Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jackass: Fight Club’s Representation of The Strange Case of Dissociative Identity Disorder

Unfortunately enough for her, Marla Singer said it best: “You’re Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jackass”. It is in this line that lies the stanch dichotomy of the human mind, perception and consciousness. Long before Marla Singer ever met Tyler Durden in David Fincher’s Fight Club, Robert Louis Stevenson was planting the ideas behind Marla’s confusion in the creation of his wildly opposing characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The emergence of psychology as a legitimate science during the Victorian Period not only gave birth to an impassioned interest in the fabric of one’s mind, but an equally impassioned interest in how easily that very same fabric could come unraveled. Stevenson and Fincher, in both novella and film forms, chose to remark upon a larger psychological issue that grabbed attention not only in Victorian England, but that still endures in the present day. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a condition that both fascinates and horrifies and is portrayed in both past and present mediums to enlighten audiences on the possibilities of a dichotomous system of consciousness within each of us. Film adaptations like Fight Club have continued to participate in conversation with the original story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, on the significance and prevalence of this disorder and what, in turn, this philosophical acknowledgment means to have a duality present in each and every human mind.

What was previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), is a “syndrome in which a person develops more than one distinct identity or personality, each of which can have distinct facial and verbal expressions, gestures, interpersonal styles, attitudes and even physiological responses”. A frightening and controversial disorder, DID is shrouded in foggy misunderstanding and misdiagnosis. People diagnosed with this disorder often undergo periods of extensive amnesia and spells of time erased from the memory entirely (Nolen-Hoeksema, 163). Before a basic understanding of psychological science was available, the quotidian Victorian reader would have read the transformation of Hyde as an appalling spectacle to be feared. So why is it that Stevenson’s fabricated alter still sends chills up our spines as we watch Tyler Durden reenact Hyde’s deranged, violent tendencies in Fight Club? Even given our advancements in psychological understanding, DID is still a syndrome that poses many ethical and philosophical questions about its origins and what its existence means to the modern person.

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Jack, the narrator, after a gruesome fight…with himself

The concept that Fincher and Stevenson both strive to unpack is the idea of, more specifically, a destructive alter; the consequences of an uncontrolled personality with no recollection of the disaster that they inflict. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson utilizes the juxtaposition of Dr. Jekyll, “fond of the respect of the wise and good among [his] fellow-men…and with every guarantee of an honourable and distinguished future” with his alter, Mr. Hyde, “something abnormal and misbegotten in the very essence of the creature…seizing, surprising and revolting” (Stevenson, 1807-1808). Fincher develops a similar pair. He contrasts the Ikea-furniture-coveting, “suit-and-tie-day-job” attending narrator Jack, with violent, manipulative mass-disaster-inducing “soap” maker, Tyler Durden. Hyde and Tyler are not only destructive, but consume their “master personalities” as their respective stories progress.

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Marla Singer looking for “Tyler Durden” after he “disappears”

Mr. Utterson, a long time friend of Dr. Henry Jekyll, grows increasingly worried for his ailing friend, as he believes Jekyll’s nefarious “acquaintance”, Hyde, has taken over him in a less literal manner. The once socially involved doctor secludes himself into his home and away from his former friends. It is only his counterpart that is seen lurking around the town, sneaking in and out of the shack in which he has taken up residence. Similarly, Jack isolates himself in a dilapidated, abandoned house away from all friends, coworkers and family. These isolating tactics are the seeds of total control that the injurious alters plant in the minds of both Jack and Jekyll. Away from friends and peers, the alters are able to manipulate and absorb the bodies of the main characters for whatever purposes they so desire.

These alters exist in a completely alternate way than the main characters would have themselves behave and approach the worlds around them. Both alters are born out of dark pasts and an inability to cope with unforgiving situations. Jack creates Tyler Durden as being the complete opposite of everything Jack stood for, and therefore was able to escape into a persona that he no longer associated with the “Jack” he was forced to be by his job, his family, his friends and society. Tyler dressed in a chaotic manner, ejaculated into food at restaurants, vandalized property and most importantly, was not afraid of death. Tyler Durden was Jack’s scapegoat of lost hope. Conversely, all of Tyler’s chaos is paralleled by Hyde’s eccentricity. Edward Hyde is dressed in clothes “enormously too large for him in every measurement” and is described as physically deformed in a way that resembles something inhuman, “like some damned Juggernaut” (Stevenson, 1781-1807). Whereas it is hinted that Tyler was born perhaps out of a neglectful childhood, absentee father and passionless life, Hyde is born from Jekyll out of an “imperious desire to carry [his] head high, and wear a more commonly grave countenance before the public” (Stevenson, 1809).

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Tyler Durden encouraging the narrator to let go of fear and lose all hope

As is common with most who are diagnosed with DID, both of our main characters involuntarily lose themselves in their alternates as a form of psychological escapism from the lives they feel they are forced to carry out. Jekyll writes to Utterson that in transforming into Hyde, he felt “younger, lighter, happier in body…a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill race in my fancy…an innocent freedom of the soul” and knew himself to be “tenfold more wicked…[delighting] him like wine” (Stevenson, 1810). Jack, a fiercely depressed insomniac, finds peace in “losing all hope”. He is able to find sleep and comfort in the cathartic ritual of crying and very soon after meets (creates) Tyler Durden; a man who tells Jack explicitly, “I look like you wanna look, I f*ck like you wanna f*ck, I am smart, capable and most importantly I am free in all the ways you are not” (Fight Club, David Fincher, 1999). It is in these dramatically contradictory personalities that Hyde is able to walk freely, trample children and murder at will, as Tyler is able to fight, incite others to fight and plan a large scale operation to destroy all those who are bound and unfree by the debt that makes them normal, participating members in society.

The evil intentions of the alters is the most disturbing, driving attraction to these narratives. If an alternate side of your consciousness takes control over the vehicle of your physical body and mind, what does that make of the self? Stevenson had long waited to exploit his obsession with the duality of man into a story, “to find a body…for that strong sense of man’s double being which must at times…overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature” (Stevenson, 1779). The larger question at play in these two stories, both original and adaptation, is the much more grand philosophical quandary, “How does one identify the ‘self’”? Syndromes such as DID force the reader to ask “which player is the mask and which player is the authentic?” With characters as outwardly disastrous as Hyde and Tyler Durden, the immediate, gut reaction of most would seem to be that the more destructive of the two is the façade and must be therefore be eliminated. These two pieces work together to suggest that maybe the well-behaved, societally included mask we wear is the true “alternate” identity.

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Tyler educating Jack on a flight

The Victorian fascination in the duality of man has far from ceased to be ruminated in modern day literature and film. Fight Club is a shining example of this duality played out demonstratively for a viewing audience. It calls us to continue the questioning, especially as dissociation disorders like DID continue to become more prevalent and diagnosable. The interest in the brain’s ability to split apart and create another facet is not new; it is the labeling and diagnosis that has recently entered the scene as the more troublesome concept. At the end of Stevenson’s novella, Jekyll loses his life in the crumpled form of Hyde’s death. It became clear that one could no longer live without the other, thus killing both of them. The ending of Fight Club isn’t as cut and dry. After shooting himself, it is unclear as to the life or death of the narrator. Did he survive and kill Tyler? Has Tyler taken over permanently? The ending of the modern adaptation seems to want viewers to leave the film questioning who lives and who survives; if it is both or if it is neither. Questions like these, of self-perception and identity, will continue to challenge viewers and readers alike with the same concepts that were posed so many centuries ago.

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Ending scene of Fight Club: The narrator shoots himself and it is unclear whether Jack or Tyler is the one who remains holding hands with Marla Singer

Works Cited:

Richardson, Jancy. “Video Inside Plane Going Down Is Totally Chilling – And Surprising To Any Movie Fan.” Moviepilot.com. N.p., 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 07 Dec. 2015. Gif.

“It’s Called a Changeover.” It’s Called a Changeover. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015. Gif.

“Remedy.” Remedy. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015. Gif.

“.logo.filled .inner, .logo:hover .inner { Opacity: 1; Fill: Url(#rollover); }.” David Fincher Gifs. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015. Gif.

“What’s Changed since Fight Club: Terrorism, Vibrators, Soap.”Hopes&Fears. N.p., 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

“Fight Club Ending.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

Eich, Eric, Dawn Macaulay, Richard J. Loewenstein, and Patrice H. Dihle. “Memory, Amnesia, and Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Psychological Science 8.6 (1997): 417-22. Jstor.org. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. 20th Century Fox, 1999.

Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan. “Somatic Symptom Disorders.” Abnormal Psychology. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 162-65. Print.

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