“Before Jung’s influence spread to the arts, Freud’s writings had already inspired filmmakers, novelists, poets, and painters to depict Freudian ideas artistically or dramatically”, this statement written by Sharon Packer (2007) in his book Movies And The Modern Psyche obviously tells us how influential is Sigmund Freud in the creative industry, specifically, the film industry. Film and psychology is like Freud and cocaine[1]—inseparable. A film can function as an escape of fantasy as it takes the audience away from their everyday life to another realm of the unreal, a realm that distracts them from their everyday life problems. I first read about this “Godless Jew”[2]–Freud–was when I found out that he played a huge part in the life of one of the painters that I fond of, the eccentric Salvador Dali. In short, without Freud’s writings and theories, The Persistence Of Memory wouldn’t exist. Dreams was their esprit de corp, “the royal road to the unconscious” as Freud said himself. (The Interpretation Of Dreams ,1899). Freud became famous for his psychoanalytic theory, of which some calls a new pseudoscience or as the Nazis call it The Jewish Science—the Nazis burnt his books during the Holocaust.

In my opinion, Freud was one of those intellectual “rebels” like Nietzsche. His emphasis on sex, atheism and evolution was opposed by many, especially the feminists and those crowd with scientific minds. Despite the oppositions, personally, I think that Freud’s contribution in the psychology field was remarkable. In the words of my favourite author, Jack Kerouac, “Great things aren’t accomplished by those who yield to trends and popular opinions”. In other words, to achieve greatness, we are not to be hold back by society and its dogma. Compared to fine literature works, films helped more in spreading Sigmund Freud’s ideas as it have broader audience interest in the world, people are aroused by moving photographs more than static words, it is the harsh truth.

In this critical essay of mine, I would like to unveil Freud’s theory, particularly the structural theory of psyche from the psychoanalyst, in David Fincher’s “Fight Club” (1999). Fight Club is a film adapted from the Nietzschean writer, Chuck Palahniuk, of the same title. The book was published in 1996 and was picked by Laura Ziskin, the producer, to be adapted into a film by Jim Uhls. Due to Fincher’s enthusiasm about the film, he was picked by Ziskin among four other directors she considered. The violence usage in this film caught the attentions of critics, however the content and storyline of the film are praised.

Fight Club tells a story about an unnamed “everyman” who is only addressed by “the unreliable narrator”—He was actually named as Jack in the script, but this was not established in the film. The narrator is an insomniac who is an employee of an automobile company. One day he decided to join a support group for people with testicular cancer, and pretended that he belongs there so that he can cry in the arms of other victims to find his freedom as the action relieves his insomnia,  euphorically. The relief he gets from the support group made him addicted, and he started to attend more and more support groups of many kinds. He then notice a presence of another faker in his support groups, Marla Singer. The idea of another impostor like him being there in the group that knows he was not suffering from any of those diseases bothers him. So later, the narrator approached Marla and made a deal with her not to attend the same support group.

One day the narrator finds out that his house was burned down by an explosion after he return from one of his business trips. Everything was destroyed, including his collection of IKEA furnitures that he has been working so hard to own. The narrator called a man he befriended on a flight named Tyler Durden. Tyler is a character that fulfills Nietzsche’s concept of übermensch[3], who sells soap he made out of human fats that he stole from liposuction clinic waste bins, he is a person that is full of useful informations and amazing philosophies of life—In short, he is everything that the narrator is not. The narrator was offered by Tyler to stay with him in his house. One night outside a bar, Tyler asked the narrator to hit him and they started a fist fight. Almost every night after they drink at the bar, they will fight for the sake of experiencing the pain and fun. The narrator and Tyler started to attract a crowd of men and they eventually moved to the basement of the bar and it became a club for men to come and fight recreationally.

The narrator was called by Marla telling she got overdosed on pills. Tyler later got involved sexually with Marla but warns the narrator not to talk about him in front of her. The fight club Tyler and the narrator formed, grew bigger and bigger across the country and eventually the club became an anti-corporate and anti-materialism organization named “Project Mayhem”. One day Tyler disappeared. Due to the death of a Project Mayhem member after a sabotage operation, the narrator went on a journey to track down the missing übermensch and he also tried to shut down the organization. In one of the city he went to search for Tyler, a member of the Project greeted him as Tyler Durden. The narrator was in a mass confusion when he learns that Marla too believed him to be Tyler Durden. The most amazing moment of this movie is when the director revealed the twist ending—Tyler told the narrator in a conversation that they are dissociated personalities that shares the same body.

He passed out after the conversation with Tyler and later when he woke up the narrator discovered Tyler’s plan to eradicate debt by burning down buildings that holds the records of credit card companies. The narrator asked for help from the police but found out that the policemen was also part of Project Mayhem. The narrator managed to run away from the group of policemen that attempted to cut his testicles. The narrator then tried to defuse an explosive left in a building but was stopped by Tyler, the latter then took him to the upper floor of the building. Tyler held captive the narrator at gunpoint, but then the narrator realized that the gun was actually in his hands as they are both the same person. The narrator then blasted the gun in his own mouth with the bullet shooting out from his cheek without killing himself. Tyler died for the bullet made an exit through the back of his head. At the end of the movie, Marla who was kidnapped by the members of the organization was brought to the narrator, and both of them were left alone. They held hands, and witnessed the collapsing buildings around them.

Now, let us proceed to the discussion. I chose to write about this film because it makes a perfect allegory for Sigmund Freud’s psychological concept of psychoanalysis. Let’s consider this essay as a way to approach Freud’s theory by using a film. First and foremost, allow me to write a brief explanation on Freud’s psychoanalysis. To define the meaning of psychoanalysis, let us read the word of the man who invented it himself, “Psychoanalysis is the name of a procedure for the investigation of mental processes which are almost inaccessible in any other way, of a method (based upon that investigation) for the treatment of neurotic disorders and of a collection of psychological information  obtained along those lines , which is gradually being accumulated into a new scientific discipline” (Two Encyclopedia Articles, 1923). In my own words, psychoanalysis is a type of verbal  expression therapy or treatment, coined by Freud with the aim to investigate and interpret the symptoms and problems of a patient. Like many other branches of knowledge, the psychoanalytic can be divided into several other smaller branches or “schools”.

Due to limitation of pages, I will only focus on one of the psychoanalytical theory. The main focus of this essay is the “structural theory” of Freud’s psychoanalysis also known as the tripartite of human psyche. In this theory, Freud divided the psyche into three parts: the ID, the Superego and the Ego. This tripartite is commonly illustrated with a picture of an iceberg: The Ego will be the small portion (the tip) that is above the surface of the water, the ID will be the biggest portion of ice underwater, and the Superego will be parted underwater and above the surface. Icebergs aside, let us examine the three parts of psyche and how it works. The ID is the deepest, instinctive part of psyche that is not tied to any idea of ethics or morality. It does not abide with any law of reality and it is unreasonable. It is our component of personality that wants to be feed with it’s needs or demands. The ID is passed down biologically and it is the unconscious part of our personality. It is developed since the day we were born including our libido, the instinct force for love and sexuality.

Next is the Ego. Ego is the realistic part of our personality that will fulfill whatsoever the ID demands. Freud said that the ego prevents anxiety from the ID by using “defense mechanisms”. The Ego can be stopped and even motivated by the Superego. The Ego works in our consciousness and this explains the illustration of it on the iceberg being above the surface of the water. As said by Freud, ego is “that part of ID which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world” (1923). The Ego is developed when humans aged 6 months old. Unlike the unrealistic ID, the Ego have a much stronger reasoning factor. In short, the Ego will tolerate or delay the demands of the ID to avoid society’s negative effect. Last but definitely not the least, is the Superego. Superego is the conscience which applies the moral and religious lessons learned from a person’s surroundings and parents. Its development takes place in the form of stages during the psychosexual development (the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent and the genital) phase which normally takes place around the age from 3 to 5 years old. It works in the preconscious state. To summarize Superego, it is the internal ethical or moral guardian of one’s self.

To give an illustration of what I mean, let us apply and comprehend this psychological concept in David Fincher’s Fight Club. In this film, the narrator is a deep thinker whose ideas most of the time opposes Tyler Durden’s but sometimes he too agrees with him. Tyler on the other hand does not think about implications of morality and ethics like the narrator, he is not empathetic. Here we can see that Tyler actually represents the ID. Tyler’s aggressive thoughts are strong and he is very persistent in achieving his demands and needs even though it is as absurd as exploding buildings in the city. The unreliable narrator on the other side, he is the powerful conscience, the Superego. The narrator is that component who is reasonable, realistic and is tagged along with ethics and morality. The narrator is deeply affected by what he learned and adapted from his surroundings and experience. Unlike Tyler, the narrator thinks about consequences and worse case scenarios.

Before they formed the fight club, there was a scene where Tyler out of sudden asked the narrator to hit him as hard as he can. The narrator then asked Tyler for the reason and he simply answered without any rationalism “I don’t know. I don’t know why. Never been in a fight?”. The narrator said that it was a good thing to not be in a fight, but the lunatic Tyler replied “No it’s not a good thing. How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” and he also said that he does not want to die without scars. In this scene, we can see how absurd and unreasonable is the demands of the ID (Tyler). The ID commands for satisfactory of its pleasure principle (Freud, 1920) but it has a weak reasoning factor. On the other hand, the Superego acts as the “good friend”, it bounds itself to logic, reason, ethics and morality exactly like what the narrator does in this scene: He questions and questions the favor Tyler asked to help him with.

The act of questioning and resisting by the narrator actually represents the superego’s role to judge if the actions of Ego are ethically and morally right or wrong. The narrator tries to find a solid reason that works with reality before he made another move (Ego) to follow Tyler’s demand (the ID)—the reality principle. In this scene, supposedly what represents Ego is the action done between the two characters which is, hitting each other as hard as they can. At the end of the scene, we will witness that both of the character achieved self-satisfaction after hurting themselves in the fight. The unreasonable pain euphorically fulfilled their deepest needs, well it is actually because the ID has been fed with its instant gratification. Throughout this movie there are many other Tyler’s actions and demands that are absurd and immoral but weirdly brings him pleasure, exempli gratia, when Tyler urinated in soup bowls before he served it to his bourgeois customers when he was working as a banquet. Throughout the movie also there are many actions and lines said by the narrator that shows he represent the superego part of the psyche, id est, when the narrator gives Tyler advices and his thoughts, which opposes Tyler’s, with hope that the übermensch would change his mind and not proceed what he was about to do. The Ego in this film is anything that was done by this two characters after the consideration and judgement of The Unreliable Narrator. However, in this movie we can see that the conscience or the Superego of the narrator is very weak. This is because the narrator will always end up fulfilling the demands of his ID—He will always end up doing things that Tyler wants to do.

To conclude, the structural theory of psychoanalysis can be seen in this film. In fact, David Fincher’s Fight Club is the perfect allegory to show how the tripartite of Sigmund Freud’s psyche works. The characters can be illustrated as the components in the theory and they portrayed the components’ work with a great success. Above all, the psychoanalytic theory adaptation in films are broadly used for years now: as an element to adorn the storyline and content or even as a parodical therapist-patient scene in a psychiatrist consultation room.

[1] Freud was a cocaine addict.

[2] A term Freud described himself in a letter to Oskar Pfister, a pastor and psychoanalyst.

[3] A philosophical conception of the perfect man by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Thus Spake Zarathustra


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