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Dustin Wallace
3/1/10
ENC 1102
Robinson

Fincher’s Interpretation of Consumerism’s Grasp on Identity

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy stuff we don't need.” This quote directly from David Fincher’s film The Fight Club perfectly sums up the message of the film. In Fincher’s film, the main character, played by Edward Norton, is an automobile company employee who suffers from insomnia. His life seems to be controlled by material goods and he works a white collar job in American society. This nameless character is meant to represent the average male who leads a boring life and is obsessed with his own material possessions. As the movie progresses this character, the narrator, seeks a more exciting life after meeting Tyler Durden and having his apartment destroyed. Together Tyler and the narrator create the fight club which seems to give them an identity that they never before had. As the fight club grows it becomes Project Mayhem; a rogue project with a goal to erase debt by destroying buildings that records of credit card companys. In his film, The Fight Club, David Fincher attempts to send many different underlying messages to his viewers. However, the main purpose of the film is to encourage the audience to break free from the hold of consumerism and to develop their own identity. In particular, this message is geared towards middle aged men living a sedentary life trying to be something that they aren’t; men whose identity is formed by possessions such as houses, clothes, and cars. Fincher wants this audience to “wake up” and realize that their identity is more than just their material belongings. Throughout the film various pieces of evidence can be seen to support this theme. Fincher uses many different rhetorical techniques such as pathos, logos, and ethos in his film in an attempt to persuade his viewers of his argument. Fincher, however, uses examples that are irrational and ineffective in persuading the reader to take action. Throughout the film Fincher tries to make appeals at his audience’s emotions in order to convince them of his argument. Once the narrator meets Durden, they decide to form the fight club. When the group starts it consists only of Durden and the narrator, but it quickly grows and becomes a larger club that meets in the basement of a bar. The club holds nightly fights where two individuals fight until one quits. Fincher depicts these fights with extreme violence. In one such fight one of the men is continually beaten to the ground and is shown with a bruised and bloody face. Fincher uses the fight club to claim that the fights bring out a person’s core identity. While fighting may be a release for someone’s anger, it by no means shows someone’s true identity. It also seems to be irrational in the sense that it is unclear how fighting will help to reveal someone’s core identity. It is not convincing that the fight club is the best way to discover one’s true identity and that there aren’t other sensible ways. The only thing that the audience can see is guaranteed from membership in this club is bodily harm. Another scene that also uses pathos to appeal to the emotions of the viewer is the scene where Tyler gives the narrator a chemical burn. In this scene Tyler Durden asks for the narrator to hold out his hand. When the narrator gives him his hand Durden proceeds to burn a kiss into the narrator’s hand. Durden says “Without sacrifice, without death, we would have nothing.” This scene causes the audience to wince in agony. The scene catches the viewer’s attention and attempts to convince them of the sacrifice that must be made to recover their identity from the grasp of consumerism. In this example, Fincher’s attempt at an appeal to emotions is once again ineffective. The scene depicts self mutilation as a form of sacrifice and as a necessity to get back one’s identity. He claims that without this sacrifice the narrator’s identity will be forever lost. This is a weak claim because, to the rational mind, self mutilation is never an appropriate action to take. Self mutilation does not appeal at all to the audience as a reasonable way to escape consumerism. Saying that self mutilation is necessary sends a disturbing and unconvincing message to the viewer and for this reason Fincher’s attempt at pathos again fails with this example. Fincher also fails to persuade his viewers in his attempt to use logos to back up his argument on identity. As the fight club grows and becomes more popular it morphs into what the men call Project Mayhem. Project Mayhem consists of a vigilante group of men who wreck havoc on the city in the nighttime hours by destroying and defacing symbols of corporate America. In one particular attack they destroy a piece of corporate artwork and a franchise coffee bar. Their ultimate goal, however, is to blow up ten credit card buildings to erase societies debt and bring an end to consumerism. Fincher uses Project Mayhem to try to persuade the audience that they must stop corporation’s attempts to steal their identity. While he may not necessarily mean for the audience to act violently this is the message that he is sending. While it is important for a person to develop an identity, fighting back against corporations through violent attacks is completely irrational. Suggestion of this alternative makes the audience question Fincher’s rationale, and ultimately question the overall message. This is just another example of how Fincher is unable to convince or persuade his audience. Fincher also uses ethos in his film to try to persuade his audience about the effect of consumerism on one’s identity. The use of ethos, however, does more to harm than to help the argument presented by Fincher. In the film Fincher uses voice over narration to allow the viewer inside the head of the main character and to build the narrator’s credibility. While this provides the audience with the narrator’s insight on the events of the text, it also limits the audience to only one character’s thoughts and perceptions. This takes away from the persuasive nature of the film because the audience is depending on the account of events from only one character. When the entire plot is presented through one character the audience depends on the credibility of this character. The credibility built by the narrator throughout the movie is crippled, however, when the audience discovers that he is Tyler Durden and that he has had an alter ego the entire time. The discovery of this alter ego strips all validity from Fincher’s argument; Fincher is callng his audience to discover their true identity when his main character can’t even find his own. This ultimately leads the audience to question the real events of the movie. Fincher’s film The Fight Club takes a clear stand on the issue of identity. Fincher is urging people to fight back against corporations attempting to seize their identity. Throughout his film he calls for his audience to wake up and develop an identity independent from their material possessions. While Fincher clearly gets his point across he does so unconvincingly and irrationally. He uses many unclear logos, ethos, and pathos based arguments in an attempt to back up his argument. In order to strengthen his argument Fincher needs to add content that will more persuasively convince his readers of the need for an identity. He also needs to provide his audience with a more rational and feasible way to fight back against corporate america and consumerism. Works Cited
The Fight Club. Screenplay by Jim Uhls. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. 20th Century Fox, 1999.

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