The Shadow Shot

I was gripped by a moment of analysis while watching Fight Club the other night. I've been revisiting a lot of expressionist art over the last few weeks, and considering it alongside concepts of the Shadow Self (both the Jungian concept and what I call the shadow of societal expectation in the West). When I saw Jack run up the stairs after the Robert Paulson scene, I saw these shadows among others at once as he was on his way up to Tyler's room.

In the version I was watching, this happens at 1:47:55. I can't find a clearer clip online than this one, so bear with the quality, but this is the part I'm talking about. The shadow comes at the last 2 seconds in this clip, but lasts a little bit longer in the full film.


For those of you with access to the full film online or on DVD it's easier to see the full progression of the shadow, which is also very, very important.

A few things came to mind. Principal among Jack's many existential discomforts is his father abandoning him. When the guys of Project Mayhem chant "his name is Robert Paulson," Jack's reaction is almost like that of a kid on a playground as he's being taunted by other kids. He runs upstairs, with his voice-over saying he had to "find Tyler," like a kid racing away upstairs to go get their dad.  When he gets up the stairs Tyler is not there, and instead Jack finds evidence of where Tyler has better spent his time -- out setting up other fight clubs in other cities.

Aside from being Jack's other personality, Tyler also serves as an odd model for Jack's would-be father. He helps mold Jack, he sets an example for him, he guides him and teaches him certain things. But he still has many things in common with Jack's real-life father; he is absent whenever Jack needs him, out doing what he wants to do somewhere else, instead of doing what he needs to do, which is take care of Jack.

This Tyler father figure can also devolve into a bullying older brother, or even into a child, when Tyler throws his intelligent tantrums at people who aren't as anti-establishment as he thinks they ought to be.

The shadow on the wall starts low and small, much like a child, and grows midway into something that looks like it has its arms up over his head. For a split second it looks like the profile of a man in a fedora before blurring off into nothing. Its progression speaks to the lower, child-self of Jack's that is running away from his problems and his deficiencies when he becomes Tyler. And Tyler, as Jack's figurative and literal shadow, is ever-present (as a known person to Jack, an idea, and something to follow), yet totally incapable of helping him in the real world (by being absent when Jack feels he needs him to make sense of things). Jack is utterly incapable of rising above both the lack of a father and the inability to control or incorporate Tyler completely, as his body remains stooped and low, kind of desperate, as he dashes up the stairs.

The angles of light and shadow in that closing shot give us classic expressionism, and an unexpectedly deep amount of insight into the divisions present in Jack's character. We get to see the literal, "living shadow" of his body moving up the stairs, the shadow of his split personality, the unfulfilled desire and the disappointment of seeking and not finding a father, and the desperation of his not feeling like he has a place in the average societal set-up of job + money + things + woman = a stable, acceptable, complete identity.

I recommend watching it the scene in super-slowmo so you can watch the evolution and devolution of the shadow.

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