The Loneliness in the Film Fight Club
In today’s society, loneliness is something experienced by a vast number of people. The age of technology and consumerism have brought social isolation to many. The film Fight Club explores the loneliness of a man who was trapped in the confines of superficial societal values. The protagonist develops a mental illness from the isolation he endured. Due to modern communication technology, human interaction is dwindling. More and more people are spending less time with others and more time alone seeking connection to the world through technology. Aside from technology, modern consumerism is shifting societal values away from self-fulfillment towards seeking gratification through material pleasures rather than from within. People grow so focused on their work and trying to obtain all of these things that they lose sight of what is important in life. This lack of fulfillment many may come to realize after a lifetime of materialism can leave them in a truly devastating and lonely place. One of the great evils of modern society is mental illness which can propagate from social isolation.
This is a main theme of the film Fight Club. The film begins and immediately introduces us to our protagonist. He is employed at an auto manufacturer and he must determine whether the company gives compensation to those who died due to a flaw in the vehicles they produce, or, whether its more cost effective to simply recall the vehicle. The protagonist’s very job devalues human life and reduces it to profit calculations. This is very symbolic as a criticism to capitalist society which is known to have a very heavy emphasis on superficial values and can even demean human life in the scope of consumerism. After being exposed to the protagonists employment, the audience sees what his home life is like. “His life is unreal to him, not only because of his work, but because he has nothing to live for other than the latest consumer toys of late capitalism. Reducing him to a metonymy, Tyler derisively labels Jack “IKEA boy,” an economic dupe who spends his constipated toilet time phone-ordering catalogue products that he will never use” (Kravitz, pp.30-31). He is a very lonely person who truly has nothing except for his apartment and possessions. He is obsessed with looking through catalogs and purchasing new things. The audience is able to see what life is like for someone who has completely invested their life to consumerism and has forgotten some of their humanity. It is a lonely life full of faux, short-term gratification. No matter how many things the protagonist purchases to make his home perfect, the audience is aware that that is not what he truly desires as a person. As the film progresses a new character named Tyler Durden appears. Although it is not apparent at the beginning of the film, Tyler Durden is a fictional character the protagonist has created. The protagonist was so isolated and depressed from his lifestyle that he developed insomnia. His lack of sleep deteriorated his already fragile mental state. The protagonist created this alter ego in the image of what he truly desires to be. A man who is free and flamboyant and has power and sexual prowess. Throughout the film, the alter ego helps lead the protagonist on this journey of catharsis after being so out of touch with his humanity.
How it works
Social isolation is a very real side-effect of modern society and can be very damaging to the individual mentally. “Social isolation is the objective absence or near-absence of social relationships or connections, is a quantitative measure of network size, network diversity, and frequency of contact and describes the extent how an individual is socially isolated” (Ge, Yap, Ong, and Heng, p.2). There was a study conducted in Singapore which tested the link between social isolation and depression. Their results showed a very strong correlation between the two. The study consisted of people of different age ranges and lifestyle was also taken into account. They asked the participants a range of questions and used official psychological scales to determine social isolation and diagnose depression. An interesting insight into the results is that they found that those who were the oldest experienced the greatest percentage of isolation and depression. This can be attributed to society growing more individualistic and less focused on family. More and more senior citizens are left in assisted living facilities while historically the family used to take care of the eldest members. Isolation is something that has become a lot more common due to the rise of technology and consumerist culture. Technology is a big aspect of modern culture which accentuates individualism. For example, in the film Fight Club, had the protagonist not been able to order items from the comfort of his home, he would be forced to go to the store and browse and experience that for the day. Browsing in person is a lot more stimulating than simply looking at a catalog and there is something to be gained from interaction with the outside world and seeing fellow humans.
Technology addiction is something which is a very recent phenomena so it can be hard to pinpoint it as of now. However, psychological issues related to the overuse of technology will continue to grow in the digital age, as will the importance of understanding the impact of technology on mental health and psychological well-being (Scott, Valley, Simecka, p.605). Technology overuse can strain human relationships and the connection to the natural world. These isolating factors can harm a person’s mental well-being. Technology compounds on modern consumerist ideals as well. So many aspects of every-day life have become very easily accessible. Things people had to leave their homes for before are now at their disposal on their phone or computer. More and more people can stay at home and attempt to get a sense of socialization as well. However, this socialization is not the same as real interaction and does not warrant the same benefits. “A growing concern is children and adolescents who are too young to understand adverse effects associated with excessive use of these things and they are easily likely to be hooked to modern technologies” (Agarwal, Kar, p.172). Children and teens as well may not have the emotional intelligence, which comes with age, to deal with the mental repercussions technology can bring.
More than ever society’s youth has access to all sorts of technology. Many parents have their children playing on their smartphones or tablets. These children grow up wanting the newest cellphone or tablet or gaming system. This in itself is conditioning the future generations to grow apart from each other. Kids are not wanting the latest toy which they can take outside and use to play with friends. Instead, they yearn for gadgets which can be used in the comfort of the home, alone. Aside from the technology itself, consumerist culture is also isolating these children. “The biological fact remains that we are fundamentally a social species, and our nature is to recognize, interact, and form relationships with conspecifics. Substantial evidence has accumulated to suggest that social relationships are important for mental and physical well-being across the lifespan.” (J. Cacioppo, S. Cacioppo, p.1). From childhood to adulthood is when a person truly becomes themselves and forms their own ideas about the world. For the children who grow up playing on iPads alone in their room always wanting the newest gadget, their idea of the world may be distorted. They may grow up so entrapped in consumer culture that they never find things which make them truly happy. These children are unknowingly isolating themselves from the real world and may have the idea that material goods bring fulfillment. They may find themselves growing up lacking real social connection because they spend a majority of their time at home obsessing over their gadgets. Especially among youth this can lead to mental health issues. These kids may one day grow up and despair the superficiality of their lives much like the protagonist of Fight Club.
Human nature is interesting in that at its core, it always knows what it wants. We see this in the film when the protagonist is trying to find meaning in his life. For one, his alter-ego destroys his apartment and all his possessions along with it. This symbolizes how material possessions are meaningless in the scope of things. “In the movie, the protagonists alter-ego states, “it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything.”” (Christoffersen 2016). We see the protagonist make a shift towards a simpler life as he moves into an abandoned house. As the film progresses we see this fight club grow in size. People from all over are achieving catharsis with this primal feat. Through fighting and getting hurt they can release their frustrations and grow. In his quest to find meaning, the protagonist sought solace in feeling pain and adrenaline and very primal emotions. This gives hope that those afflicted by the social isolation may one day be able to find it within themselves to better their life. Especially those who have not yet been taken ahold of by mental illness, they can realize that there are things they can do to escape the isolation. Even in the movie the protagonist eventually realizes that he is mentally ill and that Tyler Durden is an alter ego. He is able to destroy this alter-ego and find peace in the end of his journey. This can be symbolic to people breaking free from modern consumerism and social isolationism and defeating those evils in their life.
As time progresses, the general populace will grow to become more knowledgeable on the ill-effects consumerism and technology can have on mental health. The world has been revolutionized by technology and continues to evolve at a rapid pace. In the lifetime of many they have seen children go from playing in the streets with their neighbors to never leaving their room playing video games. Aside from real scientific studies, popular media has also come to the aid of the public by utilizing it’s platforms to release content that informs the populace of certain dangers of consumerism and technology. While not many people search through scientific journals, many do have movie nights where they can watch a film such as Fight Club and gain insight onto how certain aspects of society can devastate the mind. Through placing value on material possessions and through dwindling social connection, consumerism and society can isolate individuals and harm their mental state. There are people whose eyes are glued to their smartphone screen at all hours of the day, they seem to ignore reality to a certain extent. Many of these people may not know better because they were raised in an environment which tolerates excessive technology use. Aside from technology damaging social interactions, vast consumerism has also had adverse effects on the mental health of many. Consumerism has led society to condition people into putting utmost importance in material possession. There is propaganda everywhere and some people really do live their lives wishing they had certain kinds of clothes or a certain car or a certain kind of lifestyle. It is important for people to try to find fulfillment from within rather than looking towards the outside world looking for acceptance and happiness.