Disassociation, Personality Disorders, & Global Capitalism:
Open Your Eyes to the Fight Club
Fight Club is a cinematic adaptation of a novel of the same title; therefore, the novel will be referenced peripherally in this work. While the focus of the paper will be upon Fight Club, in an effort to expand the context of the ideas to be discussed, the essay will also include analysis of a related Spanish film, Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). This film preceded the release of Fight Club by two years and went on to later be adapted for an American audience under the title, Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, and Penelope Cruz, who is cast as the same character, Sofia, in both versions of the film. The paper will discuss these films, questions they raise, and ideas they execute in relation to Doniger's piece, "Many Masks, Many Selves." The paper will demonstrate through analysis and synthesis that a possible result of global capitalism is mental break down and/or rebellion. These films feature protagonists who reflect how global capitalism contributes to a disassociative state as well as brings on a range of personality disorders.
Both films are either the sources or results of adaptations. Both films' protagonists are narcissistic men with personality disorders and sleep disorders. The protagonists of both films, due to traumas inflicted up on them and because of those they inflict upon others, suffer from delusions and are victim of psychological distortions of reality. In Fight Club, the unnamed narrator and protagonist, wears the mask of Tyler Durden, his bold, philosophical, nihilistic, rockstar imagined version of himself. In Abre Los Ojos, Cesar, literally wears a prosthetic mask to hide his once gorgeous face that now disfigured beyond repair. What Cesar does not realize is that his handsome face, the face of a consumptive, affluent playboy was a mask that hid his true self from himself.
The topic the research is to address or examine is the social psychological affects of high capitalism and consumer culture upon the individual and the group. A greater issue of the film is pluralistic identity in the information age as well as inter- and intrapersonal disconnect in a global consumer culture. Doniger contextualizes this issue as she writes:
"What do these stories both historical and mythological tell us? We assume that masquerades lie, and they often do, at least on the surface. But masquerading as ourselves often reaffirms an enduring network of selves inside us, which does not change even if our masquerades, intentional or helpless, make us look different to others." (Doniger, "Many Masks, Many Selves," Page 67)
Her argument then is that each individual is not one self, but a network of selves switching on, off, and among each other to suit the needs of the wearer of the masks, as will be illustrated in Fight Club and Abre Los Ojos. Another topic the film(s) is the connection between the affects of societal, institutional, and ideological structures affect upon the individual and the group. Bennett contends that mental illness and disassociation are at the forefront of Fight Club and are linked to consumerism just as much as the film is about violence and anarchy. Consumer culture is far more widespread with the advent of the Internet and the deeper reach of globalization; therefore, the existential situations the characters find themselves in will not only occur in America, but also occur in countries around the world, such as Spain, the setting for Abre Los Ojos.
Fight Club was first a novel, published in 1996; later in 1999, a screen adaptation of the book was released. The book and the film come right at the turn of the 21st century, right on the cusp of a turning point in culture, technology, and perspective. The narrative of Fight Club/Fight Club is told by the title character who formally has no name. He is a middle class, white-collar, white American man bored and hypnotized by his existence. As part of the travel for his profession, he encounters a soap entrepreneur and part time anarchist, Tyler Durden, on a commercial, domestic flight. After the narrator's apartment explodes, he turns to Tyler for consolation. The two become friends and partners in crime in a very literal sense of the phrase. Among the plethora of acts against established authority they perpetrate, their piece de resistance is the establishment of "Fight Club."
Fight Club begins as an underground boxing/fighting club for men to bond with other men and release the tension of modern living in a relatively safe environment. Not only do fight clubs spread quickly around the country, the clubs also act as domestic terrorist cells committing acts of what the members call "corporate terrorism," or terrorism not with the intention of physically hurting people, but of damaging power structures and of dismantling various institutions or ideologies. There exists a love triangle among the narrator, Tyler, and Marla -- a substance abusing, suicidal, emotional addict whom the narrator meets at support groups for people with terminal illnesses. Neither Marla nor the narrator has a terminal illness; the narrator attends the meetings because his attendance enables him to sleep and cures his insomnia, which is brought on by his incessant traveling for his profession in the insurance industry. Marla attends the meetings because she feels as though when people believe she is dying, they listen to her more attentively and with more sincerity.
Abre Los Ojos commences with a young man wearing a prosthetic mask recounting the last few years of his life to his concerned therapist. The young man is Cesar and the psychiatrist is Antonio. Antonio has difficulty convincing Cesar that he is in prison for murder. Cesar recounts his life in a series of flashbacks as told to Antonio as part of their mandated therapy. The memories of his life come to Cesar in his dreams; he cannot recall these memories in a conscious state. As the stories of his dreams begin, Cesar is a twenty-five-year-old, somewhat affluent, stylish and handsome womanizer & playboy. At his birthday party, he flirts with Sofia, the beautiful girlfriend of Cesar's best friend, Pelayo. Cesar takes Sofia home and sleeps at her flat, although they do not have intercourse. As Cesar departs from Sofia's flat the following morning, Cesar's obsessive ex-lover, Nuria, watches him exit Sofia's home, presumes they had sex, and resolves to take action. Nuria offers Cesar a ride to her place to have sex and on the way there, intentionally commits suicide by car crash, leaving her dead and Cesar disfigured beyond the capabilities of restorative plastic surgery. Sofia leaves Cesar for Pelayo because she finds his injury unbearable.
After Cesar's disfigurement, he has a series of startling and highly confusing experiences. One evening he falls asleep in the streets, heavily intoxicated. When he awakens, Sofia loves him once more and his face is fully restored, as if the accident never occurred. He continues in this life until one evening, as Cesar and Sofia are intimate, Sofia turns into Nuria. Horrified and in fear of his life, Cesar smothers Nuria with a pillow from their bed. Everyone around Cesar tells him that the woman he calls Nuria is actually Sofia. He confused and bewildered to the point that he has a mental break down. Ultimately, Cesar understands that he has been cryogenically frozen and that the experiences he remembers after the evening he fell asleep in the street drunk are no more than exceptionally lucid and lifelike virtual reality dreams supplied directly to his mind by the cryogenics company. When offered the choice of staying in the dream and waking up to reality, Cesar chooses waking life and actual reality. The only way is can wake up is to jump from a building -- the shock would snap his psyche from unconsciousness waking him and forcing open his eyes.
Detachment, alienation, boredom, revolution, terrorism, and questionable mental health disperse around the world at the speed of broadband. The study of existentialism in the information age is vital as massive shifts in technology and communication change how people perceive themselves. The study of existentialism in an age of global capitalism is vital as well because most cultures are not capitalist, so for so many people to experience a shift in economics, politics, and consumption must have impacts on the individual and societal levels. The research tracks the trajectory from capitalism, rebellion, disassociated, and mental instability, as the connections among them are at the forefront of Fight Club and as part of the subtext of Abre Los Ojos. At stake in the research are perspective, awareness, and connection with the self.
The characters, Cesar, Tyler, Marla, and Sofia, protagonists of the late 20th century, are severely disenchanted and isolated, almost two decades ago, before the effects of the Internet and mobile technology really hit the world. Had these narratives taken place during the 21st century, such effects would be all the more intensified and therefore stylized as they are…