An Analysis of Sigmund Freud’s Structure of Personality in the Movie Fight Club
At first glance, Fight Club seems to be a rather screwy movie about a man with Schizophrenia or some type of Multiple Personality Disorder. But looking at the movie with an open mind and a bit more in depth, it is likely that one might notice that the main characters in the film resemble Sigmund Freud’s structure of personality. The Id and the Superego are plainly noted in the actions, thoughts, and words of the two main characters: Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt, and “the narrator” (or Jack) played by Edward Norton. Many examples can be noted in reference to the different aspects of the personality along with references to different defense techniques from anxiety throughout the film.
When taking a closer look, Jack can easily be noted as the superego side of the personality. Freud saw the superego as the side of the personality that inflicted guilt onto a person, the conscience, the “perfection principle.” The superego is like Jiminy Cricket in the classic Disney film Pinocchio. It is like the little angel that appears on a cartoon’s shoulder when they are trying to make a critical decision. The superego does not take risks, it does not seek fun, exciting, and adventurous times, and it does not look at pain as any type of a gain. Itcounteracts the Id with a primitive and unconscious sense of morality.
The Superego, Freud stated, is the moral agent that links both our conscious and unconscious minds. The Superego stands in opposition to the desires of the Id. The Superego is itself part of the unconscious mind. As the conscience, it is a primitive or child based knowledge of right and wrong. Jack is just that. He lives a simple life ordering furniture from catalogs. Knowing that if he can have his apartment look as if it is right out of a magazine it is a safe bet. He works for a major car company and investigates crashes to mathematically determine whether or not there should be a recall on the vehicle. He does his job well and he lives his life well. Each day is predictable and monotonous, never varying from the next. It gets to the point of complete mundane and Jack muses up an alter-ego, an imaginary friend of sorts.
But as Tyler says, “the things you own, end up owning you. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” Tyler Durden is introduced to the audience on a plane when Jack is on his way back from one of his many business trips. Tyler makes soap for a living (along with a few other odds-n-ends jobs like waiting tables), he lives in a run-down house in the middle of a run-down neighborhood (if it can even be called that), he is extraordinarily good looking, and a sweet-talker. Tyler is everything Jack wishes, dreams, and hopes he could be. Sigmund Freud described the Id as having a psychic energy and the part of the personality that seeks pleasure. It is organized around primitive instinctual urges of sexuality, aggression, and the desire for instant gratification or release. There is no doubt that Tyler Durden perfectly represents this aspect.
Though these two roles are rather obvious and quite undeniably drawn out for the audience, there is a conflict with the role of the ego. In Freud’s view the Ego stands in between the Id and the Superego to balance primitive needs and moral beliefs and taboos. He thought that the Ego consisted of our conscious sense of self and world and a highly structured set of unconscious defenses that are central in defining both individual differences in character or personality and the symptoms and inhibitions that define the neuroses. Relying on experience, a healthy Ego provides the ability to adapt to reality and interact with the outside world in a way that accommodates both Id and Superego. Is the ego represented by Marla, the drugee, alcoholic, and yet logical thinker when compared to the other two main characters, or was there simply no ego represented in the film at all?
It would be possible to view Marla as the ego for a few reasons. She seems to appear at critical times in the film when a conflict is arising between Jack and Tyler. She is the one that raises questions about “Jack’s” odd behavior and she is the one that notices the sudden changes in attitude. Marla is also the one that triggers thoughts in Jack of reality and the falsehoods he has been living for such an incredibly long period of time. The only problem with this view is that Marla is not always the mediator between the two, but often times she is the root of all evil, the basis of all arguments.
It may also be said that there is no one character that plays the role of the ego in this film, but that it is the fight club itself that maintains consistency with the Id and Superego. The group as a whole, the collective nature of the fight club is what keeps everything in tact. Each member of the groups has a responsibility and that is to keep the other members on top of their duties as a member. They are all responsible for not only themselves and their own actions, but as a collective whole as well. Again, the problem seen here is that the fight club does not always play the role of mediator, but as instigator instead. There is not always a time when the fight club is keeping peace between the two. In fact, it is often times seen as the reasoning behind an argument or battle.
Finally, there is the idea that there may possibly be no ego represented in the film what-so- ever. The constant conflict shown between Tyler and Jack near the end of the movie would imply that there is nothing there keeping the peace between the two. Jack begins to become Tyler. He progresses into a totally different state. His work ethic drops to nothing, he no longer lives in a high- class setting, and his efforts on appearance have become infinitesimal. There is no happy medium between the two. When one personality trait begins to merge with another, there obviously can be nothing there to keep both separate and happy at the same time. The only problem with this view is that Freud would not see this as possible. There are three structures to personality and without all three, you have nothing.
Contrary to this idea of there being no ego shown in the film Fight Club, several defense mechanisms of the ego are shown throughout the film. Defense mechanisms of the ego include repression, regression, reaction formation, projection, rationalization, displacement and many, many more. Many, if not all of these defenses are shown in the film. Repression is pushing an action, memory, or even a feeling back into the unconscious mind. This is shown in the film through one of the most famous lines in the movie: “The first rule in Fight Club: don’t talk about fight Club. The second rule in Fight Club: don’t talk about Fight Club.” These rules allow Tyler, Jack, and the other members of the club to repress their actions and use this as a coverup. They are not allowed to talk about what is happening or how they feel about it.
Another defense mechanism seen in the film is regression. Regression is reverting back to a prior state of mind, usually back to some childhood like state. Tyler is seen as the mastermind of numerous childish pranks in his role as the leader of the club. Though these pranks cause inconceivable damage, harm, and injury, they all seem to have a twist of childish glee to them. When a large building was set on fire, the rooms which were ignited were meticulously planned out so that, when viewed from the outside, a considerably large smiley face could be seen. Another “prank” played by the group which ended in the death of a member involved letting an oversized concrete ball roll off of it’s pedestal and create havoc. Many of the pranks performed by the group were seen as comical to them and never really as being harmful in any way.
They were able to regress to another state of mind and therefor saw no problems with anything they had done. Yet another prank, quite possibly the ultimate prank, was the final terrorist occurrence in the film. The idea behind blowing up all of the major credit card companies was that it would erase all debt and create total havoc amongst society. But what classifies this as childish is what Tyler says to Jack about it. Tyler picks the tallest building with huge, clear windows to watch it from because it was going to be the best fireworks show they had ever seen. What can be more reminiscent of gleeful days as a child than the giddy feeling one might get when watching the ultimate display of lights and loud noises?
Projection and displacement were also seen in the film. These defense mechanisms involve placing one’s wrong, harmful, and unwanted acts and behaviors onto something or someone else. This can mean anything from hitting a pillow to get out one’s frustrations to placing one’s own blame onto someone else. These are quite the obvious mechanisms used. There is possibly no other greater act of displacement than hitting another human being, and this is what the fight club is all about. The sole purpose of the fight club began as being to beat the living tar out of another individual so that one guy might feel better about himself.
There were virtually no restraints, money was not involved, and the only fun being had was by the onlookers. Jack displays projection more than any other character in the film. He first blames Marla for his inability to sleep. He says that his insomnia is cured through the groups he attends weekly and her new found delight in these groups was completely destroying the settling effect they had on him. He is placing his problem onto Marla and blaming her. It may also be said that Jack projects his actions onto Tyler. Jack believes that it is Tyler orchestrating all of these horrible, heinous crimes when really it is himself.
In fact, the whole idea of Tyler Durden may be considered as a projection of Jack. At first Tyler is everything Jack wants to be, but by the end of the film, he is the exact opposite. He may still desire certain qualities of Tyler’s, but all of the bad things Tyler has done are no longer wanted. All of the things Jack is doing that he sees as bad, he places on Tyler. He plays no role in these inconceivable acts, yet Tyler is the conductor of them all.
All in all the movie does an excellent job, whether it is actually intended or not, of portraying the “Elvis of psychology’s” ideas on his psychoanalytic theory and his structure of personality. From portraying each personality determinant to a “T” to providing the defense mechanisms needed for
there to be a “happy ending,” the film appropriately depicts the battle that Freud believed our unconscious struggles with on a daily basis.