David Fincher spoke to The Guardian about how his 1999 cult classic “Fight Club” has become, much to his dismay, a sort of rallying cry for far-right groups and the incel community. “I’m not responsible for how people interpret things,” he told the publication, almost as if he were shrugging his shoulders through the words. “Language evolves. Symbols evolve.”
Let’s back up a bit. When “Fight Club” came out, it was met with mixed reviews. It was an edgy story revolving around a white-collar worker, played by Edward Norton, who starts an underground fight club with a soap salesman, Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. The movie dove deep into the psyche of modern men, questioning consumer culture and the emptiness of corporate life. It had layers, sparking heated debates about masculinity, consumerism, and the human condition.
Fast forward to today, and the film has taken on a life of its own, often cited by groups who believe it glorifies a certain type of toxic masculinity. This new fan base includes what many call the “manosphere,” populated by incels, neo-Nazi fitness clubs, and the Proud Boys. These groups see Tyler Durden as a hero, a spokesman for a disaffected generation of men. And this, according to Fincher, is not what he intended.
He’s frustrated, even slightly exasperated. “OK, fine,” he responds when the topic of his film being a touchstone for the far right is brought up. Fincher points out that when he was making “Fight Club,” critics were questioning his choices, and now, when he’s moved on to other projects, he’s still answering for the same film. He’s in a no-win situation. But at the end of the day, he puts the onus back on the audience, saying, “We didn’t make it for them, but people will see what they’re going to see.”
Fincher even draws parallels with iconic art pieces like Norman Rockwell paintings or Picasso’s “Guernica.” People see in them what they want to see. He makes it clear that if you think Tyler Durden is someone to look up to, then you’ve got it all wrong. “It’s impossible for me to imagine that people don’t understand that Tyler Durden is a negative influence,” he says. “People who can’t understand that, I don’t know how to respond and I don’t know how to help them.”
The question remains: Do artists bear the responsibility for how their work is interpreted? Fincher, at least, says no. In his eyes, he’s made the movie, thrown it into the world, and now it’s up to us to decide what we see—whether he likes it or not.