Editor’s Note: In honor of the 10-Year Anniversary of the release of Fight Club and the release of the special edition Blu-ray this week, we’ve decided to go back into the FSR archive and resurrect one of our favorite Fight Club articles of years past. In this article, Dr. Cole Abaius compares the themes of Fincher’s brutal film to those of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Trust us, this is not a joke. This article originally posted on September 22, 2008.
Perhaps the most well known love story of all time, “Romeo & Juliet” has been adapted several hundred times and has even more imitators that attempt to recreate the magical, star-crossed romance in paltry homage pieces. However, there is one film that rises above the others as the best version of “Romeo & Juliet” since “Romeo & Juliet.”
That film is David Fincher’s Fight Club.
Just go with me on this for a second. Oh, and there might just be SOME SPOILERS for the three people who haven’t seen it yet.
Man hates life. Man’s Condo explodes. Man goes to live with an insanely destructive nihilist who starts an underground fighting club and creates chaos all over the city. Along the way, he engages in an unhealthy relationship with a suicidal woman that he meets at a Testicular Cancer Anonymous meeting.
If this doesn’t sound like “Romeo & Juliet” right off the bat, I’m not sure what does.
Jack (the narrator) obviously represents Romeo – a bored male in love with collecting cheap Swedish furniture and obeying his corporate masters. This love, like Romeo’s love for the Swedish-born Rosaline, is a shallow one, that Jack must overcome in order to know true love with his life-partner, Tyler Durden.
It’s fairly clear that Jack and Tyler’s meeting on an airplane mirrors the Balcony Scene in “R & J.” Both are elevated above ground, and in both, the speakers’ lines form a Shared Sonnet – the ideal poetic structure for discussing both love and soap.
Thus, Tyler Durden represents Juliet. The two characters share the same lust for anarchy and lute music and have never been in a fight until they find love. It’s also well known that Brad Pitt was Franco Zeffirelli’s first choice for the role of Juliet in his 1968 adaptation, but Pitt was only five years old at the time so Olivia Hussey stepped in to fill the void.
This connection also becomes obvious later in Juliet’s storyline when she shaves her head and attempts to blow up the major Credit Lendors of Verona using homemade napalm.
Bob, the lactating support group friend is the story’s Tybalt. Both were revered fighters in their prime and now serve no purpose but to agitate Jack and Romeo. Bob also dies, as Tybalt does at the hands of Romeo, as a direct result of Jack’s actions. Both deaths spur on dramatic shifts in each story – forcing previously unaligned characters to choose sides and forcing the protagonists to rethink the path they are headed down. Much like how Tybalt’s death forces Romeo into exile in Mantua, Bob’s death sparks Jack’s departure to retrace Tyler’s plane flights all over the country.
Also, Bob’s Bitch Tits represent Benvolio, the comic relief of the story. Unfortunately, a sizable monologue about Queen Mab – Bob’s Bitch Tits’ only line in the movie – was cut due to time constraints.
Perhaps the most important figure in the story, Marla Singer, represents Suicide, a common theme in “R & J.” At the beginning of Fight Club, Marla is all Jack can think about, but instead of going after her, he seeks out the foolish man-love of Tyler Durden. At the beginning of “Romeo & Juliet,” Romeo waxes dramatic about suicide after being scorned by Rosaline, but chooses to seek out true love with Juliet instead.
Ultimately, and spoilerifically, Jack ends up choosing Marla over Durden in the same way that Romeo chooses suicide when he believes his life with Juliet cannot be realized.
In another thinly veiled reference, Juliet’s decision to take a dagger to her bosom is yet another obvious homage to Bob’s Bitch Tits. In fact, Shakespeare’s ability to foresee and allude to future works of art is one of the reasons he’s considered a genius.
Jack and Tyler being the same person may seem to complicate the comparison, but, yet again, it seems obvious that the consummation scene in “Romeo & Juliet” is an almost shot for shot twin with the scene in which Jack realizes that he’s Tyler Durden. In both, two people ceremoniously join together as one in a hotel room with slightly homosexual overtones while confusing the lark for the nightingale.
If read in this light, it becomes clear that Shakespeare’s Juliet might actually be a schizophrenic hallucination that Romeo creates after diving deep into depression over Rosaline’s rejecting him. It also means that Jack represents both Romeo and Juliet as does Tyler Durden. Confused yet? Neither am I.
If all of this is the case, though, the endings don’t quite line up. Jack chooses Marla just as Juliet chooses suicide – but in a very real sense, Jack survives the end of the story despite the bullet wound in his neck (Jack’s Neck clearly represents Juliet’s Bosom). However, in my scholarly research, I found an alternate version of “Romeo & Juliet” by Shakespeare in which Juliet is jolted back to life by an earthquake and stands on the edge of a cliff, watching the Capulet and Montague estates topple to the ground while “Where is My Mind?” by The Pixies plays in the background.
Jack is Romeo and Tyler Durden is Juliet, engaging in a disturbing “menage au four” with himself. Marla is Suicide – a dark, dangerous release from Jack’s earlier love. Bob and His Bitch Tits represent Tybalt and Benvolio respectively – both fight skillfully, doth protest too much, and are killed ironically. And the author of “Fight Club,” Chuck Palahniuk, like Shakespeare, may have never actually existed.
Even though Chuck Palahniuk and David Fincher have never admitted to it in any interviews, when the two stories’ elements are critically reviewed, it seems almost too obvious (to any intelligent film critic) the connection between Fight Club and William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy of love.