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“I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.”
Those words, coming out of a freak-shell of a woman, Marla Singer, would resonate through the entire movie as the Narrator slowly realizes he is, in fact, Tyler Durden.
Hopefully I didn’t spoil the movie for you. It’s only been out since 1999, and is a cult-classic of sorts; it’s a movie that can be dissected and re-watched many times, with something new popping out every time (pun very much intended).
Back to Marla, who has uttered the words that would forever shock critics and audience members. She’s an attractive person in certain contexts. The main context being when the lights are off and there isn’t a hint of light protruding through any doors or windows. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Marla. She is quite beautiful in an endearing sort of way. But this beauty isn’t realized until much later on when we finally see her full maturity and wisdom.
Marla is a fairly unattractive woman. She’s rundown, wears thrift clothing, and generally doesn’t care at all about anything. She’ll walk into traffic without a care, steal clothing and sell it, and harvest meals from the back of a charity truck. “Tragically, they’re dead.” as she explains the stolen meals, “But I’m here and in poverty.”
She’s the same person that will take a bottle of Xanax and attempt suicide in one scene, and then fear for her life and safety by requesting help from the Narrator to feel her tits for cancerous lumps. In essence, Marla wants to die quickly, rather than a slow and relatively painful death such as cancer, tuberculosis, or some of the other diseases she’s a faux-member of a support group for.
Marla came across the Narrator quite by accident. The Narrator had finally discovered his cure from insomnia by attending support groups. In the Narrator’s own words, he said, “I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.”
In the Narrator’s eyes, he could simulate hitting rock-bottom by going to these various support groups, cry his eyes out in desperation, and leave the support group with all of his nuts, lungs, and lacking any parasites or brain deformities.
Marla, in the Narrator’s point-of-view, ruined all of this. The Narrator had a guilty conscience. And knowing Marla was a faker (a.k.a., a tourist) reflected his lie. He could no longer function in these support groups. The Narrator, in essence, could not find freedom, or, as I’ll call it, simulated rock-bottom.
It wasn’t long until after meeting Marla that the Narrator confronted her and threatened to expose her lie to the others. “Go ahead, I’ll expose you.” Marla chimed back.
To alleviate this tourist issue, Marla and the Narrator decided to ration out the groups and exchange telephone numbers. “It doesn’t have your name.” Marla would explain as traffic rushed all around her since she was standing in the middle of a busy street. She stared at the piece of paper that the Narrator had given her. “Who are you? Cornelius? Rupert? Travis? Any of the stupid names you give each night?” The audience would never know until much later who, in fact, the Narrator really was.
And at this point, Rupert, Cornelius, and others, were just one of the stupid names he gave out at the support groups. Tyler had been slowly breaking in in the background, much to the Narrator’s dismay. As much as Tyler had been breaking into the Narrator’s life, Marla had begun breaking in as well.
After all, when the Narrator’s condo blew sky-high, he had choices. And he called Marla first. Who knows how the movie would have went had he just chimed in as Marla explained she could hear him breathing over the telephone? Instead, he chose the safe route and called Tyler instead.
What progressed in that first phone call and subsequent meeting with Tyler was a wake-up-call for the Narrator. The Narrator could have easily have had drinks with Marla, went to her shitty apartment, and shagged the hell out of her. Marla to him was so disgusting that he opted for Tyler instead, which is rather ironic considering Tyler lived in an absolute shithole.
“At least she’s trying to hit rock bottom.” Tyler would at one-time quip to the narrator. And it wasn’t until the Narrator had been through hell and back before he realizes the true beauty, that is Marla.
Marla, in essence, reminds me of my first (and hopefully last) ex-wife. We had two cats at the time, and I was away on travel when we separated. When I arrived back at our apartment, one cat remained. This cat was Marla, the house pet.
To say I treated this cat like shit is an understatement. When it wanted to cuddle, I brushed it away. When it wanted to be fed, I relished in its cries. I didn’t treat the cat so badly that animal control had to be contacted (I still fed the damn thing, and cleaned the litter box on occasion), but I didn’t love the animal.
Marla was like the cat. And every frustration I had at the world I would vent upon this cat. I drank heavily, swore heavily, and hated God. However, no matter how badly I treated this cat, it would always come to me whenever I needed it.
Marla was like this to the Narrator. She was the unconditional love that the Narrator needed. The Narrator probably didn’t think of this at the time. He probably assumed what Tyler assumed, which was that Marla was a predator posing as a house pet.
Just as I slowly began to love the cat, with all the negative sentiment I felt towards her, the Narrator began to feel this love for Marla. It got the point that even Marla was amazed at the ferocity of love. When the Narrator truly wanted to help Marla out, she stated, “Oh, here comes an avalanche of bullshit!”
The Narrator had lost at this point. He had not quite hit rockbottom. But he was close.
And the last thing Marla said to the Narrator before he sent her away to relative safety, “You’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”