10 votes

Observations on Fight Club

Last week I got it into my head that I wanted to watch Fight Club again, and invited others to join along to watch and discuss. I thought I might have something profound to say about it, and we covered a lot of ground in the discussion thread.

Rather than rehash what has already been discussed, I thought I'd offer some observations, mainly with respect to technology. Technology is something I try to keep a close eye on. It is I dare say sneaking up on us and a look at Fight Club shows us some of the ways how.

The first time I saw Fight Club was when it debuted in 1999, at a movie theater. It was on film - celluloid - delivered to the theater on rolls. The second time I saw, a few years later, it was on a VHS cassette that I rented at Blockbuster (while living in Taiwan). Both of those instances of the movie had a physical presence.

The last time I saw it, just a few days ago, it was delivered as a 48 hour rental that was a digital stream of bits from Amazon. No physical presence. It cost $2.99*, roughly the same as a when I rented it, but with no need to drive to the video store, park across the street, get wet and cold and risk late fees.

Same movie, three different mediums over the course of 13 years.

And without further ado... The Observations!

* * *

Early in the story, we see Ed Norton's character speaking with an IKEA operator while he leisurely browses the catalogue:

Fight Club

Remember the good old IKEA catalogue? Today it may look more or less the same as the one Ed Norton was browsing, but that's not real furniture anymore. The pictures of the stuff are mostly just computer generated images. It is cheaper that way.

Back in 1999, you still had to talk to a human to order your items from the catalogue. As frustrating and alienating as that seemed at the time, it still involved human interaction. While on hold, Norton was able to go to the bathroom:

Fight Club

Walk around his apartment:

Fight Club

And check out his dishes, all the while talking to another human at the other end of his telephone line. There is something very inmate about that.

Fight Club

What would he be doing if this movie were made in 2014? Looking at IKEA's "augmented reality" catalogue?

* * *

Norton goes to the doctor to try to get a prescription because he can't sleep. Check out that big old CRT monitor on the doctor's desk! You don't see those any more, not at the hospital. That's a sign that you're in a different time and place.

Fight Club

Here's Norton's destroyed yin-yang table after his apartment gets blown up:

Fight Club Yin Yang Table

No real technology observation here. I just thought it was funny.

But look at what else he finds in the smoldering ruins of his blown up apartment. Implausibly, there is Marla Singer's phone number, fully and completely intact on a perfect little slip of paper:

Fight Club Marla Singer's Phone Number

It is almost as implausible as finding a hijaker's intact passport in the ruins of the 9/11 WTC bombing. (Almost, but not quite, because Fight Club is fiction.)

* * *

What is the first thing Norton does after his apartment gets destroyed? He heads for a pay phone so he can call someone. In this respect, Fight Club is as conspicuous for the technology that you don't see. You don't see a cell phone, even an old fashioned one. You certainly don't see an iPhone or a tablet. They hadn't been invented yet!

Fight Club Pay Phone

Pay phones are over. These days abandoned pay phone boxes across the country are being turned into art installations. That's how obsolete pay phones are now. But back in the day, they cost a quarter:

Fight Club Pay Phone

Fight Club isn't the only 1999 film to prominently feature a ringing pay phone. This phone is ringing loudly:

Fight Club Pay Phone

It is Tyler Durden, calling him back. "I *69ed you," he says. "I never answer the phone."

*69 is over. Who needs it these days? It doesn't even work from a cell phone. Yet another piece of obsolete technology. (For those of you who never knew, dialing *69 used to get you the number of the person who just dialed you.)

* * *

Hey! While we're looking at Ed Norton talking on an old fashioned pay phone, what does it say there at the bottom of the screen?

Fight Club Pay Phone

Amazon streaming video? Back in '99 you would have said, "What the he---" It didn't exist yet.

These days it is just normal everyday magic.

Here's Tyler. Nice shot of him:

Fight Club Pay Phone

Tyler works nights as a projectionist at a movie theater. He changes the film rolls (among other things) when the cue mark, or "cigarette burn" gives him the signal. Here he is pointing out a cue mark on the film:

Fight Cue Mark

Do you remember seeing those? You probably haven't seen any in a while, because most movies don't come on film any more. They're digital.

Paramount Pictures is the first studio to quit distributing films on film altogether. Anchorman 2 was the last film they put out on film. The Wolf of Wall Street was the first film that wasn't distributed at all on film.

Those nice old movie houses that you like going to are either going to have to evolve or die.

* * *

Here we are, back to another scene with an old fashioned phone. Marla calls up the house. She's making a suicide attempt, and is reaching out for help. Norton, disconnected as he is from reality, doesn't want anything to do with it, but he doesn't hang up the phone. Instead he places the receiver on top of the phone and walks away:

Fight Club Phone

We could have easily substituted a cell phone for that first pay phone, after Norton's apartment gets destroyed. But this one isn't so easy to get rid of. It is a plot device. It is key to the story of how Tyler and Marla meet for the first time.

Who would ever leave a cell phone open with someone talking on the other end, especially back in those days? There were the minutes to worry about, not to mention battery life. As far as the plot goes, you can't swap this phone out for a cell phone. Not for what this phone needs to accomplish.

Fight Club Phone

As for the yellow latex dish glove, that remains current technology. (Though what he was doing with it remains another story entirely!)

Fight Club Yellow Dish Glove

Here's a quaint scene, from the days before Homeland Security. This is airport security, pre-9/11 style. He's an annoying relatively innocuous guy at a desk, not a heavily armed, potentially jack booted thug who might body slam you for saying the wrong thing.

Fight Club Airport Security

And this is amusing. As part of "Project Mayhem" Tyler's soldiers are out making mischief. Here they are with big magnets, erasing the VHS tapes at the local video shop! In 2014, they'd likely be doing something in the virtual world - some kind of hacking.

Fight Club

And we'll conclude with one last project from "Project Mahem:" Destroying TV antennas on top of apartment buildings. (Yes, they're doing the satellite dishes too, but come on. TV antennas?)

Fight Club Airport Security

For lack of a better ending, and due to the lateness of the hour: THE END.

And somewhat against better judgement, I hit save and publish this first draft. What the hell. You only live once. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Later this week, we're watching The Matrix. You're welcome to join, and I hope you will.

*And as a final footnote, today, completely unsolicited, I received the following email from Amazon, which I reproduce here in full:

From: Amazon Instant Video
To: Michael

Subject: Amazon.com: Refund of your purchase of Fight Club


We noticed that you experienced poor video playback while watching the following rental(s) on Amazon Instant Video:

Fight Club

We're sorry for the inconvenience and have issued you a refund for the following amount(s):


While Amazon Video On Demand transactions are typically not refundable, we are happy to make an exception in this case. This refund should be processed within the next 2 to 3 business days and will appear on your next billing statement for the same credit card used to purchase this item.

Please visit our troubleshooting page for tips on ways you can potentially improve your viewing experience: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=2...

We hope to see you again soon,

Amazon Instant Video Team

Note: this e-mail was sent from a notification-only e-mail address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.

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Michael Nystrom's picture

Tyler Durden (at Zero Hedge)

is the modern day Publius.

JustLiberty4US's picture

Funny. I had to laugh. You

Funny. I had to laugh. You wrote:

"*69 is over. Who needs it these days? It doesn't even work from a cell phone. Yet another piece of obsolete technology. (For those of you who never knew, dialing *69 used to get you the number of the person who just dialed you.)"

I don't have a cell phone or caller id. I probably spend at least four or five bucks a month on *69

Michael Nystrom's picture

That is funny.

Thank you for sharing that with me. I find that amusing.

We all live in different worlds.

"Reality tunnels" Robert Anton Wilson called them. I think they're more like reality holograms.

But they're definitely real.

hey, those are all my favorite movies

Except for Inception, that one does not belong on the list. As for Primer, that movie is in a class by itself. I am still trying to figure that one out. What a mindfuck.

"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind." - Khalil Gibran
"The Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame." - Chuang Tzu


watch memento.

Daily Paul cured my abibliophobia.

oooo, that's a good one

definitely a watch-twice kind of movie. Another watch-twice movie is Mulholland Drive.

"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind." - Khalil Gibran
"The Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame." - Chuang Tzu

Watch it


I'd rather have a bottle in front o' me than a frontal lobotomy

DEFINITELY one of those films that's better the second time...

and for the THIRD viewing, see it in chronological order. Third, not second (this is important.)

BTW - love Fight Club, but as a candlemaker for a while there everybody was asking me 'did you see fight club? Do you make those candles out of people like in the movie?' To which I would reply 'they're candles, not soap. I use puppies and kittens.' That would usually shut them up.

Daily Paul cured my abibliophobia.


some interesting observations. I missed most of them!

Seen this flick twice and I'm still not sure what the real point of the movie is. This movie kind of twists my mind a bit and leaves me feeling...well, a bit depressed? Not sure why.

By the way...you can watch this flick for free on your computer on viooz...for what it's worth.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Reader Survey

No pressure on anyone to answer.

Which of the first four photos most represents a human connection with the IKEA operator (if any).

Mainly the point I want to emphasize is that at least you used to get to talk to someone on the phone. Now it is all just click, click, click.





Seriously, how would Ed Norton be killing time today? On Amazon?

Here's the new IKEA Catalog:

the second one


"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind." - Khalil Gibran
"The Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame." - Chuang Tzu

Michael Nystrom's picture

Guys like the second one

Girls like the one with the dishes.

jrd3820's picture

Alright kid, this hurts me more than it hurts you

Ok, I give this about a B. No worries, my story on the jam session was so rough it got a C/C- from me.
Disclaimer, this is only because I care about your writing.

We’ll start with grammar. Don’t take this as arrogant, I wish I could do this for my own writing, I can’t though.

“Technology is something I try to keep a close eye on. It is I dare say sneaking up on us and a look at Fight Club shows us some of the ways how.”

You need a comma after the word ‘us’ and before the word ‘and.’

“The second time I saw, a few years later, it was on a VHS cassette that I rented at Blockbuster.”

I think you mean to add the word ‘it’ after the word ‘saw’. “The second time is saw it….”

“It is almost as implausible as finding a hijaker's” According to Microsoft word which seems to think it has some sort of monopoly on how words are spelled you mean ‘hijacker’s’

“And we'll conclude with one last project from "Project Mahem:" I think you mean project Mayhem with a y in there.

“And somewhat against better judgement” And once again Microsoft word is being a dick and says judgement should be spelled like this instead; judgment.

Ok, sorry to nitpick and I know it was a first draft. Not so bad though because my grammar first drafts would make a grade school student cry in frustration at my inability to use punctuation correctly.

Moving on to the ideas. Interesting you went with technology. Not surprising I suppose. Most people view this as a statement about life or consumerism or whatnot.

Let’s start with pay phones because I thought that was an interesting observation. A few summer’s back, ’09 maybe?....I was staying with a friend in Phoenix for the summer. We borrowed her fiance's car for a road trip. We got pretty far out there in the desert. I didn’t have my cell phone with me (I usually don’t, I don’t really like it, so I don’t carry it everywhere), and her cell phone was dying. We weren’t in any sort of emergency or anything, but we wanted to call her fiance to let him know we had driven much further than we thought and would be a lot later than we had planned. When we eventually found signs of life there was a little gas station and it had a pay phone in the parking lot. We were so excited and we went to go call him but it presented two problems. First of all we realized that she didn’t even know his phone number as it is just something she finds in her phone contacts and presses send and then even if we did have his number the thing didn’t work.

In Shanghai there were old pay phone booths that had been turned into wi-fi hotspots so you could stand in there and connect really quick if you needed to.

*69. I do remember that. Barely, but I do remember it. When I watched Fight Club with my younger sister a few years ago, she asked what it meant lol. She is one of the few people that really makes me feel old sometimes.

Yeah, there are a lot of pictures, but I wanted a chance to look at them all before I gave my thoughts.

What picture shows a human connection the most in regards to the ikea pictures? The one with the dishes in my opinion. He looks in thought there, he is thinking about the conversation he is having. It takes another person to have a conversation.

I love the picture of the doctor. It illustrates the disbelief or lack of care some people show when someone says dramatic things like, 'can you die from insomnia?'

NO. You. CANNOT. Die. From. Insomnia.

I know that to be a fact.

As far as the pictures of the pay phones, the one where he is putting the quarter in the phone shows action. That quarter is going to make something happen. It is going to aid in communication between two human beings that are not standing right by each other.

If you want to clean up some of the pictures, I think those ones are some of the important ones to consider keeping. Also the one with Marla's number because of the symbolism which is Marla withstands blown up apartments.

Not so bad for a first draft. If you're interested in making it a hit piece there is some advice for you.

Good job though all around. Way to raise the bar around here.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Quit procrastinating

While you're nitpicking the grammer on my first draft (what are you going to hit next, my spelling? Oh, wait. You already did.*) I'm sitting around waiting for that widely anticipated piece on the Singularity, Artificial Intelligence, Robots and Transhumanism.

Granted, you're probably smarter than me in not publishing your first draft, but I can tell when someone's being a procrastinator. It takes one to know one.

Anyway, you're more generous with me than with yourself. Mine should get the C and yours the B!

Yes, see your story about the trip through the Arizona desert illustrates my point. The machines are taking over. I was initially uncomfortable sticking people's numbers into a phone without memorizing them, or writing them down. Now I'm just used to it. But it does present these kinds of quandaries from time to time. We're reliant on the machines.

I have some pictures of some freaky phone booths from Beijing. Very old fashioned. And there are a couple of phonebooths in Somerville / Cambridge that have been turned into tiny libraries. You know: Take a book, leave a book. They're awesome.

But with all these phones disappearing, how will Neo ever make it out of the Matrix?

- - -
*Speaking of Microsoft Word, have you ever noticed how that program always wants to capitalize the Internet? As if it is a proper noun. I rejected that for many years, but Word is slowly pounding me into submission. Chock up another small victory for the machines.

jrd3820's picture

Oh, its coming, thats what Im typing right now

then matrix stuff

number 2

It at least represents the most human attempt to connect with the IKEA operator. It's the photo that shows best and most concisely his pathetic effort at virtual phone sex as he intently gazes at that which he treats as the catalogue's centerfold. Another interesting comment on technology is that I have a son born in the year Fight Club was released. I don't believe my son would see what I see in the photo, as he is unfamiliar with magazine centerfolds.

I was going to post this video on the discussion page, but it seems coincidentally just as appropriate in detail here as it is in general...

Michael Nystrom's picture

We all see it differently

I see it differently now than the first time I saw it. Someone seeing it for the first time now see it the same as someone who saw it for the first time when it came out at the theater.

We all live in our own worlds. It is just an illusion that we live in the same world.

Robert Anton Wilson talked about people living in their own "reality tunnels." But the more I thought about it, it is more like we all have our own personal reality hologram that we project wherever we go.

That's what your comment brought up for me. Thanks for the feedback!

No. 2 ranks its distinktion. My memory has just been souled.

You see it differently now than you did the first time. That's good news for me, that I too am likely to see it differently in the future. I do look forward to seeing it again as I hope my perspective evolves and doesn't leave me bored with it. Your experience is encouraging as is my comparing it to Zen Moto-Maintenance in the discussion thread. Zen is a book I've read many times with evolving perspective, never boring or passé.

I enjoy your suggestion of our own personal holograms as I do quite enjoy my own for the most part. My son's though, I alluded to the example of his specifically to draw attention to your notion of evolving technology. I suppose in probably one more generation's time we will see the term "centerfold" completely faded from our general culture's lexicon. As my grandchildren will likely review music of past generations and they hit upon the J. Geils Band, it will take a historian of sorts to explain to them the originally perceived thematic thrust of Geils' biggest hit. Perhaps it will spark an interesting conversation if they ask Grandpa John. :D Nonetheless, what is most interesting to me now is the notion that in such a case, that they WILL interpret and make sense of the song before asking me or being informed in any way what the term "centerfold" meant in 1981. Just the same, I see photo number 2 and immediately think sadly that that is the closest Norton gets to having a sexual experience in that stage of his character's life, whereas my son probably would see your photo "number 2" as simply being well titled by you, and that he too often utilizes such accessories while sitting for a marathon poop.

Your "number 1" photo shows him yet merely pissing about. ;)

He's sit's quite fully erect in the next.

My memory has just been sold.

Michael Nystrom's picture

What is so devastatingly sad about that IKEA ad

Is that there are no people in it. That is why it is so cold and barren and sterile.

The picture with the dishes. Not on the toilet. The second one makes him look like he's looking at the centerfold of a dirty magazine while talking on the phone, and that is not a respectful thing to do.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Granted, it is a first draft

I'm going to look this over again today.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Needs a lot of work, kid.

Anyway, you know that. Get the knife out.

This is way too long a piece for the Daily Paul. People don't have that kind of attention span, even if it is half pictures. You've got 20 pictures in there, dude. People don't read anymore. They scan. They skim.

Probably you could break this up into 10 little illustrative vignettes, with 2 - 4 photos each. But don't just throw them all out there. Wait until something starts to get hot, then throw it out there. See if you can start some fires.

Good first draft, dude! Way to pump it out there.

jrd3820's picture


Not the pics, don't get rid of the pics. Check your email.
Omg, I have to go fight with a scanner and watch The Matrix, but you're running around here like a drunken mess....Somebody needs to supervise.
Sigh.... Don't get rid of the pics yet!

Michael Nystrom's picture



Are you familiar with the concept of a work spouse? You guys are heading into that territory :)

"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind." - Khalil Gibran
"The Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame." - Chuang Tzu