Note: The following article contains spoilers for the 1999 film Fight Club. If you don’t want to get spoiled, you should stop reading now. Also, watch the movie. It’s been out for over a decade.
The other day, my brother and I were watching Fight Club. I’ve seen the movie several times before, so I initially didn’t give it much thought. Later that evening, however, I realized something–Tyler Durden can be interpreted as a gritter, more masculine version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype.
According to film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term after seeing Kirsten Dunst’s performance in Elizabethtown, the MPDG is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Although Fight Club‘s Tyler Durden can hardly be described as “bubbly,” he could still be interpreted to fit this particular trope.
In the movie, Tyler Durden appears in the narrator’s life because the narrator is bored. He wants to change his life, and that’s where Tyler comes in. Tyler himself says it best: “All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I f*** like you wanna f***, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not” (Fight Club). The narrator creates Tyler because he craves rejuvenation. He wants his life to change for the better, and in order to do that, he needs Tyler’s help.
Throughout the film, Tyler makes several enlightening statements that change the narrator’s entire perspective:
We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.
You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.
Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.
The things you own end up owning you.
Hey, even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart.
By leading the narrator by the hand through a series of earth-shattering epiphanies, Tyler fulfills the obligations of the MPDG archetype and changes the narrator’s life for good. At the end of the film, once Tyler is dead, the narrator says to Marla, “You met me at a very strange time in my life” (Fight Club). This statement implies that things have nowhere to go but up once the credits finish rolling.
Most MPDG characters bring joy and light and passion into the protagonist’s life. Tyler Durden brings reality, violence, and perspective. Clearly, he’s much gritter than any Zooey Deschanel role.
What do you think? How do you feel about Tyler Durden and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl?