as the insomnia or schizophrenia. Interesting psychological terms such as self-actualization and gender identity come into play- and with amazing accuracy. It seems Hollywood has made a successful and fact-proven work of art. Although, it would seem the credit should likely go to Chuck Palahniuk- who sold the rights of his works to have a movie made. Overall, the movie is incredibly accurate, and is definitely worth a place in any movie collector's shelf.