Crossover Conspiracies: The Durden Paradox
Updated: Aug 9, 2018
Imagine having your whole life stripped away in the blink of an eye. What would you do? You have nothing left, but you have to move on. Life isn't done with you, yet.
This is the life of Officer David Mills and Tyler Durden.
If you haven't seen Se7en or Fight Club, please go watch them now. They are very good, and have a disturbing perception of how our world works. In this piece, I will explain that Officer David Mills from Se7en and Tyler Durden from Fight Club are actually the same person. Meaning that Edward Norton is the figment of David Mill's imagination. This article is written from the ending of Se7en where Officer Mills kills John Doe.
Throughout the movie, Officer Mills has this obvious need to be a hero. This actually comes up in the movie during a conversation between Mills and Somerset. Somerset points out that Mills very much wants to be a "champion."
Somerset is a a jaded and disenfranchised man seeking some kind of good in the world around him. But he often fails, and often for reasons by which he condemns those around him. Mills, on the other hand, believes that the world is not that burned out, and that if there is a fight to be had, then it needs to be fought. The idea of what that fight is, however, will drastically change by the end of his life.
Mills places himself on a very high pedestal, morally. So much so that he can justify breaking the law in order to catch John Doe.
Now we come to the very tragic end of this chase. John Doe has turned himself in, and is leading the pair to a remote location to discover the two remaining bodies. A strange package is delivered, and, to Officer Mills's dismay, it is the severed head of his wife, whom he had just – at that moment – found out was pregnant.
John Doe begins to taunt him, encouraging Mills to kill him and "Become Wrath." All the while, Sommerset is begging Mills not to shoot John Doe. But Mills, being the highly emotionally charged person he is, gives in and executes John Doe with a shot to the head, followed by multiple shots post-mortem.
He is then arrested, taken away, and charged with First Degree Manslaughter. He is sentenced to a state mental facility for psychiatric care and treatment, and Somerset and the police chief chat about getting Mills help for his new problems, both legally and mentally.
Due to his connections within the legal system and the cause of his actions, Officer Mills avoids prison due to what his lawyer (who, for the sake of this article, is the same lawyer John Doe was assigned) calls a "temporary psychotic break." Reasonable when you think about his anger issues, combined with the evidence of his wife and unborn child's murders right in front of him.
Skip ahead a few years, and Officer Mills is released from the mental hospital. He changes his name and moves to a new city. Deciding to abandon law enforcement, he gets a job as an insurance investigator. He adopts not only a new name, but a new personality.
Well, we know David Mills was a hyper-vigilant, emotionally unstable man. He had the very personality that he would end up blaming for the deaths of his wife and child. "Tyler Durden," his emotionally devoid and self-punishing personality in Fight Club... does not. His self-image is that of a meek and mild man, with a personality as dull as the suits he wears to work.
But why would Mills make these changes, and why would his old personality come back at all?
Tyler Durden became his "safe place," a man who has no emotional attachment to anything, can't lose anything. He continues to work in a bureaucratic system, estimating the need for vehicle recalls. Perhaps he hopes to gain some kind of purpose by continuing to be a "champion" for those who died or were injured in these horrible accidents.
But we know how that goes. He learns again that the system he works for does not meet his ideal of what it means to protect people. The justice system would have taken care of John Doe in Se7en, had him plead guilty with insanity as his shield. He would have spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital where he would never see justice.
At least, as far as David Mills was concerned.
This dispassionate nature begins to enrage his former personality. He begins to see the whole world as an immoral corrupt creature. Something that only exists to sustain itself.
Tyler Durden develops insomnia. His two personalities clash for control. But a strange thing has happened: David Mills has begun to lose himself inside his own head. He is Tyler Durden, and he needs to get out of this mind he has been trapped inside.
He now plots against the world while simultaneously trying to make his way out of the poor excuse of a man he finds himself sharing head space with every day. He will topple the government that protected his wife's killer, and he will rail against a world that punished him for his work. A world that would have just as remorselessly devoured his family like John Doe did.
Many of the quotes from the movies could be construed as the projections of his anger, not just against the world, but against his own circumstances:
"What sick ridiculous puppets we are / and what gross little stage we dance on / What fun we have dancing and fucking / Not a care in the world / Not knowing that we are nothing / We are not what was intended."
This line from John Doe (Se7en) is strangely similar in context. John Doe has seen the ugly, twisted, and false side of our world. Much of Tyler’s new perspective is about how the world has lied to him, stolen his potential, and discarded him as no one.
"I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war... Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. We're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."
The objection to commercializing the human condition is obvious, but what more does it say?
David Mills fought for a system he believed in and when it came down to proving itself to him…the world sent him away.
This is his anger against the world that destroyed his career, and his family. His child that would never grow up... wasted potential. A spiritual war, like the one he was waging against John Doe. A man that used his faith as his justification for his horrible crimes. The same kind of moral superiority that David Mills used to kill John Doe.
But, while his life went to crap, John Doe just died.
Who really got screwed in that situation?
"It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything," Tyler Durden famously says in Fight Club. He has figured out that nothing matters when the world itself works against you. David Mills, now Tyler Durden, releases himself from the confines of his suppressed nature. He has truly lost everything: his wife, his child, his stupid life that his "loser alter ego" created to cover up his pain. Tyler Durden has been wearing down the man he made to protect himself so that he can take over. Slowly, painfully, peeling back the layers of his veil... and skin... to show himself the truth. As he says,
"Listen up maggots! You are not special! You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake! You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else! We are the all singing, all dancing crap of the world! We are all part of the same compost keep."
David Mills realized he was no one's champion, no hero to be rewarded for his valor. He was a criminal, the same filth that he would have once locked away in a cell and left to rot.
"Fuck damnation, man! Fuck redemption! We are God's unwanted children? So be it!" Tyler Durden says at one point. “We are not what was intended," John Doe replies across the universe.
It's no surprise that Durden suddenly has hatred for God. Abandoning him and his family to the whims of John Doe... what kind of God would really let this happen? If God wants to punish him, he's going to make it worth his while.
"Hey, you created me! I didn't create some loser alter-ego to make myself feel better. Take some responsibility!" he challenges.
Well, as a matter of fact, he did do just that, but he has become so lost in his own mind that he has forgotten who was there first.
“I've been trying to figure something in my head, and maybe you can help me out, yeah? When a person is insane, as you clearly are, do you know that you're insane? “ David Mills asks. He’s gone so far as to actually answer his own question.
Tyler Durden hates Marla Singer. Why?
She is the attachment that keeps "loser" Tyler Durden from finding his full potential.
But, is she really?
Kinda, yeah. She is the life that he wanted: the wife he lost, the family that was stolen from him. Tyler can't stand the idea of losing someone again. She brings him back to a place that is gone and he never wants to go back.
And nwe come to the climax of the movie, the showdown between Tyler Durden and… Tyler Durden. He eventually shoots himself in the face to kill… himself, the man who has thus far brought nothing but grief and discomfort to Tyler’s life. His own life.
It gets weird, doesn't it?
But at this point, Tyler has finally accepted who and what he is. He has done these things and started this revolution. But he is not the angry and psychotic man he once was either. He is still going to have to figure the rest out, though.
We don’t really know what happens after this. All he have is the great line he says to Marla: “You’ve met me at a strange time in my life.”
Nothing in any movie has ever been so understated.