The striking similarities between Fight Club and Mr. Robot, USA Network's breakout hit show, have been the source of much Internet chatter ever since the hacktivist cyber-thriller first debuted in the summer of 2015. Numerous online think pieces have drawn comparisons between the two. Series creator Sam Esmail has even admitted to being heavily influenced by the 1999 David Fincher film in countless interviews.
From the oddly framed cinematic compositions and pulsing electronic soundtrack to the highly confessional (and highly unreliable) narration and world-redefining plot twists, Mr. Robot wears its Fight Club credentials on its sleeve like a bloody badge of honor, a proud purple bruise. But is it theft or homage? Is Mr. Robot rethinking a cult classic for a new generation? Or is the show something closer to one of Elliot Alderson's shameless hacks?
Tyler Durden gave the world eight simple rules to follow in Fight Club. This list provides an additional four. Fight Club vs. Mr. Robot. Who's the winner? Who's the loser? You decide...And needless to say, MAJOR SPOILERS below. As in, everything about the movie and the show.
"Hello, friend. 'Hello, friend?' That's lame. Maybe I should give you a name."
In the opening lines of Mr. Robot, the viewer is injected into the head of an unreliable, unstable narrator, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek). Within a few words, the socially reclusive, twentysomething computer security expert is already editing his own thoughts, manufacturing an identity, then hitting the delete key. A few lines later, he reminds himself the person he's speaking to (the viewer) is in his head. The character is warning us: the person telling you this story might have a few SIM cards loose.
Right off the bat, the creators of the show are nudging the audience: Hey, this show is going to be like Fight Club, okay? That infamous 1999 film also begins with an unnamed, unreliable narrator (with a gun in his mouth, no less) giving the viewer the sketchiest of introductions: "People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden." A few lines later, Ed Norton's depressed office drone "Jack" hints that he and the man holding him at gunpoint (Brad Pitt) could be one in the same: "I know this because Tyler knows this."Unreliable narrators are nothing new. Both Mr. Robot and Fight Club make great use of subjective first-person narration for the purposes of exposition and misdirection. In the case of Mr. Robot, we at least get to know the narrator's real name.
In addition to being "touched" in the head, the loner protagonists in Fight Club and Mr. Robot struggle with addiction. The monkeys on Elliot's back are very present: opiates and relentless cyber-snooping. In the case of Fight Club's insomniac "Jack," it's more of a '90s thing: IKEA catalogs and testicular cancer support groups.Whether doing bumps of morphine while installing malware on a dudebro's iPad or hugging it out with crying men after ordering up a bitchin' BJÖRKUDDEN, both Elliot and "Jack" channel their frustrations into unhealthy pursuits. "Jack's" are arguably the less destructive, but this is a matter of opinion. Is it worse to cyber-stalk your ex on Facebook or find salvation in Meat Loaf's man boobs?
Fight Club's "Jack" and Mr. Robot's Elliot give traditional therapies a go before delving into deeper, darker curatives. "Jack" tries support groups for diseases he doesn't have (brain parasites, sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis), hoping to share his pain and find someone who will listen. Elliot attends one-on-one cognitive behavioral sessions with an older female therapist (Gloria Reuben).The therapies work until the characters sabotage them. "Jack" freaks out when fellow tourist Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) begins shadowing support groups, too. Elliot sabotages his recovery by hacking the smartphone of his therapist's married boyfriend.
In Fight Club and Mr. Robot, the protagonists find alternative forms of therapy after being approached by mysterious male mentors. For "Jack", it's an accidental meeting with soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an airplane. For Elliot, it's a run-in on the subway with a vagrant who calls himself "Mr. Robot" (Christian Slater).Durden introduces "Jack" to underground fight clubs where men (mostly white) unleash their bottled up frustration through brutal fisticuffs. Mr. Robot takes Elliot to Coney Island, where a group of mixed gender, mixed race hackers work out their aggression through malicious coding in the shell of an old arcade.