Fight Club is an obvious nod to The Shining and has massive character and storyline parallels that are border-line impossible to dismiss as mere coincidence. Simply stated, Fight Club is a remake of The Shining but with a modern twist. This is not tangential to my other theories concerning Fight Club; rather it only serves to strengthen them.
Much like Fight Club the film differs from Fight Club the novel, as it is a film adaptation, so does Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining differ from Stephen King’s novel The Shining. In fact, King suffers from the same misunderstanding of how film adaptations work as many of my critics – believing a film by the same name as a novel is a literal conversion of the story from one medium to another.
King even complained about Kubrick’s The Shining on multiple occasions, saying “Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she’s basically just there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman that I wrote about” and suggested Jack Nicholson’s character seems “crazy from the first scene”, suggesting King is confused why his artistic intentions were not conveyed in someone else’s work.
That being said, it is important to preface this section by stating my following observations are operating under the assumption that in The Shining, some characters are not actually real, and that the story of The Shining is very similarly about a man having a mental break down and struggling with his alternate personalities – triggered by either stress or sexual identity conflicts, or some combination of those issues.
In both Fight Club (the film) and The Shining the main character is named “Jack”, this may not seem like a big deal on it’s own but in the Fight Club novel the main character is referred to as “Joe” in the 3rd person, suggesting Fincher made a conscious and deliberate change to the character’s name.
But why do this? Try to imagine any other adaptation of a novel where something as critical as the main character’s name is changed, what would the motivation behind this be if not to make a connection between the two very similar characters in these films?
Another interesting fact is both Jacks speak in the 3rd person, about themselves.
In The Shining, Jack types out repeatedly “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” and in Fight Club Jack refers to himself in the 3rd person, while reading from a book, “I am Jack’s colon” and “I am Jack’s cold sweat” and even refers to himself as a “30 year old boy” – just as Jack from The Shining does.
Now that we know Marla lives in a hotel and the Paper Street house does not exist, this means that almost 100% of the Fight Club film is likely taking place in “Marla’s” hotel, just like we watch the events in The Shining unfold in the Overlook Hotel.
Since we know Marla lived in a hotel, and that the Paper Street House did not exist, it only makes sense the vast majority of the film is essentially taking place in “Marla’s” hotel – like the sex scene, Project Mayhem, making soap, and everything else that takes place in the Paper Street House. These events are actually unfolding in a hotel, just as the events of The Shining are unfolding in a hotel.
Both Jacks, in both films, have difficulty sleeping and have an obsessive fixture on something they think helps alleviate this problem.
In The Shining, Danny asks Jack, “Why don’t you sleep dad..?” to which Jack replies, “I can’t…got too much work to do.” with an insane, lost look in his eye.
In Fight Club, Jack literally has the exact same problem: he cannot sleep and instead works odd jobs through the night – he can’t sleep, he has too much work to do. Tyler even says to Jack, “You have 9 night jobs because you can’t sleep at night.”
In The Shining, Jack Torrance also subtly mentions that he works odd jobs just like the Jack in Fight Club. He says to Wendy, during one of his outbursts, “I could really write my own ticket if I went back to Boulder now, couldn’t I? Shoveling out driveways? Work in a car wash? Any of that appeal to you?”
In both films, these extremely similar conversations literally happen in a hotel room as both Jacks sit on a bed, as pictured above.
The Shining and Fight Club both begin their stories meeting with doctors, both of whom dismiss and assure their patients that their symptoms are nothing to worry about. What are the patients symptoms again?
In The Shining, Danny blacks out and wakes up in bed. In Fight Club, Jack “nods off and wakes up in weird places”. Both Danny and Jack seem to be exhibiting the same exact symptoms.
In both The Shining and Fight Club, as both Jack’s are seen typing and reading, their alternate personalities are riding bicycles around their respective hotels.
Fight Club and The Shining have one very interesting thing in common: they feature main characters named Jack interacting with nonexistent people. The reason this is difficult to connect at first is because The Shining frames these characters as ghosts, or the viewer assumes them to be, instead of just figments of Jack Torrance’s imagination.
But of course the characters in The Shining are ghosts…right? I mean, it’s a horror movie…right?
No. Almost certainly not. There are a number of reasons that support this. Jack Torrance is not a victim of a haunted hotel, he is the victim of his multiple personalities, just like Jack in Fight Club. Furthermore at no point in The Shining, does anyone say or even imply that the people Jack Torrance is talking to are ghosts or that the hotel is haunted.
Further still, the act of “shining” as it is described in the film is vague at best and its relevance in the film is confusing and ambiguous, especially if we are supposed to believe this was intended as a “horror” film. Let’s break this down a bit more…
In The Shining, characters like Delbert Grady (“the caretaker”) and the young woman/old woman in the bathroom have an extremely bizarre quality that ghosts typically do not have in conventional, true “horror” films, which is that they can interact with and directly physically influence the characters through manipulating objects and even directly inflicting harm.
There are two very notable scenes where the “ghosts” violate this principle in The Shining: when Danny returns from room 237 with visible wounds on his body and when Jack is locked in the pantry, and Grady, a supposed long-dead grounds keeper unlocks the door and lets Jack out.
If Grady is not actually a ghost, but is rather another personality of the mentally deteriorating Jack, this scene would be very similar to Jack and Tyler’s interactions. As Tyler said, “sometimes you’re me, other times you see yourself watching me.” As in this case Jack Torrance would just be imagining himself watching and hearing Grady open the door for him, when in reality Jack let himself out of the pantry.
Both characters are speaking to people who do not exist, are going on violent rampages and having interactions with imaginary people who are some how still able to manifest and manipulate reality (think of Delbert Grady opening the food pantry for Jack…how could this happen, or rather, did it happen?)
If you think that The Shining is simply a case where yes, indeed, ghosts can physically harm people, then why does Delbert have to keep Jack locked in the pantry in order to gain leverage over him to convince Jack to kill Wendy and Danny – in exchange for being let out? Why doesn’t Delbert just kill them himself? Furthermore, when Danny shows up with scars and bruises on his body, why was this encounter immediately preceded by Jack grunting and moaning in terror, seemingly having a nightmare at his desk, as if it had happened to him – and not Danny?
It makes no sense at all. If these are actual, violent ghosts, then they could have and should have killed everyone, including Jack – yet they didn’t. This massive contradiction is enough to safely conclude the “ghosts” are not real at all and are simply imagined by Jack and he is acting on behalf of his imagined personalities. If he imagined the ghosts, what else is he imagining?
It makes sense that Jack IS Delbert Grady, which helps explain the famously confusing end of The Shining, with the focus on the black and white photo which depicts Jack wearing Delbert’s exact same outfit. It is also worth noting that the entire conversation takes place directly in front of a mirror, as if Jack is literally looking through Delbert and talking to his own reflection. It is just like Delbert Grady says to Jack after Jack confronts Delbert Grady about being the murderous caretaker he read about in the newspaper, “I’m sorry to differ with you sir, but you are the care taker. You’ve always been the caretaker.”
The Shining isn’t a ghost story – Jack talks to and physically interacts with these personalities, which he himself is acting on the behalf of – which is how he is able to open the pantry door. The Shining is a story almost identical to Fight Club, in that a man is losing his mind and we are unable to deduce who is real and who is not.
One of the most significant similarities between The Shining and Fight Club is that Jack, in Fight Club, and Danny, in The Shining, both have imaginary friends they are not supposed to talk about with other people, and whom seemingly share knowledge with each other. For example, Tony is able to tell Danny that Jack got the job at the Overlook hotel, but there was no way for him to know this.
If Tony, who is only explained in the film as an imaginary friend, is able to access information that only Jack would have, how can this be explained? It does not even fit in with the real definition of what “shining” is in the film at all, which further supports the idea that Danny is likely just speaking to himself, but how could he possibly have this information unless he was somehow directly psychologically associated with Jack Torrance?
Danny says about Tony, “I’m not ‘posed to talk about him.” and when he is pressed for more information from his doctor Danny says, “I don’t want to talk about Tony anymore.” Does this sound familiar to you at all..?
This is extremely similar to Jack and Tyler’s policy about discussing Tyler to certain people, particularly Marla. Tyler insists that Jack not mention his existence or even his name, in the 3rd person, to Marla. The parallels are very obvious: Jack has an imaginary friend who shares knowledge with him and whom he cannot openly talk about and Danny (who may very well be just a personality of Jack Torrance’s) has an imaginary friend with whom he shares knowledge with and cannot openly talk about.
So who is Tony exactly? Interestingly, in the novel written by Stephen King, Danny’s middle name is Anthony which is often abbreviated as Tony for short, this strongly implies that Danny is literally just talking to himself and not psychically or spiritually communicating with any other entity – living or dead.
Ultimately at the end of both films, each Jack commits suicide after attempting to destroy their alternate personalities and failing. In The Shining Jack is forced out into the cold and dies while hunting down and attempting to kill his alternate personalities, and Jack shoots himself. Both do so in an effort to get rid of their alternative personalities and regain control.
In The Shining, when Jack is waiting to be given a tour of the Overlook hotel, he is shown sitting in an arm chair and reading a magazine.
What magazine is he reading? Playgirl magazine, described as “an American magazine that features general interest articles, lifestyle and celebrity news, in addition to semi-nude or fully nude men. In the 1970s and 1980s the magazine printed monthly and was marketed mainly to women, although, as the magazine knew, it had a significant gay male readership, in a period in which gay male erotic magazines were few.” Why would Jack be reading a homosexual pornographic magazine, in public, while waiting to begin his new job?
The cover of the magazine details the topics they cover in that particular issue, and was an actual issue of the magazine that was printed.
Probably the most disturbing and relevant article listed on the cover of the magazine is on the topic of incest. The text reads “INCEST: why parents sleep with their children” this is noteworthy for a number of reasons since it alludes to the idea that Jack may indeed be metaphorically “fucking himself” in the very same sense that Tyler, Marla and Jack were.
Even in Fight Club there are subtle references to incest, likely for the same reason. One of the support groups Jack sees on the listing of support groups is “Incest Survivors Group” followed by “Alcoholics Anonymous”; two significant references to themes in both The Shining and Fight Club – alcohol abuse and “incest”.
In addition, the fact Jack is reading Playgirl is bizarre purely from a gender identity perspective. Is Jack gay? Or is he experiencing feelings of emasculation? Is Wendy perhaps a compartmentalized personality of Jack’s, just as Marla is in Fight Club? This could help explain somethings about the film that seem deliberately vague and confusing, particularly the Play Girl magazine.
The famous scene in The Shining where Danny begins writing “REDRUM” on the bathroom door never actually happens in the book. And another, very peculiar thing about this scene is that items in the bedroom have been moved to their opposite side, a very clear and obvious decision by Stanley Kubrick to denote something…but what?
The fact that Danny is writing backwards, essentially as a mirror image, and the fact that the items in the room have now been moved to the opposite of their previous places, implies confusion or disorganization. On top of all of this Wendy is now wearing the same robe Jack was wearing in the bedroom scene with Danny.
The timing of this scene is particularly interesting since it occurs at the end, when Jack has essentially lost his mind completely and is set on trying to murder his family. Everything is unraveling now and, if you agree with my interpretation, he is attempting to destroy his alternate personalities. This explains why everyone in The Shining seems to lose it all at once and begins exhibiting odd behavior; because their host is Jack – and he is losing his mind – so everyone goes crazy.
This exact same series of events occurs, with astounding similarity in Fight Club. As Jack’s mental state deteriorates further we even see the same type of reversal and confusion, albeit more subtle. When Jack is chasing after Tyler in the office building that is set to explode, he glances at the wall to find the direction of the garage escalators. When he looks the first time, the arrow is pointing left, when he looks again, it is pointing to the right. Here are the screenshots in chronological order as they are shown in the film.
It is 100% impossible that this is a continuity error made by accident, because in order to change the arrow’s direction it would need to be physically removed and reattached to the wall. There is no other logical explanation for why this is in the film except to convey Jack’s total lack of mental stability.
The intention of this is likely to communicate to the viewer that Jack, similar to Jack in The Shining, is mentally losing his faculties. Even the camera shot of Jack’s face shows he is in a disturbed state and that he notices the arrow changed direction. Jack cannot even trust his own eyes anymore.