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Fight Club and the Emptiness of Our Human Pursuits

“Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.” That is the tagline of Fight Club, one of the most popular and often-quoted films of the 1990s. With a rating of 8.8/10 on IMDB, the film officially cemented Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, as a symbol of anti-establishment in modern-day America. Fight Club is based on the 1996 book written by Chuck Palahniuk, and has attained a cult following after the film was released in 1999.

Fight Club tells the story of a nameless narrator (Edward Norton) who suffers from insomnia. When his doctor has no cure for him, he joins cancer support groups in order to find therapeutic release. The narrator works in compliance for an auto company and during a work trip, meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on the plane. When the narrator loses his home, he moves in with Tyler and the two form an underground fighting club.

Fight Club has remained popular even today because it highlights three very pertinent issues that continue to affect our society—the pursuit of materialism as a path to happiness; the definition of masculinity and what it means to be male; and the rise of mental health issues among seemingly ordinary people.

 

1) Materialism—“The things you own end up owning you”

Fight Club is essentially a critique on modern life and our endless pursuit of material things.  Despite having a secure job and a 15th-floor apartment, the narrator is constantly unhappy, leading him to suffer from insomnia and other illnesses. When his home catches fire, he says: “That condo was my life, okay? I loved every stick of furniture in that place. That was not just a bunch of stuff that got destroyed, it was me!” His security and identity have been so intricately tied to his possessions—sofa units, glass dishes and stereo sets—that he felt incomplete without them.

His friend, Tyler, however, has a different point of view. “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet,” he says. Tyler is right in a sense. The Bible tells us not to “store up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). But while Tyler’s solution—starting Fight Club—leads to chaos, God’s solution is that we become securely rooted in His unconditional love, so that we will not be shaken to the core when stripped of material things.

 

2. Masculinity—“We are a generation of men raised by women”

Fight Club deals with masculinity from a very disenchanted and disillusioned point of view. The movie implies that absent male figures are the reason for spiritual and societal breakdown. “Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?” asks Tyler. His solution, and his salvation, is in an organisation like Fight Club which enables men to vent their frustrations against societal expectations, feel alive and find purpose again.

Just like femininity, much is debated on the concept of masculinity. What makes a man a man, what does it mean to be a man, and who is a good male role model? The film doesn’t provide answers, but it certainly questions the image of masculinity that is presented to men today. In one scene, the narrator observes an underwear ad on a bus and asks Tyler, “Is that what a real man is supposed to look like?” In the Bible, Jesus is the role model for manhood. He is a servant, leader, provider and protector, who loves and sacrifices himself for the Church just as a husband should do for his wife (Ephesians 5:23).

 

3. Mental Health—“Our Great Depression is our lives”

Fight Club was written at a time when digital technology was not yet as advanced, when life should have been less complicated without the isolating effects of today’s fast-paced and on-demand world. But the plot twist at the end reveals that the main character suffers from more than just insomnia and disillusion. He is in fact experiencing personality disorders and schizophrenia. At the same time, his underground fight club has moved out of the basement and evolved into nationwide acts of terrorism.

The movie is not an extreme example of what could go wrong in our lives if we live without God. If we take matters into our own hands, we will end up with the kind of devastation seen in this film. Our narrator—due to his unhappiness and disillusion—ends up spiraling into mental (internal) and physical (external) destruction. Thankfully, God has a solution to this world’s problems. Jesus says in John 6:35 (ESV): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Only God can truly satisfy us, because our wealth, health, human relationships, and achievements will ultimately pass away.

Fight Club is not just a movie about being Brad Pitt cool. People have come to love this film for its message to the modern world—that buying things will not make us happy, that living up to advertising standards of what manliness looks like is not how we should be defined, and that if we are not careful, the pressures of modern life will first break our minds before it starts to break us on the outside. May we always be reminded that our hope is not in ourselves nor in this temporal world, but in an eternal one.

Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. (John 4:14, ESV)

The Day We Were Robbed

Written By Shelley Pearl, New Zealand

“I’ve to run. My flat . . . someone’s entered my flat. I must go,” I told my boss in a barely audible whisper.

I could hardly believe my ears when I received a phone call from my sister to say we had been robbed. We live in a very safe suburb, so to learn that our flat had been entered into was shocking. Questions raced through my head as I drove home on the motorway, barely registering the trucks and cars on the road.

I was certain that my computer, iPad, and laptop would have been filched. But when I pulled into the driveway and saw that nothing seemed out of the ordinary, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” I thought.

But the nightmare began the moment I stepped into my unit. Initially, my mind refused to register what the eyes saw—the room was a mess. The burglars had gained access through my bedroom window; its security latches had been hacked in half.

Drawers had been emptied of their contents, and their contents were strewn all over the floor and on the bed. An armchair that used to sit next to my bedroom window was now in the middle of the room. The contents of my backpack were scattered all over the floor and my backpack was gone; the burglars had likely used it to take away their stash.

My year-old camera was gone as well, and the container I used to keep it in had been thrown underneath my bed. The other things in it had been taken too—my passport, a small sum of foreign currency, and a stack of coffee loyalty cards that resembled credit cards (no doubt the thieves would be disappointed upon discovering the cards were useless). Our electronics, however, were left intact. The desktop was presumably too heavy and the iPad was of an older model.

As my sister and I surveyed our flat, our heart sank with each step we took. Our walk-in cupboard was a wreck, and the burglars had pawed through our storage units, foraging through our winter wear. They had taken handbags, probably attracted by the faux diamonds on the bags. Our designer jewellery, given to us as birthday presents and at other important occasions, were also missing.

I was sad, angry, and devastated all at once. I was sad that I had lost my valuables, as I had worked hard to buy them. And I was so angry that there was someone out there who thought he could help himself to things that weren’t his. Growing up, we were taught not to take what wasn’t ours, so why was it OK for these people to do just that?

Exhaustion washed over us as we trawled through our unit; the rapidly cooling evening air blowing through my broken bedroom window was a reminder of how our little haven had been shattered, our privacy violated.

Still, we were thankful that no one was hurt and we still had each other.

As horrible as the incident was, it made me realize how fleeting our material possessions are. When I left for work that morning, our valuables were sitting in their respective places; in less than two hours, they had vanished without a trace.

The burglary made me see the truth in Jesus’ words about not storing our treasures on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). For the longest time, I had seen this verse as something that parents used to discourage children from desiring the newest and latest items their friends had.

Now, I saw how temporal our earthly possessions really were—here one minute, gone the next. A week or two after my camera was taken, the manufacturer announced the release of a newer model with added features. Really, there is no way of keeping up with the latest and greatest. And, to be honest, my life doesn’t feel any less without some of these items which I had bought thinking they would add value to my everyday existence.

Unfortunately, the police were unable to catch the culprits and closed the case. Meanwhile, our apartment has been fitted with alarm and CCTVs, and we are also looking to do grills for the windows.

When my sister’s workmates heard of the news, two of them swung by on a Saturday morning to help us tidy the flat. One of them brought her daughter to help, and they even brought us some food, knowing we would be too overwhelmed to think of cooking. We were moved by their readiness to give up their precious Saturday morning, when a text of “thinking of you” could have sufficed.

The incident reminded me of how Jesus told us to store our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20), which I believe means investing in things that have everlasting value. The actions of my sister’s workmate showed me that these things include relationships. When we spend our time investing into the lives of others, be it helping someone who is going through a difficult time or taking the effort to befriend a lonely person, we are sowing treasures in heaven.

These treasures, unlike our earthly possessions, are safe from opportunists. For example, many years ago, a woman came up to me to say she remembered the time a group from my church had dropped by her house to help clean her place. But no one has ever come up to me to say they remembered a lovely dress or handbag I had. You see, I believe no one remembers what we own, but they remember what we have done for them.

Admittedly, it has been awhile since I have taken the time to sow into the lives of others. I cannot remember the last time I had intentionally invited a friend out for a lunch just to catch up. By the time the weekend rolls around, I’m so exhausted from working, swim training, and doing household chores, that all I really want to do is sit at home with a book. Imagine how many of my relationships have withered due to my lack of investment in them (I’m not keeping tabs because I don’t want to find out!)

It is so easy in our era of social media and endless consumerism to feel we need to have beautiful things for our life to be meaningful. While there is nothing inherently wrong in desiring nice things, I believe it must not be our end-all and be-all of life. I would be lying if I said the burglary completely wiped out my desire of owning nice, new things. No, I still love shopping, but these days, I am more mindful about what I invest in.

The burglary has showed me that the items I counted as precious were really quite mundane—photos of my friends and my family, my book collection, my wetsuit for ocean swims, and laughably, my newly bought pillows and duvets, which had cost me a fair bit. Yet, as these items had no resale value, the thieves had left them. I have learned that it’s not worth putting stock on material items, as they can disappear in the blink of an eye.

From now on, I’m going to work more on storing my treasures in heaven. I know, it does sound a bit dull not being able to show off your latest wears, but I believe when we quietly build a rich storehouse of good works, our reward in heaven will make any earthly possessions look like rags.

ODB: Treasures in Heaven

October 16, 2015 

READ: Matthew 6:19-24 

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. —nkjv Matthew 6:20

 

Poorly installed electric wiring caused a fire that burned down our newly built home. The flames leveled our house within an hour, leaving nothing but rubble. Another time, we returned home from church one Sunday to find our house had been broken into and some of our possessions stolen.

In our imperfect world, loss of material wealth is all too common—vehicles are stolen or crashed, ships sink, buildings crumble, homes are flooded, and personal belongings are stolen. This makes Jesus’ admonition not to put our trust in earthly wealth very meaningful (Matt. 6:19).

Jesus told a story of a man who accumulated abundant treasures and decided to store up everything for himself (Luke 12:16-21). “Take life easy,” the man told himself; “eat, drink and be merry” (v. 19). But that night he lost everything, including his life. In conclusion, Jesus said, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (v. 21).

Material wealth is temporary. Nothing lasts forever—except what our God enables us to do for others. Giving of our time and resources to spread the good news, visiting those who are lonely, and helping those in need are just some of the many ways to store up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20).

— Lawrence Darmani

In what ways are you storing up treasures in heaven? How might you change and grow in this area of your life?


Our real wealth is what we invest for eternity.