Reflection papers delve into the author’s experience of doing something or, in this case, watching a film. In this reflection essay, the author expounds on their realizations and reactions while watching David Fincher’s Fight Club within the context of psychology. The author expounds on the psychological concepts as well as the issues related to mental health present in the film.
Movies are notorious for presenting inaccurate, and often damaging, portrayals of mental health issues. However, David Fincher’s movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is probably one of the most truthful portrayals of mental health. It also uses numerous psychological concepts to explore the complexity of men’s mental health. Watching Fincher’s Fight Club is an interesting exercise for applying the things I have learned from our classes and research papers in Psychology 101.
Synopsis of Fight Club
Fight Club is told from the limited point of view of an unnamed narrator who is a white-collar worker living a vapid life. He suffers from insomnia and is advised by his doctor to visit a testicular cancer therapy group to gain perspective in life. He becomes addicted to therapy groups because it helps him fall asleep. However, it all comes crashing down when he notices Marla who is also attending numerous therapy groups and is obviously faking her illnesses.
The narrator meets soap salesman Tyler Durden on the plane. They become acquainted since they have the same briefcase. Upon returning home, the narrator finds that his apartment had caught fire. With nowhere to go, he calls up Tyler Durden who makes him realize that he was trapped by consumerism. They have a fistfight in the parking lot, which they found cathartic. Thus, the start of their fight club, which quickly attracted a large group of men. As the group expanded, the fight club evolved into an anti-materialist, anti-corporation group called Project Mayhem. The group engages in subversive acts.
The narrator had been concerned with Project Mayhem’s actions from the start but only start to directly contradict Durden when one of the men the narrator met at a support group was killed in one of the operations. Tyler and the narrator fight during which Tyler admits that he caused the explosion in the narrator’s apartment, then disappears to complete another operation. Afterwards, the narrator attempts to follow Tyler’s trail throughout the US and finds out that he is Tyler Durden. He calls Marla who confirms the same fact. Tyler then appears again and confirms that he is a personality of the narrator. The narrator attempts to stop Tyler’s plan to blow up buildings that contain credit card records. In doing so, he manages to hold Tyler at gunpoint. However, since they are the same person, he is, in fact, holding himself at gunpoint. He proceeds to fire the gun into his mouth and through his cheeks, which destroys Tyler and leaves only the narrator.
We learned a lot of concepts and conditions in Psychology 101. Although I am not a Psychologist myself, learning about them made me curious as to how people with certain psychological conditions or disorders behave and handle their condition. I have been wondering whether they are aware and what happens when they realize what is happening. Clearly, the unnamed narrator knew that something was wrong—he was unable to sleep due to insomnia and generally felt detached. Despite these, however, his doctor dismissed him and told him that he can see real suffering if he goes to a group therapy for men with testicular cancer. I found this quite repulsive because, based on what we have learned about mental health, is that people’s conditions or sufferings are all unique and valid. Insomnia and feelings of detachment, for instance, could be symptoms of anxiety, depression, and as the film later reveals, of dissociative identity disorder (DID). I’m aware that the film’s story occurs in the 90s, during which approaches to mental health were not yet as progressive as today.
Another concept that I found interesting in the film is its depiction of the subconscious mind. In the film, the unnamed narrator is often prompted or transported to a cave with his power animal, which eventually becomes Marla Singer. The depiction of the subconscious as a cave makes sense as it is often hidden under the surface of the conscious mind. In the subconscious mind are the individual’s deepest emotions, memories, and desires that the conscious mind either does not know of or refuses to acknowledge. Interestingly, the narrator’s subconscious is invaded by Marla Singer, first as the voice of the penguin, then as herself. In a character analysis of Marla, some interpreted this as a sign that she is also one of the narrator’s personalities, but it could also be interpreted as the narrator being infatuated with Marla despite refusing to acknowledge this. Nevertheless, the narrator’s subconscious is indeed found with things or people that the narrator did not understand.
Perhaps the most glaring concept in the film is the narrator’s dissociative identity disorder (DID). Although the film never explicitly states that the narrator suffered from dissociative identity disorder, this is the first condition that comes to mind upon the revelation that the narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person. Individuals with DID have fragmented personalities and often have gaps in their memories that they cannot explain (American Psychological Association, “Dissociative Disorders” n.p.). Fincher’s depiction of DID in Fight Club is quite remarkable in its subtlety. All the details point to the fact that the narrator and Tyler are possibly the same individual—they are rarely seen together when other people are around and they only interact when they are alone. Furthermore, by presenting the unnamed narrator as an unreliable narrator, Fincher was able to justify the gaps in the narrative or plot. Then, later on, these are all explained as the result of Tyler’s dissociative identity disorder. Fincher’s portrayal of DID seems truthful to me since it was not immediately noticeable to the viewer and to the individual.
Ultimately, Fight Club, in my opinion, is a depiction of the complex and often overlooked, mental health of men. Throughout the film, the disenfranchisement and emasculation of men are mentioned numerous times. For many characters, finding fight club was like finding the right fraternity that catered to their needs. Bob, who suffered from testicular cancer, regained his masculinity by joining the fight club. The unnamed narrator got himself into such complicated predicaments because the symptoms of his mental health were dismissed by his physician. This is something that is common even in today’s world. Discussions on toxic masculinity emphasize this society’s refusal to allow men to be emotional and weak. Seeking help for a mental health problem, or any problem is seen as a sign of weakness. This results in mental health problems not being treated and managed. Furthermore, toxic masculine ideals have been associated with violence and aggression (American Psychological Association “Harmful Masculinity” n.p.). A survey of the most recent mass shootings in the US reveals that the actions of these mass shooters, who are mostly men, are not too different from the operations of Project Mayhem (Smart and Schell, n.p.).
David Fincher’s Fight Club is a raw and complex depiction of the disturbing culture in which men are forced to grow and inhabit. Although on the surface level, the “villain” is consumerism, I think the real villain here is toxic masculinity, which is also perpetrated by the consumerist society. Watching Fight Club with a psychological lens opened my eyes to new details and realizations. Ultimately, it showed me how well-crafted the film is and why it is considered a cult classic. It made use of numerous psychological concepts and depicted mental health conditions in a realistic way.
A reflection paper should articulate the student’s realizations and insights during and after watching a movie, reading a book, or doing something. As such, there is ultimately no right or wrong answer to reflection papers. What it all boils down to is the quality of the student’s writing—whether they are able to eloquently express their ideas and organize their sentences well. CustomEssayMeister can take care of writing a high-quality reflection paper if you have trouble with writing.
American Psychological Association. “Harmful Masculinity and Violence.” American Psychological Association, September 2018, https://www.apa.org/pi/about/newsletter/2018/09/harmful-masculinity.
American Psychological Association. “What are Dissociative Disorders?” American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/pi/about/newsletter/2018/09/harmful-masculinity.
Fight Club. Directed by David Fincher, performances by Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meat Loaf Aday, 20th Century Fox, 1999.
Smart, Rosanna, and Terry L. Schell. “Mass Shootings in the United States.” RAND Corporation, April 15, 2021, https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/analysis/essays/mass-shootings.html.