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(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Analysing the psychology of Edward Norton in 'Fight Club'

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything,” speaks the alter-ego of Edward Norton’s ‘Narrator’, a stylish, good looking liberated maverick named Tyler Durden. His words are, in essence, fuel for the raging fires of the film, which speaks towards a rejection of capitalist ideals and an embrace of individuality.

Of course, for those who have seen David Fincher’s 1999 cult classic, Fight Club, it will be clear that Tyler Durden is, in fact, the Narrator. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are two sides of the same coin. 

To be more succinct, both Edward Norton and his alter-ego Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) are representative of Freud psychoanalytic theory separating functions of the brain between the suppressed urges of the ID, and the moral conscience of the super-ego. Durden reflects the psyche, expressing deep-rooted carnal urges of impulsive sex and violence, whilst Norton possesses characteristics of the super-ego in his materialistic outlook of life. 

Essentially the same character, both Edward Norton and Brad Pitt worked to vividly separate the visual identity of both individuals, with Norton reporting to the Daily Telegraph: “We decided early on that I would start to starve myself as the film went on, while [Brad Pitt] would lift and go to tanning beds; he would become more and more idealised as I wasted away”. This created the simple visual cue of Pitt’s Durden becoming the more aesthetically appealing character, both in surface looks and in emotional attitude. 

Identified only as ‘Jack’ in the script, but left nameless in the film, Fincher wished for Edward Norton’s character to reflect the normal everyman, noting about the character in conversation with Film Comment: “He cannot find happiness, so he travels on a path to enlightenment in which he must ‘kill’ his parents, god, and teacher”. Continuing, he explains: “By the start of the film, he has ‘killed off’ his parents. With Tyler Durden, he kills his god by doing things they are not supposed to do. To complete the process of maturing, the Narrator has to kill his teacher, Tyler Durden”. 

On his guide to ‘enlightenment’, Tyler Durden is the protagonist’s wise sage, spouting, at least, Norton’s own perception of wisdom, which is largely simple pop philosophy. Without the personal agency to change the course of his life, he creates a personal device in which to help enact this chance, Tyler Durden. A figment of the Narrator’s idealistic impression of authenticity, Durden isn’t a force for practical change, only chaotic revolution, unable to consider the compromises of contemporary society, blinded by the allure of disorder. 

Unaware he is projecting this mental figure of Tyler Durden, Edward Norton’s Narrator begins questioning the acts of his alter-ego as his own physical condition worsens. As the influence of Durden’s character grows ever stronger, he manifests a nihilistic attitude that becomes instantly attractive to his amassing followers, each willing to reject the materialism of modern society and embrace individuality. 

This nihilistic ‘Fight Club’ that Tyler Durden creates to embrace the carnal urges of humanity and reject social order quickly becomes a contradiction as Durden begins ordering his followers around with a megaphone and a dictatorial attitude. Distancing himself from his alter-ego, the Narrator becomes a mediator between his own conflicting selves.

In the film’s final act, Edward Norton finally confronts his emotional struggle, killing Tyler Durden and liberating himself from the psychological torment of contemporary life. 

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