A recent revisit of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) revealed two standout philosophical points: celebrity is an illusion and a re-thinking of consumerism is in order. Over a decade after its release, and with all the pro-violence fuss now a distant memory, Fight Club reveals it is hardly just a ‘film about fighting’ as much as Raging Bull is hardly just a ‘film about boxing’.
Many found casting Brad Pitt (as ‘half’ of the Tyler Durden character) condescending due to his anti-consumerist dialogue such as, “The things you own end up owning you”. It does sound rich coming from one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood, but that is exactly the point. Casting Pitt in the role is a master class in irony. The entire point of Pitt’s presence is for his intense aura of celebrity. Even if Pitt had no dialogue, there would be few actors, if any, that could evoke such a brash statement of ‘this is celebrity’. Of course, the ironic genius of casting is because Pitt’s character does not actually exist. Pitt is an illusion. Celebrity is an illusion, so by extension, celebrity worship and our desire for ‘things’ is an illusion.
The other philosophical argument Fight Club presents is the end of capitalist consumerism is nigh. The film questions our desire for ‘things’ and in particular posits that these ‘things’ no longer make us happy, are driving us insane, and our relationship towards them needs to be re-thought/re-built from the ground up. The film provides an intense rejection of capitalist values such as when the Protagonist (Edward Norton) finds his IKEA-filled apartment has exploded or shortly afterwards when he loses his job after furiously bashing himself before the stunned boss. Ultimately, the final shot of the collapsing capitalist buildings demonstrates a nihilistic, Nietzschean outlook of some extreme and desperate need to clear the slate and rebuild again, hopefully in a much better way.
Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Case Study 2 – Fight Club’, Lecture 21 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.