The 1999 film Fight Club, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name, was received as one of the most controversial films of the year, and has since gained a strong cult popularity. The movie places strong emphasis on the evils of modern consumerism, and adopts a “fight the system” attitude throughout. The setting is bleak and degraded – the main character, who remains unnamed for the entirety of the film, inhabits a city that seems perpetually dark and run down. All in all, the film attempts to make a statement on the effects of society norms and “the system” on an individual’s pursuit of happiness; at its center, it employs dissociative identity disorder to do so.
“This is your life and its ending one minute at a time”. The first line of the film not only sets the dark mood for the entire film, it also breaks the fourth wall and establishes a relationship with the audience directly. The narrator is a white-collared employee of a nameless firm, plagued by insomnia and the feeling of being trapped. He medicates himself through consumerism; through the steady acquisition of “things”, he attempts to cure his anxiety and depression. “I flipped through catalogs and wondered: What kind of dining set defines me as a person”, he once asked of himself. However, these things do not help, and his condition worsens until he meets Tyler Durden.
When the narrator’s house burns down mysteriously, he moves in with Tyler Durden, who is portrayed as free-spirited, impulsive and all-in-all a revolutionary. The decide to start “Fight Club”, where men gather each week in a basement to brawl, for no other reason than to sooth the sense of entrapment that they all feel. The more time the narrator spends with Durden, the more he lets go of the material obsession that he clung on to in the past. Finally, one day, Durden leaves with no word or warning.
The narrator travels around the whole country looking for him; he is egged on by mysterious clues, such as plane ticket stubs that he somehow knows where to find. Finally, in a hotel room, Tyler Durden appears to him, and reveals that they are one and the same person; when the narrator falls asleep, he dissociates into Durden.
Delirious from the encounter, the narrator flees from the room, only later to be “captured” by Durden. Bound to a chair, he watches his imaginary identity point a gun to his head. Forcing himself to break the illusion, he finds that the gun is instead in his own hands; he shoots himself in the jaw, which “kills” Tyler Durden and frees the narrator. The film ends with the narrator in an empty office building with the song “Where is my Mind” playing in the background.
Although Fight Club utilizes DID as an important aspect in its plot development, in some regards it is inaccurate in the development of the psychological disorder. Most importantly, the narrator did not (to the extent of the viewer) undergo any form of childhood trauma. Rather, his anxiety and feelings of entrapment – spurred by the structure of modern society – caused himself to dissociate. In this sense, the movie makes a statement about the intensity of the psychological damage that is caused by such a materialistic culture.
One important parallel between Fight Club‘s DID and the real disorder is the idea that the alternate identities are present as a coping mechanism for the individual. A stronger, more confidant personality will oftentimes take over for the benefit of the individual. “I’ll bring us through this. As always. I’ll carry you – kicking and screaming – and in the end you’ll thank me,” Tyler told the narrator. In the film, since the greatest psychological abuse is the domination of consumerism, Tyler Durden must represent the narrator’s inward urge to break free from the system. While the narrator was not aware of this until the climax of the movie, Durden knew his role the whole time: “All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”
Thus, the film uses DID as a hyperbole, or a metaphor – everybody has this repressed angst against the structure of modern consumerist society, even though few will go so far as to construct a separate identity to fight it. In this sense, DID did not play a negative role in the movie; rather than a disorder, it was portrayed as a saving grace. “People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it.”