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Calvin v. Hobbes – An Alternative Interpretation of Fight Club…

I am a sucker for a crazy movie conspiracy theory. Be it the possible identities of Keyser Soze or the fact that The Shining is about Native Americans or even whether Anton Chigurh (the unstoppable killing machine from No Country for Old Men) is actually an angel. I stumbled across a somewhat similar one a little while ago which has been out there a while (and I imagine most of you are familiar with). But, for those who aren’t, I thought I’d pass on my own favourite crazy movie theory of the moment: Fight Club is a sequel to the iconic comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. Edward Norton’s narrator is Calvin and Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden is Hobbes. It actually makes sense.

"I am Jack's abandoned childhood friend..."

Note: In case that opening paragraph hasn’t given the game away, there are spoilers in here for the rather excellent Fight Club. I’m assuming anyone reading a detailed article on the movie has seen it (you’ve had ten years!), but – if not – consider yourselves warned that here there be spoilers.
The link is up above and goes into the theory in an insane amount of depth. I’ll concede that I am not excessively familiar with teh Calvin & Hobbes mythology, so the more detailed stuff goes over my head, and also that certain aspects of the theories seem to be grasping for straws (in fairness, the suggestion is only half-serious), but it’s amazing how much the initially crazy idea makes sense if you think about it.

And squint sideways a little bit. The whole link is worth a read, but the core of the argument is as follows:

Picture this: a hyper, self-absorbed child initially concocts an imaginary friend as the ideal playmate, to whom more realistic qualities soon become attributed. This phantasm becomes a completely separate personality, with his own likes, dislikes, and temperament—and the imaginer and the imagined clash and argue constantly, though remaining fast friends. This pattern continues to the point where the child begins to perceive what was originally mere fantasy to be reality.

Just as Calvin has an imaginary jungle-animal friend named Hobbes, whom everyone else believes to be nothing but a stuffed toy, “Jack” in Fight Club has an imaginary cool-guy friend named Tyler, whom no one but Jack can see.

In both cases, the entity that began as the ideal companion soon took on a more realistic, three-dimensional quality. In other words, they became real. This is evident in that both Hobbes and Tyler also began to function as scapegoats for their creators. For instance, consider that Calvin often blames broken lamps and other assorted household mischief on Hobbes, and that Jack is inclined to believe that Fight Club and other various anti-society mischief is brought about by Tyler, not himself. Calvin claims Hobbes pounces on him every day after school; Jack believes Tyler beats him up next to 40 kilotons of nitroglycerin in a parking garage—the list goes on and on. The relationships between the two sets of friends are the exact same. Is this mere coincidence?

So, if you accept that the unnamed narrator in the movie is Calvin, what happened? I mean, Calvin and Hobbes were a little mischeivious to be sure, but certainly not as incredibly violent as Tyler and the narrator. The theory postulates that Calvin has been somewhat crushed by the real world after being convinced to ‘put childish things aside’ as it were, including his favourite stuffed tiger.

Once Calvin reaches the hostile environment known as the seventh grade, the constant teasing from the other students and the frustrated concern of his parents finally becomes too much, and a reluctant, disillusioned Calvin is finally forced to grow up, or at least begin to. This decision is sealed by one of the hardest things young Calvin will ever have to do in his life: un-imagine Hobbes, an act which to Calvin is essentially no different from murder. After being Calvin’s best friend for over a decade, Hobbes is packed away in a box, or tossed carelessly into a garbage bag, perhaps even stuffed under the same bed that once contained so many monsters. This is all, of course, very painful for Calvin, so much so that he represses it all in shame.

It’s worth noting that during these twenty or so years, Hobbes never bears a grudge against Calvin nor wishes any ill upon him. Hobbes, remembering the depth of their past friendship, does not hate Calvin but rather hates the society that made Calvin put him away. Hobbes, residing in Calvin’s mind, sees and experiences all that Calvin does—and truly despises all of it. He witnesses a bright, superbly imaginative kid (with a genius-level vocabulary) reduced to nothing more than another nameless cog. Fighting off the tears wept for his conventionalized pal, Hobbes resolves to set Calvin free, paying special attention when Calvin idly looks up homemade-napalm recipes on the Internet.

It’s a wonderfully subversive take on what was… well, to be honest, a reasonably subversive comic. It’s a comic book about a kid who refuses to crushed by the world around him, refusing to acknowledge that, in the words he attributes to his father, “being miserable builds character”. There’s even a hint of the same sort of skepticism about the world outside and a surprisingly deep sense of misanthropism that feeds through into Fight Club:

I wish I had more friends, but people are such jerks. If you can just get most people to leave you alone, you’re doing good. If you can find even one person you really like, you’re lucky. And if that person can also stand you, you’re really lucky.

Indeed, TVTropes sums up the series in terms which outline its thematic links with the movie:

To Watterson, Calvin is a tool to subtly mock the modern age in its myriad forms — Calvin creates snowmen that resemble postmodern art sculptures (to mock overly pretentious art projects); rails against the modern world’s hyper-commercialized state (which demonstrates the futility of fighting the system: Calvin’s personal ‘world’ is inundated with over-hyped cereal products); and occasionally questions the justification for humanity’s continuing existence while gazing at a piece of trash carelessly discarded in the woods.

Of course the twist is that Hobbes is arguably the anthropromophic embodiment of Calvin’s good side – evaporating at the very thought of violence (though, of course, perfectly capable of ambushing Calvin at any given moment). It raises the interesting question of whether the Hobbes aspect of Calvin’s personality has been twisted by the years in isolation or has perhaps himself put aside his own childish things, growing up and accepting a less conventional role as Calvin’s conscience. As a bonus, it also makes a nice symmetrical twist on the source material.

I love these sorts of deconstructionist ways of exploring films and media as they relate to various abstract notions – and each other. It’s food for thought and it’s a way to get you to tilt your head and think again about a film that you gave a great deal of attention to when it initially came out. It proves that films with smart ideas are worth revisiting and that audiences can truly shape their own perception – the film becomes almost 3D, shifting focus as you approach from different angles.

Maybe it’s a crazy idea, maybe it’s not. But you it’ll certainly be dancing around in the back of your mind the next time you see the film. And if it gives you reason enough to revisit a classic, isn’t that reason enough to consider it?

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8 Responses

  1. i love that! that was great, i enjoyed reading that, i love wacky interpretations that appear at first unrelated and then all sorts of weird similarities are uncovered!
    i suppose all movies come from life so it would only make sense that they have all sorts of complex relationships with each other!

  2. I will need to keep this in mind next time I watch Fight Club.

  3. I agree with this – although The Cat in the Hat, shows that this is a common theme with imaginary projected behaviour as I believe it is a universal jungian human condition of having an ego and an id that mentally battle one another, which portrayed visually is better externally when one character becomes two.
    So Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat is essentially Fight Club for Kids too…….

  4. In fact Drop Dead Fred is just Fight Club with doggy doggy poo instead of chemical burns and underground brainwashing?

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