Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tyler Durden Meets Jesus

I think that watching the movie Fight Club may have helped me to reconnect with Gospel of Mark in a positive way. I’m not sure I don’t still hate the Gospel of Mark. I’m not sure I don’t still hate the Jesus portrayed in it. I think, though, that in some way I might be less angry with the poor provisional fixes offered by the Markan Jesus to those who have experienced loss or trauma.

In Fight Club, we see a man who has lost his sense of (masculine) identity. The loss of identity in a general sense is made clear in the fact that the narrator, played by Edward Norton, is never given a name and is listed in the credits as “The Narrator.” At several points, the narrator references himself in the third person, identifying himself as specific body parts, physical responses, and emotional experiences based on an article he read.

He says, “I am Jack’s (raging bile duct), (cold sweat), (complete lack of surprise), (smirking revenge), (wasted life), (inflamed sense of rejection), (broken heart),” and he does this both in voice-over and in speaking to other characters in the film. It is also made explicit in the narrator’s comments such as, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” It is further made clear in Tyler Durden’s comment, “We are consumers. We are byproducts of a lifestyle obsession.”

The fact that the loss of the narrator’s identity is specifically a masculine identity comes into focus in his attending a Testicular Cancer Survivor’s Group. This understanding is further made explicit with Tyler Durden commenting, “We are a generation of men raised by women, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.”

In a community in which a large number of children are raised in single parent, female headed households, young men are not given any kind of indication of what it means to be men, of what masculinity looks like. Their only firsthand knowledge is an example of what is female and feminine.

In their striving to create a masculine identity, there is an almost total rejection of what is considered feminine and an embracing of what might be seen as opposite—made explicit in the refusal to discuss their fight club experiences outside of that setting and the use of violence as a means of creating community.

Additionally, there are comments in this film which are strongly religious, even Christian, tying it to the Gospel of Mark in ways that might not be seen unless viewed from the perspective of Mark as a paradigmatic overlay. In discussing his obsession with attending support groups, the narrator says, “Every night I died, and every night was I was born again; resurrected” and “Afterwards, we all felt saved,” in response to the weekly and then nightly fights taking place in the fight clubs.

Tyler Durden posits:

Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God? You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you, never wanted you, in all probability, He hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen. We don’t need Him. Fuck damnation. Fuck redemption. We are God’s unwanted children? So be it.

I wonder if this might be the sentiment of many in first century Palestine, having watched their cities burned, their families murdered, and the religious center of Israel razed to the ground. In their desolation and attempts to recreate a sense of community from the few scraps left, did they perhaps feel as though they were God’s unwanted children?

I was surprised and disturbed by the ways in which I saw the Gospel of Mark in the movie Fight Club. The loss of identity and the willingness of a group of individuals to follow a man who lived a schizophrenic life was so close to my understanding of the loss of community experienced by first century “readers” of the Gospel of Mark, and my own reading of the disciples following Jesus.

Furthermore, there is the creation of a new identity. Tyler Durden explains his purpose as follows: “All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” I think that this, in a lot of ways, is what Mark’s purpose was in writing this gospel—to create something, and someone in the person of Jesus, who is more, stronger, better, smarter, and fully liberated in ways in which the community was not, but wanted to be.

Ultimately, I think that Fight Club allows me access to the Gospel of Mark in ways that I did not previously have. Tyler Durden says to the narrator, “I will drag you kicking and screaming, and in the end you will thank me.” So too do I feel as though I am dragged through Mark, kicking and screaming; though with Mark, there is no end, for we are pointed, once again, to the beginning. We are told to go back to Galilee, to begin again, to be resurrected.

 “Only after disaster can we be resurrected,” Tyler says. In the aftermath of loss and trauma, we create new identities, identities that are no longer defined by, though not necessarily separate from, our former relationships (whether to people or things) which have been lost. In the face of loss and trauma our salvation is to be found in our ability to resurrect/recreate/reconstitute our own identities and understanding of ourselves.

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