Masculinities and the Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder in the Movie Fight Club

Madness and other anomalies of the mind have been subjects of many creative depictions. Films, in particular, have sought to describe these abnormal states of mind by creating fictitious characters plagued with them as the main players in the screenplays. In most cases, the characters have been set to be the heroes or the villains in the stories. Fight Club is one movie in which such a mental illness is portrayed. In the movie, the main character exhibits all the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The following paper discusses how a specific scene in Fight Club represents DID through an analysis of the characters, the cinematography, mise-en-scène, and dialogue.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), DID present several symptoms in its patients. Among them are memory loss, detached identity, distorted perception of things and people, depression, anxiety, emotional stress and depersonalization [ CITATION Spi80 1033]. The chosen scene in Fight Club shows all the above symptoms in the main character. The scene runs from 2:05:42 to 2:09:36. In the scene’s beginning, the narrator realizes that Tyler Darden was simply a fragment of his imagination and that he had conjured him up to affect changes that he was not mentally equipped to handle. He uncovers the truth that his alter ego is about to blow up corporate buildings that, in his mind, symbolized the oppressiveness of consumerism and capitalism.

The mise-en-scène chosen by the movie director provides evidence that the character is deeply disturbed. Firstly, he is clothed in shabby unkempt décor. Moreover, he has eye bags over his cheeks to signify that he was fatigued and unrested. This portrayal was crucial since according to Sigmund Freud, emotional trauma was a leading cause of dissociative behavior. When the narrator finally accosted Tyler Darden, his split persona and tried to reason with him to abort his anarchist mission, he was received with resistance. The scene reveals that the narrator is deranged by showing different sides of the dialogue between the two. On one side, the movie shows the narrator engaging in a heated altercation with Tyler Darden. From another angle however, the film depicts the narrator cussing around alone in an abandoned car park. The audience is then left to deduce that Tyler did not exist in actuality even though the narrator perceived him as real [ CITATION Pal05 l 1033]. The narrator in this scene is shown as not to have control over his split personality.

In actuality, he is trying his best to prevent his alter ego from committing a terrorist act as hinted by the bomb rigged to the van. The narrator experiences active opposition from the part of his mind that still wants to carry out the act. In essence his native state of mind has been hijacked by the Tyler side. However, he is determined to regain his sanity to the point that he physically roughs himself up so as to overcome his evil side. The movie director portrays this madness by pitting him side by side with his imagined ally while at the same time showing the audience what he is actually doing. In that essence, the scene manages to show that the narrator is removed from reality and can thereby be termed mad.

The cinematography of the film also adds to the mentally disturbed image that the director hoped to achieve. For example, the lighting of the entire film is minimalist in a bid to appear dark and eerie. This, in turn, produces an effect that makes the mood of the film to be depressing. The mood is in support with one of DID’s symptom, that is, depression [ CITATION Wed10 l 1033]. The camera technique employed to show the differences in the narrator’s worldview from that of the audience also contribute to the proof of his madness. For example, when a fight apparently ensues between him and Tyler Darden, in the eyes of the narrator, he is brawling with an opponent. However, when the camera shifts occasionally, one can see the narrator roughing himself up. In fact, when the narrator drags himself across the floor as he clutches at his own neck, it is made vivid that he is not mentally sound.

Moreover, he even goes on to strangle himself thereby projecting evidence of suicidal ideation, a common symptom of mental instability. The movie scene additionally employs audio and visual effects to enhance the ideation of madness in the audience’s minds. For instance, towards the end of the scene, the visual feed occasionally flickers and becomes distorted as the narrator strangles himself. This visual effect creates the idea of short-circuiting synapses and neurons in the narrator mind. It additionally hints at the lapses in the narrator’s cognition and perception of reality. Moreover, the audio playback contains high adrenaline music with disturbing screams and grunts echoing in the background as if hinting of the mental disturbance being experienced by the protagonist at the time. Using these effects, the scene was successful in portraying the tortured psyche of the main character in Fight Club.

According to Carl Jung, dissociation from one’s self-was a process that allowed an affected individual to continue functioning even though his mental state was in distress [CITATION Jun39 l 1033 ]. In the movie, presentation of the personality disorder has been achieved by focusing on the ability of the narrator to continue presenting his case without explicitly describing who he is. He at times regards himself as Tyler Darden and at others the unnamed protagonist. This fluid identity is analogous of how people with dissociative identity disorder perceive the world around them. In fact, the character is not even sure of whom he is. This is cinematically exemplified by his monologue, which he believes is actually a dialogue.

In this debate against his alter ego, he curses at Tyler, calling him a psychopath due to his extremist view. Tyler on the other hand calls him weak and incapable. Tyler’s side of his personality explains that it is stronger than his native side and that he would overtake the narrator’s native side since the narrator subconsciously yearned to be more like Tyler. When Tyler asserts that the narrator sought freedom through invoking his alter ego, it becomes clear that the narrator yearns for a world of chaos, a utopian world that many disturbed individuals fantasize about to be freed from the clutches of reality[ CITATION Pal05 l 1033 ].

Jacques Lacan discourses on DID when he asserts that human beings are affected by a mirror stage while they are toddlers. According to him, this stage makes them makes people echo a personality of their desire[ CITATION Lac49 | 1033 ]. In dissociative identity disorder, patients take this theory to the extreme by actually integrating the desired personality into their lives. The narrator in Fight Club integrates the personality of Tyler Darden into his own. By allowing Tyler Darden to chase after his ideal world, the narrator believes that the benefits of realizing such a world will trickle down on him. It is thereby in trying to escape his inability as a human being that he conjures up Tyler Darden, a persona that is all capable who will aid him in achieving what he as an individual could not[ CITATION Pal05 l 1033 ].

The mirror stage theory is cinematically portrayed through the portrayal of one person as two. The main character is shown as two distinct people. The real person however projects the qualities that he lacks onto an invisible ally. This distinction is also shown through mise en scene in that one is portrayed as a white collar professional while the other is painted as a casual individual. The differences between the two opposing personalities are also demonstrated by the hue of their clothing. The narrator’s native personality is clad in dull and gray attire to signify despair and boredom while Tyler is dressed more fantastically with a red leather jacket as a symbol of freedom and extraversion. In doing so, the filmmaker mirrored an alternate version of the main character into another entity.

Sigmund Freud, a psychoanalyst, developed theories tied to dissociative personality disorder. His most important contribution to the theory was the idea of repression. Repression refers to the idea that when people do not want to become aware of memories that could be traumatic, their subconscious is capable of making such memories inaccessible to make them functional[ CITATION Fre57 1033 ]. Dissociation is an acutely harmful state of mind and people suffering from it tend to be dysfunctional. However, in Fight Club, dissociative personality disorder is portrayed as more a defensive strategy that the mind adopts when trying to function in the face of traumatic experiences.

Although it cannot be derived from the scene if the narrator has been through such an experience, one can deduce that his visual impression bears the hallmark of a disturbed person. Therefore, it is correct to assert that the narrator is obviously going through a rough time in which he has devolved into a psychologically unhealthy existence. To function in the presence of this existence, the narrator’s mind can be said to have repressed memories of his true identity[ CITATION Pal05 l 1033 ]. This scene demonstrates the idea of repression by showing how vehemently the narrator rejects the idea that it was he who desired an anarchist world. He views Tyler as uncontrollable and psychopathic while it is he who really is. However, even with the knowledge that he had chosen to repress the truth that he was living a double life, his mind actively rejected integration of the two personas to the point that he had to threaten his own life so as to finally end his mental anguish.

Freud further theorized that dreams are crucial to the enabling of the unconscious to actively affect the conscious mind[ CITATION Fre57 l 1033 ]. In the movie scene, Tyler Darden is shown to be physically inexistent. The filmmaker presents visual evidence for the fact that the narrator had not had sleep in a long time due to the swollen bags under his eyes. Freud theorized that in cases where sleep deprivation was common, patients were likely to experience hallucinations in the form of waking dreams. The narrator thereby must have been dreaming up Tyler. In doing so, the narrator could be said to have been experiencing Tyler as a manifestation of his subconscious simultaneously with his conscious self.

Thereby it can be affirmed that true to Freud’s supposition, dreams can be used to depict how the subconscious mind affects the conscious mind[ CITATION Fre57 l 1033]. Moreover, Freud thought that in dream states, only the subconscious could influence the conscious and that the conscious mind was incapable of affecting the subconscious. In the movie scene, this is exemplified by how the altercation between the narrators persona only left his native side in pain while the alter ego was unscathed. The scene uses alternating depictions of the main character fighting Tyler versus that of him fighting himself to demonstrate the theory. By allowing Tyler to be unscathed when he was shot, the scene showed how the unconscious was more empowered in dreams and hallucinatory states.

Madness has been portrayed in the movie Fight Club through the use of different cinematography elements. The lighting of the movie is minimal which in turn serves to produce a dark nihilistic atmosphere characteristic of mentally unstable people. The switching of the cameras perspective to represent conflicting perceptions of the same scenario has been extensively employed to depict the protagonist’s uncertainty of his reality. This is since the camera at times captures two people inside the car park and one person in others. This has been the main determinant that the character suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. However, other elements have also served to show the protagonist’s madness.

Among them is the use of distorted audio and visual effects. The effects hint at the disturbance in the narrator’s mind. Theories such as mirror theory, which supports the presence of dissociation in the movie scene, have also been demonstrated by mirroring the desired personality of the narrator into an entire character. In the light of the above evidence, it can be concluded that Fight Club was successful in capturing the mental illness of dissociative identity disorder.

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