Fight Club (1999)


Fight Club

Director: David Fincher

Screenplay: Jim Uhls

Based on a novel by: Chuck Palahniuk

Recommended? You’ve already seen it.

Since the first rule of fight club is you’re not supposed to talk about fight club, maybe most of this essay isn’t actually going to be about the movie Fight Club. It’s going to be about Raymond K. Hessel.

I’m going to assume you’ve seen the movie.

Maybe you remember the scene where our protagonist (both halves of him) drags one of the only people of color in the whole film out behind the building at his shitty job, puts a gun to his head, and tells him to go back to school to be a veterinarian like he always wanted to be. And half our protagonist (we’ll call this half “Edward Norton”) tells the other half (we’ll call this half “Mr. Cool”) that maybe he shouldn’t go around pointing guns at people. Because, you know, maybe that’s taking it too far.

My guess is that tomorrow will be the worst day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. Anxiety will make decisions for him, for the rest of his life, even more than poverty already has.

But that’s the idea of Fight Club, right? Whoa, what if we… took it too far? Just like how Mr. Cool is taking Mr. Norton over the edge. Wouldn’t that be great?

No, it wouldn’t.

What does Mr. Cool say to the complaining Mr. Norton?

“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

And herein lies the center of Fight Club’s logical fallacy. Odds are, Raymond K. Hessel isn’t going to just float through life now, thinking “oh my god, I’m so grateful I’m alive” and healing hurt animals.

Instead, his limbic system will likely stay in overdrive owing to the trauma of having a gun pointed at his head, owing to the realization that there is a crazy madman who talks to himself who knows where he lives and wants to kill him if he doesn’t become a veterinarian. My guess is that tomorrow will be the worst day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. Anxiety will make decisions for him, for the rest of his life, even more than poverty already has.

The protagonist ruining a man's life to make a point to himself.
The protagonist ruining a man’s life to make a point to himself.

I have a sneaking suspicion that our Raymond K. Hessel didn’t quit his dreams because he was lazy, but because he was poor. Just gonna go out on a limb here and guess that.

Mr. Norton and Mr. Cool are both well-to-do, with Norton as a corporate drone and Cool as a successful entrepreneur who sells high-end cosmetics. Maybe our joint protagonist isn’t in the best position to decide what people need.

Which brings us, perhaps quite shockingly, to the destruction of civilization—Mr. Cool’s stated goal. Remember, he wants a world where we wear leather pants and pound out corn on freeways or whatever. And I’m not saying that’s a bad world to live in. But when Mr. Cool says “we’re not killing anyone man, we’re setting them free,” maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he’s actually just killing people or traumatizing us in a way that prevents us from ever reaching his primitivist utopian dream. Maybe.

I actually don’t want to reach that conclusion. I second-guess it. But the parallel between our frankly racist protagonist motivating Raymond K. Hessel by pointing a gun at his head and our protagonist trying to destroy civilization seems like a compelling one.

I’m sympathetic to the direct action that closes out the film (destroying the credit record), and to much of the direct action throughout the rest of the story, as well as to the idea of taking joy in pulling pranks on a society that has destroyed so much of our lives and world. There’s a lot I love in the movie, like how the collective learns to operate without (and, honestly, shun) its leader, like the movie’s insistence on direct action. Even some of the personal nihilism appeals to me too (it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything, et cetera). There’s a lot more to hate, of course, like the open misogyny and also the conceit that you’d have to be delusional to start a direct action movement.

But when I re-watched Fight Club for the first time in a decade, it was Raymond K. Hessel I identified with most strongly. Protagonist guy, our upper-middle class savior of the working class men, is more than just another racist with a gun. He’s a racist with a gun who doesn’t know he’s a racist but sure as shit thinks he knows how to fix everyone around him by destroying everything.

Fight Club: a revolutionary cautionary tale. Don’t be Fight Club.

But maybe destroy the credit record.


I ran this review past one of the other editors, and she remarked on how briefly I glossed over the films misogyny. In my ignorance, I’d assumed that this film was just universally understood as misogynist. I thought that I would just link to one of the thousands of feminist takedowns of this film, but on a quick googling I mostly found articles attempting to refute claims about the film’s misogyny. Flustered, I turned to my friend and fellow editor Sadie the Goat. As she points out:

Oh for fuck’s sake, people claim this movie is SATIRIZING misogyny? Right. You can always tell a movie is satirizing misogyny by the complete lack of female presence besides a single character who is simultaneously reviled and fucked. Oh, and when its protagonists whole THING is a “reclaiming” of a made-up hypermasculine ideal that’s apparently been, I dunno, denied them by the fact that they are “a generation of men raised by women” (as opposed to every other fucking generation, where men took care of babies, and women did…something else, I guess) and haven’t had a really good war recently to help them build character or find themselves or whatever. Honestly that DOES sound like a satire of misogyny, but nothing about the movies suggests we’re supposed to interpret it that way, apart from it being stupid as hell.

Oh and ANOTHER thing I hate about that movie is also the most frequently quoted: that bullshit about “we buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” NO WE DON’T. Of all the fucking MADE UP PROBLEMS. I don’t do that! You don’t do that! NO REAL PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO THAT. It’s an imaginary problem that could hypothetically afflict imaginary middle class people, I guess, but it’s also such a stupid non-problem that I feel annoyed someone even bothered to write it down, much less portray it as an angsty threat to people’s well-being. Jesus. When someone describes a problem afflicting middle class people, and that problem is basically “having too much stuff” that person should shut up. Basically, you can tell someone is full of shit when they describe wealth as a problem that wealthy people have.