Fight Club (Film) Summary and Analysis
Scenes 31 ("Little Zen center of the universe") to 40 ("You’re going to start a fight with a stranger...and you’re gonna lose”)
Jack now comes home everyday to constantly hear Tyler and Marla having sex. Plaster falls from the ceiling on Jack as he is doing sit-ups. He does his best to ignore them. Apart from their time in Tyler’s bedroom, Jack never sees them together.
The phone rings in the house. Jack is over the kitchen sink scrubbing blood stains from clothing with a toothbrush. Marla and Tyler are upstairs having sex so Jack answers the phone. It is Detective Stern from the Arson Unit of the police department calling about the explosion in Jack’s condo. He informs Jack that someone used freon to freeze the cylinder lock in Jack’s door and then shattered it to get in. The dynamite used to destroy the unit was probably homemade, he says. Stern is suspicious in his tone. Tyler suddenly appears by Jack, telling him to tell Det. Stern that Jack blew up his own condo. Tyler insists that this is what the officer wants to hear. Jack does his best to convince the detective that he has no idea who would do something like this to him, that the destruction of the condo was like being blown up himself. Jack asks Detective Stern if he is a suspect. Stern instructs Jack to let him know if he’s leaving town for any reason. Jack returns to scrubbing his clothes. Tyler has disappeared. Marla enters the scene, descending from the stairs. She lights a cigarette and is wearing a bridesmaid's dress that she tells Jack she got for one dollar at a thrift store. She moves close to Jack, standing right behind him. She says the dress was loved intensely by someone for one day and then thrown away. She stands right behind Jack and then reaches around and grabs his crotch. Making light of her analogy, Jack says, “Well then it suits you.” Marla backs off and tells him he can borrow it sometime before storming back upstairs. Tyler suddenly reappears in the doorway. “Get rid of her,” he instructs. Jack protests, “What? Hey, you get rid of her!” Tyler tells him not to mention him in any way. Marla returns with her things. Jack tells her she should go. She tells him that he’s a nutcase and walks off singing “This Merry-Go-Round” from “Valley of The Dolls.” As Jack watches her go his expression changes from one of resentment to sympathy and concern.
Tyler reappears as soon as Marla is gone. Jack asks him why he wastes time with her. Tyler shoots him a defensive look and says that at least Marla is trying to hit rock bottom. Jack is a bit hurt. “What, and I’m not?” he retorts. He asks Tyler what they’re doing tonight. Tyler answers that they are going to make soap, and to do that they’ll need fat.
The next scene finds Tyler and Jack ducked down, scurrying across an open parking area to a chain-link fence, which they quickly scale. A security guard comes by but does not see them. Tyler moves to a dumpster marked with a biohazard sticker. “The best fat for making soap comes from humans,” he says. Jacks asks where they are. “A liposuction clinic,” Tyler says, beaming. Tyler climbs into the dumpster and begins chucking out huge plastic bags full of thick, pinkish goo.
Back at the house Tyler and Jack stand over a boiling pot. The fat bubbles inside as it renders. Tyler explains that as the fat renders, the tallow floats to the surface. The top layer is glycerin. He tells Jack that it can be used to make nitroglycerin. The key ingredient in soap, Tyler explains, is lye. He holds up a container of lye flakes. He asks Jack for his hand. Tyler dons gloves and goggles, licks his lips, and kisses Jack’s hand. “What is this?”, asks Jack. “This, is a chemical burn,” says Tyler as he pours the lye over Jack’s hand. The lye makes contact with the saliva on Jack’s hand and begins to react. Jack howls in pain. Jack tries to escape the pain using guided meditation. Tyler slaps him back into reality. “This is your pain, this is your burning hand! Don’t run from this,” yells Tyler. Jack tries to go to his cave, to find his power animal. Again he finds Marla. She lies naked, draped only in an animal fur. As Jack leans over her she breathes smoke into his face from a cigarette. Tyler slaps Jack again and tells him that he is missing the greatest moment of his life. Tyler tells Jack that he needs to accept the fact that one day he will die and accept it without fear. Jack counters that Tyler doesn’t know what this feels like. Tyler shows Jack his hand. It has a chemical burn scar on it too. Jack composes himself and holds out his hand. He is shaking and sweating from the pain. Tyler grabs a bottle of vinegar and pours it over Jack’s hand, neutralizing the pain. Jack collapses to the floor. “Congratulations,” says Tyler. “You’re one step closer to hitting rock bottom.”
Jack is sitting at his desk, his hand bandaged from the burn, when his boss enters, looking upset. His boss holds a piece of paper in his hand. He reads from it. “The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.” Jack realizes he must have left the original in the photocopier. “Is this yours?” his boss asks accusingly. Jack stares back stoically. His boss asks him to imagine his position. “What would you do if you found this?” he asks Jack. Jack stands up and makes his way around the desk. He tells his boss that he’d be careful with that paper because the person who wrote that is probably dangerous. Jack’s boss’s expression turns cold. Jack says that this person is probably someone he knows, the kind of person who would bring a Armalite rifle to work and pump round after round into fellow employees. Jack’s bosses eyes are wide with fear and shock. Jack says this person is probably someone very close to him. He suddenly snatches the paper out of his boss’s hand. “Or maybe you just shouldn’t bring me every little piece of trash you happen to pick up,” he says. Jack mentions in voice-over that these were Tyler’s words coming out of his mouth. “And I used to be such a nice guy,” he remarks. His phone rings. Jack reaches over and answers it. It’s Marla. She has found what she thinks is a lump in her breast and asks Jack to come over and check it out. Jack’s boss stumbles away, frightened by what Jack has said. Jack tells Marla to see a doctor but she insists she can’t afford to do that.
Moments later Jack is walking down the street to Marla’s apartment. He meets her outside where she is picking up ready-made meals from Meals on Wheels. Jack says it’s nice that she’s taking food up to the old ladies in her building. He asks who these old women are. Marla tells him that they’re dead but that she’s alive and in poverty. She takes two meals, one for her and Jack each.
Inside her apartment, Jack stands behind Marla and examines her. He is uncomfortable but finds nothing. Marla is relieved and thanks him with a peck on the cheek. Jack tenses up and asks if he can go now. Marla makes a face as Jack leaves abruptly. He steps out onto the street and stops, staring back at Marla’s window. Suddenly he’s interrupted by a voice off-screen. “Cornelius?”
Jack turns and sees that it’s Bob, from the testicular cancer support group. He’s devouring a box of donuts as he walks. He makes his way over to Jack and gives him a big hug. Jack asks if Bob is still going to meetings. Bob says that he’s found a new group but that the first rule of it is that he’s not supposed to talk about it. Jack stares back at Bob and says that he’s a member of this club too. Bob is very excited and gives him a slap on the back. Jack says he’s never seen Bob at fight club before. Bob says he goes on Tuesdays. This is news to Jack, who didn’t know there were fights on other nights. Bob asks if Jack knows anything about the guy who invented fight club. Bob says he’s heard rumors that he was born in a mental institution and only sleeps one hour a night. Jack is a bit flattered until Bob says, “Have you heard about Tyler Durden?”
The next scene finds Bob and Jack fighting each other at another fight club meeting. Bob grabs Jack and puts him in a choke hold. Jack taps out. The men cheer. As Bob and Jack leave for the night, Bob thanks Jack profusely and gives him a big hug. Jack smiles, wincing in pain as Bob hugs him.
Next, we find Tyler addressing a crowd of men in the basement of Lou’s Tavern on another night. Tyler says that he has been seeing a lot of new faces at fight club, which means the first two rules are being broken routinely. He admonishes the men for this before launching into a brief monologue:
“I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men that have ever lived. And then I see squandering. A whole generation pumping gas; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’ll all be rock stars and movie gods but we won’t. And we are slowly learning this fact. And we are very, very pissed off.”
Tyler begins to summarize the rules of fight club when footsteps are heard on the stairs. A hefty man in a suit descends followed by a large thug. The hefty man, quite angry, identifies himself as Lou, the owner of Lou’s Tavern. He asks Tyler who told them they could use his basement. Tyler explains that he had a deal worked out with Irvine, and that there is no money involved. Lou tells everyone to get out of there immediately. Tyler doesn’t budge. He invites Lou, and his bodyguard, to join fight club. Lou socks Tyler in the gut. Tyler goes down. “Ya hear me now?” yells Lou. Tyler says no. Lou proceeds to begin beating Tyler. Lou’s bodyguard wields a gun to keep the men at bay. Tyler motions to Jack to stand down. As Lou is pummeling him, Tyler begins laughing maniacally, saying that the men really like using the basement. Lou finally stops hitting Tyler. He straightens his tie and turns around to leave. Tyler springs up and throws him to the ground. He lies on top of him as his blood drips down all over Lou. “You don’t know where I’ve been, Lou!”, he jests. Lou’s bodyguard tries to pull Tyler off but Tyler holds on to Lou tight until Lou agrees to let Tyler and the other men continue to use the basement. Lou and his bodyguard leave. The men pick Tyler up off the floor and Tyler then announces that he has a homework assignment for them. They are to each start a fight with a stranger, and lose that fight.
The next scene is a montage of various members of fight club trying to start fights with strangers. One accosts a priest on the street. Another charges a man riding a bicycle.
Marla and Tyler's relationship is purely physical. Jack states that he never sees them together otherwise, commenting that his parents did the same thing for years. When Marla comes on to him, Jack is shocked. He insults her by summing up her relationship with Tyler: they have sex and then he kicks her out. She leaves angrily but as she walks off we see that Jack is actually concerned for her. He can't condone how Tyler treats her. Tyler retorts that at least Marla's trying to hit rock bottom, an absolute zero phase so that she can destroy her old self and build herself up again in a new form. Jack is hurt by this comment but changes the subject to what they are going to do that evening.
Tyler's story about the origins of soap presents an interesting parable. Soap is generally associated with cleanliness but Tyler's soap comes from human fat. Tyler explains that the first soap was made from the ashes of human sacrifices. Now, people buy soap without a second thought as to where it comes from. Tyler is stating that sacrifice for the greater good is becoming an increasingly rare thing. In the past, progress arose from sacrifice. Now, there is no sacrifice, so there is no progress. Tyler later explains his vision for a new world order to Jack. In it, he describes a world that has returned to a hunter gatherer/pre-agrarian way of life. To reach back in time to this point, Tyler must destroy most of the tenets of conventional society. Consider that many of the ingredients that Tyler uses to make soap can also be used to make explosives. The cleansing power of soap then takes on a much darker meaning. Tyler will use explosives to bring about his vision.
After returning from the liposuction clinic Tyler administers a chemical burn to Jack's hand. Jack attempts to block out the pain he is experiencing, just as he had been doing before meeting Tyler. Tyler slaps him in the face. He asks Jack to confront his pain and acknowledge that one day his life will end. As Jack collapses to the ground after having Tyler neutralizes his burn he is one step closer to rock bottom, to reaching his true self.
Tyler's fascination with this idea of eradicating the self to establish a new truer persona highlights some of the Buddhist principles in the film. The rejection of material possessions and attachment is another. Tyler also seems to believe in the idea of self-suffering as a means of attaining some kind of enlightenment or liberation. He forces this on Jack, physically injuring him in the process. Tyler's aim in inflicting this pain on his friend is to make the inevitability of death a lucid and undeniable fact. We do not tend to go through our day-to-day lives thinking about how they will one day end. Tyler's belief is that until we are strong enough to take this step, we cannot truly appreciate life. Though Jack accepts Tyler's lesson this time, it signals that something between them is changing. They are beginning to grow apart as Tyler's ideology becomes more extreme.
Jack's chilling encounter with his boss also suggests that Tyler's darker impulses are influencing him. His boss is stunned when Jack threatens his life, completely unsure of how to act in the face of this behavior from an employee. Jack completely undermines his authority with this threat, sending a message to his boss that he will no longer be subject to the terms of the power structure that comprises their relationship. Consider the implications of this encounter. Jack's boss is something of a father figure as well.
Jack sees Marla again after this encounter with his boss. He performs a breast exam for her. She pecks him on the cheek for his help and there is palpable sexual tension between them. Jack quickly exits, diffusing the situation. As Jack and Tyler's relationship begins to become rockier, Jack moves closer to Marla. As the film progresses through the rest of the second and final third act, Jack is forced to come to terms with how he feels about her.
Tyler's monologue in the basement of Lou's Tavern is the central tenet of his philosophy in the film. It also demonstrates that Tyler is becoming frustrated with Fight Club. He wants it to progress out of the basement of a bar and into the culture, to make his mark on history. He seems to fear that history is passing him by and that his opportunity for affecting it will soon be gone too. His monologue makes reference to past generations and how his generation stands in contrast to them. Tyler seems to feel that his generation of men have not been tested, and therefore have lost a connection to their masculinity. He wishes to evoke some of that old-fashioned manliness. Consider that Tyler's romanticized view of past generations could be of his own invention. The past is frequently seen as having been superior in some way, but generally only in retrospect. Tyler has no way of knowing if these past generations of men did not have the same concerns he did.
After taking a beating from Lou (a sacrifice on Tyler's part) to allow Fight Club to continue he has the crowd of men completely enamored. He assigns them homework, which they willingly accept without question. They must start a fight with a stranger and lose that fight. Tyler's idea is to allow a complete stranger to feel the experience of a fight, something they would never willingly agree to otherwise. In much the same way Tyler dragged Jack into fighting, he wants the members of Fight Club to do the same for a stranger and bring them into this circle.
Fight Club (Film) Essays and Related Content
- Fight Club (Film): Major Themes
- Fight Club (Film): Essays
- Fight Club (Film): Questions
- Fight Club (Film): Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- David Fincher: Biography
- Fight Club (Film) Summary
- About Fight Club (Film)
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Scenes 1 ("People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden") to 10 (“She ruined everything”)
- Summary and Analysis of Scenes 11 ("Chloe") to 20 ("After the first month I didn't miss TV")
- Summary and Analysis of Scenes 21 ("Can I be next?") to 30 ("What are you doing in my house?")
- Summary and Analysis of Scenes 31 ("Little Zen center of the universe") to 40 ("You’re going to start a fight with a stranger...and you’re gonna lose”)
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 41 ("We now had corporate sponsorship") to 50 ("His name is Robert Paulson")
- Summary and Analysis of Scenes 51 ("You're Mr. Durden") to 56 ("You met me at a very strange time in my life")
- Fight Club: The Novel vs. The Film
- Related Links on Fight Club (Film)
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources