Directed by David Fincher
David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) has been called a great piece of social commentary. From its examination of the crisis in masculinity to the visualizing of mental illness, Fight Club touches on a number of cultural issues that transcended the millennium (Giroux, 2001). In Fight Club, Fincher uses visual cues to symbolize the dominance of the consumer culture on masculinity. Fincher’s visualization of his protagonist’s home demonstrates how consumerism has replaced humanity.
The main cultural problem Fincher presents throughout Fight Club is the overconsumption of capitalism. Throughout his film, Fincher utilizes the narrator and his environment to demonstrate how society has fallen prey to the capitalist agenda. He emphasizes how the narrator (and society in general) has reduced his identity down to the things he owns. The narrator’s masculinity and dominant male position in society are threatened by consumer culture, leading him on his trajectory to regain his masculinity (Friday, 2003). Fincher illustrates the narrator’s obsession with consumer culture and its ability to hinder his male identity through an examination of his home. When visualizing the mind of a psychotic, the home represents the inner workings of his mind, and, in this case, Fincher illustrates just how much the narrator values his material possessions over his own need to live (Lesson 15: The Unreliable Narrator, Megalomanic Taking Over).
When Fincher takes the audience into the narrator’s home he opens with the narrator on the toilet looking at a magazine. The way the narrator is holding the magazine and the sheer nature of his location leads the audience into assuming he’s looking at the centerfold of a pornographic magazine (Lesson 15: The Unreliable Narrator, Crises). But Fincher then brings the audience into focus and reveals that he is actually reading an Ikea catalog. Fincher uses these images to symbolize how the narrator has replaced sex with consumption. Rather than having a real human relationship, he has found pleasure in the purchasing of things. Additionally, Fincher visualizes how the narrator has replaced human interaction and physical contact through shopping. Throughout the scene, the narrator is on the phone with Ikea salespeople but only speaks to a real human for ten seconds before they are replaced with an automatic voice response. The narrator has replaced his need for physical and emotional intimacy with things.
As the narrator remains on hold with Ikea, Fincher gives the audience a tour of the narrator’s home to show where his priorities lie. Fincher transitions into this tour by fading from a zoom in on an Ikea home catalog into the narrator’s home, creating the illusion, along with the QVC-style music, of the narrator physically living in a shopping catalog. As Fincher pans through the narrator’s perfectly pristine home, filled with stylish furniture and modern art, he labels all the material goods with price tags and descriptions, as if his home had come directly out of a catalog. His home reflects the life of a man who is successful and content in life - a man who is able to “keep up with the Joneses.” It’s a home that is picture-perfect, just like the ones in the magazines. But then Fincher leads the audience into his refrigerator, where he shows the narrator is living on nothing but condiments, butter, and milk. Despite his home giving off the illusion that he has it all together, his refrigerator, which houses the most important basic necessity- food, is empty. The narrator is nourishing himself, both physically and emotionally, not on actually sustainable substances, but rather on the material goods he buys. In the mind of the narrator, having the best and most stylish material possessions is more important than having enough food to survive.
What the narrator’s home represents is his inner mind and his inability to provide for his basic human needs. Instead, he masks his unhealthy living standards - his lack of food, lack of sleep, and lack of human contact - and his derailing masculinity with consumer goods. He disillusions himself by buying things to conceal his crippling physical and mental health.
Friday, K. Generation of Men Without History: Fight Club, Masculinity, and the Historical Symptom. Postmodern Culture. 13(3). May 2003.
Giroux, Henry A. “Private Satisfactions and Public Disorders: ‘Fight Club’, Patriarchy, and the Politics of Masculine Violence.” JAC, vol. 21, no. 1, 2001, pp. 1–31. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20866386.