of Oedipus, King Laius of Thebes sends his son away to be killed after an oracle tells Laius his son will someday kill him. The child is spared and given to the ruler of Corinth. The ruler and his wife are unable to have children, so they raise Oedipus as their own. Oedipus never knows of his real parents or the prophecy that marks him. Years later, Oedipus is told of a new prophecy that says he will kill his father and marry his mother. In fear, Oedipus leaves Corinth, the home of his adoptive family.
As far as Oedipus knows, these people who rule Corinth are his natural parents and going elsewhere will ensure his family’s safety. He heads toward Thebes. On the way he is forced to kill a man at a crossroads. Oedipus is unaware that the man is Laius, his natural father. He settles in Thebes and becomes its king. Again unknowing, he takes as wife the widow Jocosta, his mother. There is a plague. Oedipus is finally made aware that the man he killed years before was his father. Jocosta announces that the man Oedipus killed was her husband and therefore Oedipus is her son. Stricken with guilt, Oedipus’ mother hangs herself and Oedipus blinds himself with her dress-pins.
As in the story of Oedipus, Fight Club begins with a prophecy of its final outcome. The film starts with its final scene, promising a future that is sure to come. The storyline moves back in time so that “Jack,” who is also the narrator, can describe the events that lead to the opening scene.
Jack’s unhappiness is the catalyst that seems to form the events and characters that allow this strange story to unfold. Like many people, he is trying to fill his hollow, empty life with material possessions and consumerism. Enjoying no relief from his lifestyle, Jack stumbles on a support group for testicular cancer; this meeting is where Jack meets Bob. “Bob had bitch tits” and is a cancer survivor.
This scene is important. The hug Bob and Jack share allows Jack to enjoy the non-sexual embrace of a huge man, which is proportionately the equivalent of a father hugging a child. And significantly, Bob’s “bitch tits” offer a mother’s and father’s physical characteristics in one person. Jack is blissful. The next scene shows Jack in bed.
Voiceover: Babies don’t sleep this well.
Jack would have us believe he has found happiness from the support group, but in fact he is happy because of the hug from Mommy and Daddy, the hug he has been missing since he was six.
Consciously, Jack doesn’t know why he is in pain, but his subconscious creates a solution—a father. Many lines point to the lack of Jack’s father’s love, guidance, and approval. Jack’s father left when Jack was a boy. Tyler equates father and God:
Tyler: Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers failed, what does that tell you about God?
Tyler: Listen to me. You have to consider the possibility that God doesn’t like you, he never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.
Jack certainly feels that his father and/or God do not seem to be present or to care, which is as bad or worse than God being dead. As the bearer of this news, Tyler himself becomes the surrogate father to Jack and the “space-monkeys.” They certainly treat him as god-like.
Voiceover: In Tyler we trusted.
Tyler has few inhibitions and his views on society and life are based on a different set of values than those to which Jack is accustomed. As Tyler says to Jack,
Tyler: You were looking for a way to change your life. You could not do this on your own. All the ways you wished you could be . . . that’s me! I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I’m smart, capable, and most importantly, I’m free in all the ways that you are not.
Tyler teaches Jack and the other “space-monkeys” a new set of acceptable behaviors, how to fight. Tyler provides shelter for Jack and the others, teaches them that material possessions begin to own the owner. Tyler informs them that they are not going to be rock stars and millionaires, and Tyler teaches them the ever-important way to make soap.
Like aspirin, Tyler’s role is to find the pain and fix it. It’s worth noting, however, that when the aspirin manufacturer is nuts, the aspirin may not be safe.
Toward the end of the film, Tyler disappears.
Voiceover: First my father leaves me, now Tyler. I’m all alone. I am Jack’s Broken Heart.
Jack also creates Tyler as a way to deal with Marla Singer. Marla is Oedipus’ Jocasta. She represents the woman that Jack cannot love, or delusionally believes he isn’t permitted to love. Marla is strange, neurotic, and “needs a wash,” but she is consistently present for Jack and continues to reach out to him regardless of how he treats her.
Jack is unhappy because he doesn’t have his father’s love, but he never mentions his mother. We assume he was raised by his mother, but it seems Jack isn’t able to accept or be satisfied by only his mother’s love. When Marla offers unconditional caring for Jack, I think he is unable to process the emotion and subconsciously categorizes her as his mother or mother-analogue. If she is his mother-substitute, he cannot engage her sexually—but Tyler can. After all, in Jack’s mind, a mother and father are supposed to be together.
Voiceover: I’m six years old again, passing messages between my parents.
When Tyler confronts Jack about his relationship with Marla, Jack is repulsed at the idea of a sexual relationship with her.
Tyler: You know what I mean, you fucked her.
Jack: No, I didn’t.
Tyler: You’re not into her, are you?
Jack: No, God, not at all.
Voiceover: I am Jack’s Raging Bile Duct.
Tyler: You’re sure? You can tell me.
Jack: Believe me, I’m sure.
Voiceover: Put a gun to my head and paint the walls with my brains.
This is a reaction anyone would have when accused of having lustful thoughts about their own mother.
Jack believes he has safely separated himself from a relationship with Marla, just as Oedipus believed that by traveling in the opposite direction of his home in Corinth he had safely avoided the second prophecy that foretold he would kill his father and marry his mother.
The irony is that by traveling in the opposite direction toward Thebes, Oedipus goes directly back to the home of his natural parents and fulfills the prophecy. The happy little nuclear family that Jack constructs has a familiar irony in Fight Club. Jack, as Tyler, actually does become involved with Marla without knowing it for most of the picture.
Tyler and Marla have the relationship that Jack cannot have, but Jack is Tyler and once Jack realizes he has been living this second existence through Tyler, he also realizes that he has been having sex with Marla, his mother.
Once Oedipus realizes what he has done, he blinds himself. As Jack becomes aware of the double life he has led, Fight Club shifts from the Oedipus model in that Jack is surprised but not bothered by the relationship he has had with Marla. Of course, Marla isn’t Jack’s mother. In fact, for the first time, Jack shows concern for Marla and tries to send her out of town where she will be safe. Jack is suddenly thinking more clearly.
Jack does travel a similar path to Oedipus, though in that after realizing what he/Tyler has done, he takes responsibility for his actions and attempts to turn himself in to the police, who are also corrupted by Tyler’s influence. Jack escapes from the police in an effort to thwart Project Mayhem and, after a fight with Tyler, takes the only action possible in his own mind. Jack kills Tyler.
Of course, since he is Tyler, he also attempts to take his own life. This final scene also hearkens to the Oedipus myth’s conclusion, about Oedipus blinding himself. The irony is that Jack is now able to see more clearly after he has shot himself and killed Tyler. Jack now seems not to require his father or Tyler or anyone else so much; he is able to love Marla and accept her love.
Jack: I’m sorry . . . you met me at a very strange time in my life.
The film seems to comment on the problems in a society where children are left to be raised by a single parent and a color television. Unhappiness ensues when children are left to believe that the purchase of more things will soothe their pain. That same philosophy follows Jack into adulthood.
Jack: “There’s always that. I don’t know, it’s just . . . when you buy furniture, you tell yourself: that’s it, that’s the last sofa I’m gonna need. No matter what else happens, I’ve got that sofa problem handled. I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was so close to being complete.”
In regard to the destruction and anarchistic elements of the film, an argument could be made that it is a cry for attention. Playing by the rules, acquiring things, having a “good” job, none of these things worked for Jack. Perhaps as the delusional Tyler, Jack does an ethical 180 in hopes that his great act, Project Mayhem, will gain the attention he seeks.
The story of Oedipus ends as Thebes is overcome with plague and disease. Oedipus promises to save his city, but the city’s problems are themselves a curse that resulted from his own sins. No matter how hard he tries, Oedipus is unable to escape his fate.
Tyler’s actions are intended to destroy civilization as we know it. On coming somewhat to his senses, Jack is unable to stop the events he has set in motion. His destruction of the credit bureaus is his sin and his sins are the curse. The hiccup here is that the film seems to direct us to believing that credit unions, consumerism, and the typical American way of life are already plagued. Were this the case, Jack’s action would be not sinful but virtuous. But since this film is a narrative piece, we are seeing things through Jack/Tyler’s eyes and can safely assume Jack is insane: His perception of what is diseased and what is decent is tainted. The final act is terrorism and the end cannot justify the means, dammit.