Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Fight Club Says about God and Community

Barry Taylor (Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008.) holds Fight Club up as a prime example as what it means to be Postmodern Gothic. There is a transgressive nature in the mindset of the Gothic and the dominant message is “learn to live with mystery” and this is accomplished by sharpening one’s instincts (Taylor 142). So then the Gothic radically embraces passion, learning how emotions like fear, terror, horror, and sadness (as well as the more fiery passions of anger and rage) are means by which people learn to fight back. Fight Club does this to help people liberate themselves from a system that is draining the life away from their souls and keeping them from forming a true community. They find a new code of living through being shocked out of their old ways of doing things. They are able to “come to terms with the world around them through a renewed sense of self through their commitment to a new code of living” (Taylor 143).

For Tyler, dominant ideologies and cultural values exist to be subverted. The means of constructing identity is based on communal relationships, particularly with men although Marla becomes a bigger role as the film goes on, instead of material capitalistic measures.

Tyler does not turn to religion, although the language is frequently used in the film. The Narrator talks about the feeling of Fight Club as being in a Pentecostal church. The grunts were like speaking in tongues and the fights were like dancing. The Narrator seeks a nirvana, however; not salvation first and foremost. “And then, something happened. I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.”

Even more overt is the scene where Tyler seems to declare that he is an agnostic:
Tyler Durden: Shut up! Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?
Narrator: No, no, I... don't...
Tyler Durden: Listen to me! You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.
Narrator: It isn't?
Tyler Durden: We don't need him!

Here we see the complete rejection of all that has rejected Tyler. In the philosophy of Fight Club, salvation is letting go of everything and depending on the community. This is very much like the church described in Acts. The renouncement of property, the subversion of the dominant culture, and finding identity not through the institutions of the day but in one another are all paralleled. The statement of "We are God's unwanted children" comes from Tyler's family system. He is trying to get's his father's attention and this morphs into trying to get God's attention, as noted in this trailer:

The first two rules of Fight Club echo Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, not to tell anyone of his being the Messiah. Word gets out and both movements take off. So is Tyler Durden a Christ figure? I would argue yes and his Christ figure is more in keeping with the Jewish-Christian church than the current idea. The idea of the Messiah as a political agent, anointed by God but completely mortal, that overthrows the oppressors. This is exactly what Tyler does, even going so far as to die at the end and even have a duel-nature. Tyler is both spiritual and human. This could be more along the lines of a Gnostic image of Christ and the real question at the end becomes who dies? Does the Narrator shoot Tyler and is still the same? Or, in Tyler’s death (the Brad Pitt version) we know have the Narrator fully “put on the mind of Tyler”? I would go with the last statement. In the ending scene of the film, we have the Narrator and Marla watching the buildings blow up in a quasi-romantic happy ending. The film then messes up and shows a rather graphic picture of a penis, just like Tyler used to splice into children’s films. This shows that the movement is very much alive and it’s real. Tyler is now in the projector booth and the audience should beware.

Fight Club’s dim view of institutions, including religious ones, are much like the postmodern suspicion of all things systemized. We see a member of Fight Club in the movie try to pick a fight with a priest, smacking the bible out of his hand and spraying water on it. The next scene shows the very same priest wining a fight and hugging his opponent. Even the leaders of the institutions are taken by the message of Tyler.

This idea is best summed up by Robert Capon when he states
“The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race's perpetual struggle to think well of itself. For that, at bottom, is what religion is: man's well-meant but dim-witted attempt to approve of his unapprovable condition by doing odd jobs he thinks some important Something will thank him for. Religion, therefore, is a loser, a strictly fallen activity. It has a failed past and a bankrupt future. There was no religion in Eden and there won't be any in heaven; and in the meantime Jesus has died and risen to persuade us to knock it all off right now" (Capon 166).

Tyler has the same thing in mind. All systems fail, all we need is trust in one another, and to be honest with ourselves. We get our identity from being in community, true community, open and vulnerable. Fight Club embraces the uncertainty of the postmodern life, experienced as is, in the collapse of the supporting structures of modernity, in the loss of traditional social ordering. Reconfigurations of what it means “to be” are explored in every way possible and what emerges is a new idea of what constitutes family and community much like what came out of Christ’s teachings some 2,000 years ago.

1 comment:

Anglican Gurl said...

The more you talk about this film, the more I like it! I've been talking to my husband about your posts and yesterday I caught him reading your stuff. He loves it! So this comes from a long conversation we had the other day:

Tyler wanting God's attention is much like Jesus asking "My God! My God, why have you forsaken me?!" on the cross. It looks like Fight Club is a movie based on that line.

I initially reacted negatively about the "losing all hope was freedom" part but then I took a couple days and sat on it (see, I am learning how not to be reactionary). I then thought back to when I decided to go back to church again and when I found myself openly declaring I was a Christian. I wouldn't call it Born Again due to political rammifications but that is the next best thing. I lost all hope too. I cannot even tell you what they were but they were misguided. I found another hope, a true hope, so to speak. I really think that's what happens in this movie.

The narrator goes from misplaced hopes in material possesions and identity in his job to hope in his fellow Fight Clubber/Project Mayhem Space Monkey. He finds his true identity in community much like the disciples find their identity after they lose their hope to be delivered from Rome and place their hope in being able to transcend Rome and "this world."