I am Jack’s Vagina, Part 2: Marla Singer of Fight Club

Continued from I am Jack’s Vagina: Marla Singer of Fight Club. WARNING: This will probably make no sense unless you read Part 1 first, and it will contain “spoilers” for the movie. Go ahead and read it anyway: you know you want to.

Previously on The Hathor Legacy:

I was yammering on about how the whole movie is (as the author asserts) “about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman.” I said that Jack’s problem is not a repressed drive for violence, but the repressed twin urges to find a purpose in life, and care about something or someone. Fight Club ostensibly solves the first problem (purpose), but fails miserably on the second (caring). Without caring, purpose is empty, so Jack has solved nothing.

This is where Marla comes in.

One of the points Fight Club makes is that a society is only as strong as its individuals. To stay strong, focused and happy, individuals need a purpose and passion in life. Fight Club suggests that we’ve lost both purpose and passion, and society is trying to give us possessions, commercialism and busywork in their place. But the balance between strong individuals and strong society has been lost.

Marla Singer has been so disconnected for so long, she doesn’t care about anything, including her own life. While Jack thinks Fight Club has given him a new lease on life – awoken him from his sleepwalking state – Marla knows he’s still not connecting with the most subversive force in human experience: caring. And so she remains unimpressed.

By the end of the movie, he gets it, too. He realizes Project Mayhem will weaken society, but it won’t strengthen individuals. Then he realizes he cares about Marla, and takes steps to isolate her from the results of Project Mayhem – sending her away to safety in a display of false nobility and self-sacrifice. But in the end, she’s brought right back to him by his own goons, and he’s forced to rise to the occasion. Forced to make the commitment.

Like most of us are to some degree, Jack was disenfranchised, unfulfilled, and isolated. We’re a “single-serving” society – every person an island, with no sense that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Despite all its hypocritical idealization of love, civilization sure spends a lot of time dictating when and how it’s acceptable to love. Commitment is paid lip service, but is it really encouraged?

We see it as something that weakens us. It’s one thing to chase your dreams and take risks when you have no one to answer to. Once you commit to someone, your life is no longer yours alone. Jack’s journey follows the single-serving lifestyle to its ultimate logical conclusion, and teaches him that the things he may lose in caring about someone pale next to what he may lose by not caring about anyone.

Marla doesn’t represent love, the feminine side, the damsel in distress, the hero’s prize or any of the usual drivel. She represents caring about someone more than you care about your duty, your honor, yourself – and this is the real subversive message of Fight Club. It’s telling men that all the deeds by which they measure themselves will come up short unless they learn to love.

Comments

  1. says

    You know, I actually liked Fight Club when I first saw it, and I could never really explain why.

    This is an awesome analysis of why it is good, despite often being regarded as all about violence, or at best, just “modern life sucks”.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Thank you! My reaction was like yours – just an instinctive “Yes, that’s it! Er, what’s it?” :D It took a while to sort out just what it was I loved.

  3. Devin says

    I hate to be the jerk that corrects you. But the movie never states or implies that jack is Edward nortons characters name. The name jack comes from the articles that the “shoe in” owner of the house they where living in wrote i.e. I am jacks colon. I am not trying to be a nay sayer but to me. The fact that Edward Norton’s character never has a name makes the whole movie even more deeper. Your analysis was awesome by the way!

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    No problem, Devin. You’re exactly right, and I thought that in Part 1 of the article I had made it clear I was using the fan nickname just for convenience. But when I checked it just now, I saw that I wasn’t so clear:

    the nameless lead male (played by Edward Norton), nicknamed “Jack” for convenience,

    That could be interpreted to mean the nickname came from the movie, so I’ve edited it to:

    the nameless lead male (played by Edward Norton), nicknamed “Jack” by fans for convenience,

    Thanks for the catch, and for the kudos. I agree that his lack of a name makes his identification with Tyler even more meaningful.

  5. CB says

    This is fantastic, and a criticism that needs to be brought to the dialogue in popular culture regarding Fight Club. However, I think you neglected to examine the sexual nature of “Jack” and Marla’s relationship – the sexuality and sensuality inherent in this particular pairing is part of the drawcard towards Marla for Jack. I think one of the film’s essential messages is that the need to connect with another human being is neccesary upon a number of levels – viscerally (“Jack” and Tyler – clearly), materially (“Jack” and his original job) and sexually (“Jack” and Marla). The integration of all these connections is the ultimate goal for Edward Norton’s character and the film’s overall message is that this ultimate connection can come at an expensive, but worthwhile, price.

  6. fishturtle says

    I agree, a particularly good analysis of a film that many people gloss over.

    I think when discussing the commitment-to-a-woman reading of this film that is important to mention the ‘a generation of men raised by women’ quote of Tyler’s, which was mentioned in an earlier post on this site. This highlights the understanding that these men have of the commitment required by any husband-father from being so surrounded my their mother’s challenges and the fear that they may, like their fathers, be unable to live up to it and have ‘single serving’ wives or families. They have been brought up to believe that there is always something better, to consume things and throw them away so they can upgrade; possessions, identities and human beings alike. It is the connection (mentioned by CB and by you concerning Jack’s job) with humans that remedies this and the acceptance that the pain and pleasure of this connection need to be endured to make one strong and to make the connection worthwhile – to give commitment the value it deserves.

    BTW Jack is actually Norton’s character in the screenplay and though it isn’t mentioned in the film and Chuck says he doesn’t have a name it is not just a fan-penned name.

  7. Sally says

    WOW! ur insight is amazing. it’ s so beautiful and makes me actually understand the movie on a deeper basis.

    Thanks so much! :)

  8. gategrrl says

    How can Marla be another personality of Jack’s if his goons can see her and bring her back? Although…from my hazy memory of the movie I don’t recall them ever interacting directly with her. She’s as isolated as Jack is, until Jack realizes that he’s Tyler as well.

  9. JenniferKesler says

    Exactly, Gategrrl. I watched the scene where the goons bring her back with this in mind, and they never look at her, mention her or talk to her. That was actually where I got the idea.

  10. Patrick says

    The “imaginary Marla” theory doesn’t work – in her first appearance, Bob is hugging Jack while looking directly at Marla.

  11. says

    Deon, it’s been a long time, but I know I had spotted several of them.

    Patrick, see above discussion with Gategrrl about the scene where the goons are holding her. No one ever really interacts with her. They may look at her (or do they? perhaps that’s just the direction their eyes landed? or he hallucinated it?), they may appear to hold her, but no one ever really interacts with her. This is curious, considering how particularly difficult she is to ignore. I’ve watched the whole movie with this theory in mind, more than once, checking scene by scene whether anything dissuades me from this possibility – nothing does.

  12. says

    Consider the idea that “jack” has many alter egos spread throughout the film: Marla, Bob, and even other members of Fight Club.

    These over the top followers are far to easily manipulated by Tyler/”jack” to be dismissed as not part of his fantasy.
    They drag marla back just as he shoots himself as if to say “I can now except this part of myself now that Tyler is gone.”

    Watch very carefully the way the one guy on the elevator says ” I Can’t believe…he’s still… alive.” Like the final part of his (Tyler-mind) is in Disbelief reluctantly accepting defeat now that he has overcome there control of him been . “One Tough M. F. er”

    PS… The only people in the movie who acknowlege “jack” and marla simaltaniously are the waiter (a follower)and the Goons at the end (also followers)

  13. says

    It’s pretty amazing that this is still a somewhat recent topic despite a more than 3 year old article. I just watched the movie again, and have been trying to convince people for years that Marla and Tyler and both opposites of “Jack” who sits blandly in between them until the movie progresses after its climax of “Jack” realizing he is Tyler.

    They are both introduced identically “this is how i met Marla Singer” “this is how i met Tyler Durden”. they both have identities, unlike “Jack”, and they are perfect opposites in some ways – opposite sex, opposite ambition, marla has none, tyler wants to change the world. In this sense they create balance. With Tyler and “Jack” on 2 sides of a scale, the scale leans toward Tyler, as in Tyler get the best of “Jack”, and “Jack” and Marla are not quite balanced either, she gets the best of him right away. Of course in many ways, Tyler and Marla balance, and instantly enter a relationship when they collide.

    The other thing is about the rules, that “Jack” seems unable to experience Tyler and Marla simultaneously. He can imagine them together, and he does open a door in which the camera shows Tyler standing there and Marla fall off the bed, but he is not looking in the room, and he cannot confront both at the same time.

    I believe the story is about “jack’s” acceptance of his originally underappreciated side “Marla” and his shedding of his want to be the ultimate cool character “Tyler”.

    Well I had to search for someone else who had considered the idea. I’m a believer.

    There is a philosophy on life that all of us derive from the same source, and thefore there is no-one out there except variations of your self. This movie is a nice demonstration of a concept that could arguably fall in line with this preposterous hypothesis.

  14. says

    I believe the story is about “jack’s” acceptance of his originally underappreciated side “Marla” and his shedding of his want to be the ultimate cool character “Tyler”.

    I consider that an extremely valid take on the story – one which fits nicely alongside Chuck Palahniuk’s comments that it’s about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman.

  15. says

    Another thing to consider in the idea that all members of fight club are part of (jacks) Fantasy is that “No one in Project Mayhem has a name.”
    Could this be Jacks way of dealing with the overwelming complications of having so many alternate personalities to keep organized?
    Also, (just for grins) Tyler Durden, Marla Singer, Robert Paulson (Bob)…These names all have the same cadence. The same amout of syllables. Like Characters Written by Jack into his own fantasy. Maybe a clue…Maybe nothing.

  16. Mikey says

    “The other thing is about the rules, that “Jack” seems unable to experience Tyler and Marla simultaneously. He can imagine them together, and he does open a door in which the camera shows Tyler standing there and Marla fall off the bed, but he is not looking in the room, and he cannot confront both at the same time.”

    I saw it as the Tyler side of “Jack” protecting itself.. “don’t talk about me with her” and the fact that they are never in the same room together is because Jack becomes Tyler when “tyler” is with her, etc. The bed scene is also later re-played when Jack realizes he is tyler, and in the real version he is simply yelling at her to shut up when she asks who he’s talking too, unless I remember wrong. Tyler also says at the end of the movie he’s tying up loose ends by getting rid of marla, she could rat on Jack.. although even this can be interpreted that tying up loose ends means killing off the contrasting personality of Marla.

  17. nick says

    I think marla’s real just based on the fact that she acts in a simaler fasion to most of the other charecters in chucks books. for instance fertility hollis of “survivor” she acts in a simaler way as marla helping the main charecter come in touch with his ability to love

  18. Mat says

    I have the benefit of reading the novel after watching the movie. I can say the two are very separate. I believe that the book has a significant point in which you have a defining line where Marla is indeed seen as separate from ‘Jack’. This is the ending scene in the book (when Jack is actually in a mental hospital).

    This contrast with the movie makes it more apparent that the movie leaves open the opportunity for Marla to be a split personality.

  19. Nicole says

    In regards to the theory about “Jack” & Marla being one and the same — Didn’t Marla Singer attend a testicular cancer support group (I might be wrong on this)? Also, why did Marla & “Jack” argue over which support groups they would go to… I dunno, to me it seems like Marla may have been created in “Jack’s” mind — The fact that they were so strangely similiar (in regards to the whole going-to-support-groups ‘thing’). I mean, isn’t it strange that Jack & Marla are going to support groups for various problems (that they don’t even have), for example: bowel-cancer. Who does that, besides Jack/Marla?

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