The conscious-unconscious relation is one of the most important and interesting topics in psychology. Many scholars have tried to explain this complex relation that influences individuals directly and societies indirectly. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was one of these scholars and he had his own views that are different from many psychologists’ ideas. Although the famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was 19 years older than Jung, they were very good friends and worked together for many years. However, their friendship later ended due to their different opinions in psychology as well as their personal competition in the field. Most of their ideas are similar but Freud attaches considerable importance to sexuality whereas Jung sees religion and universal symbols as more significant. According to Jung, “consciousness is the whole of the psychological individual” (Jung, p. 212). Jung calls the centre of the conscious the “ego”. There is no great distinction between Freud and Jung’s ideas on the conscious but there are serious differences between their conceptions on the unconscious. Freud explains, the unconscious, as the place in which repressed wishes, memories and thoughts are packed. According to Jung, Freud regards the unconscious just as “an egoless function below the threshold of consciousness” (Jung, p. 213). Freud’s unconscious is only caused by repressing wishes and memories from the conscious. Jung’s conception of the unconscious is larger and not only caused by conscious factors. For Jung, there are two branches of the unconscious: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is similar to Freudian unconscious; it is the place for forgotten events, repressed wishes and so on. However, the collective unconscious is a totally new idea, which belongs to Jung alone. The collective unconscious is the place in which our primitive, inherited and primordial characteristics are contained. According to him these characteristics come from our ancestors and we all have personal schemas called “archetypes”. An archetype is an inherited inclination to respond to certain aspects of the world. Like all our organs that have evolved to be maximally sensitive to certain stimuli, our souls too, have evolved to be maximally sensitive to certain categories of experience. In Jungian ideology, archetypes are very important and they even determine who we are. The anima, animus, wise old man, hero and shadow are some examples of archetypes. The shadow is both an archetype and a part of the personality. The shadow part of our personality contains animal instincts like sexuality, violence and survival instincts. This paper aims to analyse the main character of David Fincher’s film Fight Club with respect to Jung’s shadow concept.
First of all, I am going to clarify Jung’s concept of the shadow, which as I mentioned before, is both a part of an individual’s personality and an archetype. “By shadow I mean the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious” (Jung, p. 89). The shadow contains the weaknesses of a person that this person’s self-esteem will not permit them to recognize. The shadow is personified in dreams by dark and dubious characters usually of the same sex as the dreamer. As Jung, Freud and many other psychologists have underlined, we have a tendency to ignore and repress our inferiorities and shameful behaviours. Repressed thoughts are also the elements of our shadows, the dark sides of our souls. Inferiorities, repressed wishes strengthen the shadow. If we suppress our inferiorities too much, although our conscious tries to resist, the shadow may take control over our conscious and start to influence our behaviour. However, positive qualities of the personality can be suppressed too although this is rare. In this case, the appearance of the shadow may help us to discover our unknown abilities. We can get to know our shadows through our dreams, fantasies and slips of tongue. “The shadow might be said to be to responsible for those slips of tongue and other mistakes which Freud catalogues in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life; mistakes which reveal feelings and motives which the conscious self disowns” (Jung, p. 89). Suppressing the shadow has both positive and negative effects. Suppressing the shadow will lead to a civilized life, but maybe at the expense of losing spontaneity, creativity and strong emotions. Generally, the shadow provides us with our sense of self-esteem, charisma and revolutionary feelings. Knowing our shadows will give us a healthy mistrust of others, sense of humour and a sense of understanding and forgiveness. However, suppressing our shadows may lead to the lack of balance, the projection and the lack of integration. Jung believes “We also know that it is dangerous to suppress it, because the unconscious is life and this life turns against us if suppressed, as happens in neurosis” (Jung, p. 225). Many people tend to cover up their shadows with their persona in other words, by wearing a mask. “The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual” (Jung, p. 94). Many people, mostly because of society pressure, prefer to wear masks that cover their inferiorities. However, this kind of people may have brutal primitive characteristics, under their social guises, that are waiting for the “release day”, the day when they will be tired to wear a mask and their shadow will take control.
Secondly, I will present a summary of the film to be examined. Fight Club is based on the sensational debut novel of Chuck Palahniuk about a confused young man living in our modern world. David Fincher is the director and Edward Norton (the narrator), Brad Pitt (Tyler Durden), Helena Bonham Carter (Marla Singer), Meat Loaf Aday (Bob) are the leading stars of the film. It was released in 1999. The film does not belong to a certain genre but we can say that it is a psychological adventure film. Our protagonist, the narrator (Edward Norton) has an easy, well-paid desk job but an empty and meaningless life with no family, friends or aims. In addition, he suffers from insomnia and the empty consumer culture that his generation has been doomed to inherit. He frequents cancer and disease groups in order to bond with others and get rid of his insomnia. At the beginning, these support groups help to prevent his insomnia and he starts to sleep like a baby! However, when he realises that there is another “faker tourist” like him called Marla Singer, who participates in these groups in order to have fun and drink free coffee, he loses his concentration and insomnia starts to disturb him again. One day, on a plane he meets a charismatic stranger called Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and he likes Tyler very much. After an explosion in the narrator’s house the narrator moves to Tyler’s house and they become very good friends. With the leadership of Tyler, they form their own secret society called Fight Club, where young and middle-age males fight with each other and feel relieved of their frustrations. The popularity of the club grows incredibly and soon new Fight Club groups are founded everywhere. Tyler Durden becomes a cult hero and he is successful in impressing hopeless people with his ideological speeches. “Our generation has no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual war. Our depression is our lives.” Also, Tyler, the narrator and Marla get involved in a love triangle. Tyler and his followers (members of the Project Mayhem) prepare a big plan called Project Mayhem in order to destroy all banks, financial sector buildings and make people free and equal. While all these events are happening the narrator always stands aside from Tyler and we finally understand that Tyler is the unconscious side, the shadow of the narrator that has taken control of the narrator’s conscious. The narrator in the final scene kills Tyler in his mind but he cannot save the banks and big financial buildings…
Thirdly, I am going to reveal the connections between Jung’s shadow concept and Tyler Durden. As I said before, Tyler Durden is the unconscious side of the narrator. In other words, Tyler represents the shadow of the narrator and he is full of violent thoughts, sexual instincts and inferiorities like Jung mentions. Jung says, “The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly for instance, inferior traits of character of other incompatible tendencies” (Jung, p. 221). The narrator who has a meaningless, boring and empty life, suffers from insomnia and tries to lend colour to his meaningless life by purchasing new commodities like Swedish furniture. Commodities like his furniture are the fetish items of the narrator and they provide him with a more meaningful existence. The narrator has a monotonous life and he could not find any time for his hobbies, interests due to his busy business life. He has not got a girlfriend or a close friend. He does nothing to have fun and he suppresses all his instincts for pleasure in his unconscious. He therefore cannot satisfy his sexual needs and his violent thoughts. Thus, he is not an effective member of the society as he always suppresses his inferiorities. Although he is not happy about his life, every morning he wakes up, goes to work and travels frequently. He suffers from insomnia because he is suppressing his shadow. Later, he finds the idea of participating in disease support groups. At first, these support groups help him a lot because he starts to bond with other people and it reminds him that he is alive. “Walking home after a support group. I felt more alive than I’d ever felt. I wasn’t host to cancer or blood parasites; I was the little warm centre that the life of the world crowded around.” However, after a while he realizes that there is another faker person like him -Marla Singer- who participates to these groups in order to have fun and drink free coffee. The presence of Marla disturbs him, “she ruins everything” and he loses his concentration. Insomnia begins to disturb him again. His shadow starts to become more and more powerful and one day it says “enough for suppressing me”!
On a plane the narrator discovers his shadow (Tyler Durden) and meets him. Tyler slowly begins to take control away from the narrator. The narrator gets pleasure from Tyler’s crazy, uncontrolled behaviours because Tyler does the things that the narrator imagines doing unconsciously, but was unable to do because of society pressure, which encouraged repressing his desires. Tyler works in a cinema and he puts pornographic pictures in movies. Also he works as a waiter in a high-class restaurant and pees in soup cauldron. The narrator gets pleasure from these anarchistic behaviours. Tyler also destroys the narrator’s house in order to prevent him from continuing his virtual life. Then, Tyler initiates a reaction like Jung’s shadow conception, full of violence and sexuality. He manifests his violence and forms an underground boxing club called Fight Club. Hopeless people like Bob (Meat Loaf Aday) who has testicular cancer and many other people who are not happy about their lives, which are full of suppressed emotions and societal pressures, join Fight Club. Fight Club becomes very popular and soon new groups of Fight Club are founded everywhere in the world. Tyler also satisfies his sexual instincts with Marla whereas the narrator fails to do so. Tyler becomes a cult hero and he even manages to get paid without ever going to work because of the shadow’s charisma, self-confidence and revolutionary aspect. Jung states, “But the shadow is merely somewhat inferior, primitive, unadapted, and awkward; not wholly bad. It even contains childish or primitive qualities which would in a way vitalize and embellish human existence, but convention forbids” (Jung, p. 90).
However, after a while we start to realise the negative effects of the shadow. The shadow, Tyler Durden, takes control completely and he gets out of balance. Fight Club becomes an anarchistic group and Tyler prepares a big plan (Project Mayhem) for destroying all the banks, financial sector buildings. Tyler is thus transformed into a public enemy who wants to destroy the capitalist system. “It is only when you have lost everything, you are free to do anything”. He wants to live in a primitive society in which everyone has nothing and everyone is equal. This feeling comes to his mind because of the influence of the shadow archetype. As Jung mentioned, archetypes are characteristics that that reflect our primitive nature. Tyler rails, “You are not your job, you are not your money in your bank account”. The shadow becomes very destructive, violent and dangerous as Tyler clearly becomes a monster who threatens society. He makes soap from the fat that he steals from the liposuction centre. Tyler sees society and the capitalist system as his enemies. Tyler shows us exactly all the aspects of Jung’s shadow concept: violence, sexuality, self-confidence, charisma, courage, madness and a lack of balance.
What makes Tyler so strong is the narrator’s error in repressing his shadow for such a long time. After a period, the narrator understands that his conscious mind was taken over for a while and he begins to fight Tyler. He gets rid of Tyler in the last scene by shooting himself and thus by metaphorically reducing the influence of the shadow, Tyler in his mind. The narrator thus achieves a new psychical balance and gets rid of his shadow Tyler Durden.