Deinviduation and Attraction in Fight Club Fight Club is a complex movie in that the two main characters are just two sides of the same person. Edward Norton’s character is the prototypical conformist consumer working a morally questionable office job to feed his obsession with material possessions. He works as a recall coordinator for a “major car company” and applies a formula based on profitability, rather than safety, to determine the necessity of a recall. Though never explicitly stated, he seems to be in his late twenties or early thirties and throughout the movie has a constantly haggard appearance because of his insomnia and fighting.
Brad Pitt’s character is a carefree nonconformist and the manifestation of Edward Norton’s fantasies about freedom from social conformity. He is the one who starts Fight Club and is responsible for the escalation from a relatively benign fight club to nationwide terrorist movement. Both of these characters are Tyler Durden, but this is not revealed until near the end of the movie. Marla Singer is another main character and a sort of catalyst for the emergence of fight club as well as a distraction from the reality that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are the same person.
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Marla seems to be the same age as Tyler (both of them) and does not appear to have a job. Throughout the movie she nonchalantly steals things she needs from unsuspecting victims and describes herself as living in poverty. Her depression leads her to support groups as well as a suicide attempt, both of which bring her closer to Tyler. Though Meat Loaf’s character Bob is featured as a main character I believe that he better falls into the role of one of the members of fight club, who as a group are set up to be almost identical and can thus be considered the fourth main character in the movie.
They are what Brad Pitt describes as “an entire generation pumping gas and waiting tables; Slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man; No purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives” (1:10:00). Fight Club is their escape from their real lives but as they complete each homework assignment and mission Tyler gives them they transform completely from regular people into terrorists.
Fight Club is very deep and intricate, and as such it is difficult to pinpoint two specific concepts to focus on for analysis, but I think deindividuation and the attraction theory of similarity are two theories vitally important to the film that should be addressed. The textbook describes deindividuation as “the reduced sense of individual identity accompanied by diminished self-regulation that comes over a person when he or she is in a large group” (Social Psychology, 64). Someone that is deindividuated in a group will feel a sense of anonymity as well as a diffusion of responsibility.
Simply being in a large group creates in people arousal and a stimulus and sensory overload, and as they become less aware of themselves and more aware of their immediate environment they become more impulsive and responsive to behavioral cues. In essence people lose their inhibitions and as a group act impulsively, which by human nature often leads to violence. The attraction theory of similarity is described in the book as simply that “people tend to like other people who are similar to themselves” (Social Psychology, 98).
There are five main reasons that similarity leads to attraction. People expect that those similar to them will like them, which is comforting and appeals to our natural narcissism. Similar people are likely to have smooth and enjoyable interactions because they share qualities and characteristics that dictate attitudes applied to everyday situations. People tend to think that their beliefs, personality characteristics, values, tastes and attitudes are the right ones to have and so someone who shares those perspectives must be reasonable and worthwhile.
Those similar to us often share our beliefs and orientations and consequently serve to reinforce and legitimize them, they confirm our worldview. The more similar people are the more they can act natural and be themselves in a relationship as well as allow the other person to be themselves. Though the audience is led to believe that Marla Singer falls for Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden and is romantically involved with him we never actually see them intellectually interact. We see them in the hall outside Marla’s apartment and in explicitly compromising positions in the bedroom at the house on Paper Street, but they never actually converse.
Their relationship is quite ambiguous in this manner, and throughout the movie we see it play out mostly through Edward Norton’s distorted perspective. Thus it is reasonable to assume that the true relationship that has Marla coming back for more despite Edward Norton’s inconsistence is between her and Edward Norton and not her and Tyler Durden. Based on the attraction theory of similarity it makes sense that Marla would be attracted to Edward Norton’s character. They share many characteristics, most notably their pronounced mental instabilities.
Even before Marla’s suicide attempt and Edward Norton’s psychological split into two personalities both of them face existential dilemmas that ultimately lead them to support groups for dying and suffering people. It seems that both of them are initially quite physically and emotionally separated from other people. Edward Norton’s early description of his life is noticeably light on relationships with people and heavy on relationships with consumerism and material possessions.
When he joins the support groups he remarks that “when people think you’re dying they really, really listen to you and don’t just wait for their turn to speak. ” He feels love and acceptance from the people in the support groups, and thus conquers his insomnia. It is never explicitly addressed why Marla goes to the support groups, but it seems to be similar to the reasons Edward Norton goes as both of them profess to “need it” when they divvy out various days for various support group sessions.
Both Marla and Edward Norton’s characters are dissatisfied with their lives and passively seek out death. Early on in the movie Edward Norton says that “Marla’s philosophy of life was that she might die at any moment, the tragedy she said, was that she didn’t. ” While on a plane he also reveals to us a fairly disturbed fantastic of his that “every time the plane banked too sharply on takeoff or landing I prayed for a crash or a midair collision, anything. Life insurance pays off triple if you die on a business trip. Because they are so similar and messed up it stands to reason that Marla continues to return to Edward Norton even after he so frequently snubs her when he is not in his Tyler Durden personality. It should be noted that the Tyler Durden personality is really just a manifestation of Edward Norton’s in action and effective self. Marla is different from Edward Norton in that she outwardly expresses her displeasure with the state of things and lives outside of normal human existence. He feels the same disconnect but lives in the conformity anyway, until his personality fully splits.
Fight Club itself is a way to escape from the monotony and emptiness of modern consumerist life. As fight club transitions into Project Mayhem its members, save for Tyler Durden, become completely deindividuated. Their progression into full deindividuation is gradual and the movie provides telling scenes for us to chronicle this transition. At first they are deindividuated in the fight club where there are some basic ground rules, but everyone basically just fights with each other and the level of injury the members inflict on one another is barbaric.
This rare behavior cannot be found in the real world because of normal people’s inhibitions, responsibilities, and adherence to social norms. Early in the movie Edward Norton says that “fight club only exists in the hours between when fight club starts and when fight club ends,” and later says that “who you are in fight club is not who you are in the rest of the world,” showing that everyone involved acknowledges that fight club is something that happens when they all get together in the Basement of Lou’s, not in their everyday lives.
When these men get together though they have no responsibility or anything holding them back, and so feel intensely liberated. Tyler gradually extends fight club out of the basement and into the outside world by giving the members a homework assignment to start a fight with a stranger. The members begin to identify more strongly with fight club than with the outside world and so can behave deindividuated in the real world.
Tyler dreams up new homework assignments that escalate from vandalism and general mayhem to arson and destructive mayhem. They become completely deindividuated when they all begin to live in the house on Paper Street and fight club morphs into Project Mayhem. As they go about their mayhem Bob, whom Edward Norton befriended before fight club began, is killed by the police. As they frantically discuss what to do with Bob’s body someone says “okay, quick, we have to get rid of the evidence, we gotta get rid of this body. Edward Norton responds: “this isn’t a piece of evidence, this is a person. He’s a friend of mine! This is Bob” only to be countered with “in Project Mayhem we have no names. ” They are confused when Edward Norton suggests that they are each individual people and as the scene goes on they misinterpret his meaning to “in death, a member of Project Mayhem has a name. His name is Robert Paulson” and continue to chant it as Edward Norton frantically flees the room.