The Alternate Ending To Fight Club (In Plain Sight)
At the end of Fight Club, our unreliable narrator and his on-again-goth-again crush Marla Singer are standing in a skyscraper, holding hands and staring out the window at a bunch of exploding buildings that used to house credit card companies, thus ushering in the capitalist apocalypse -- you know, average second date fare. This is where the story stops, intentionally leaving both the audience and protagonists wondering what comes next.
Except it's really only us in the cheap seats left to ponder, because right after the credits start rolling, both the Narrator and Marla will be dead, the building they're standing in blown to smithereens. And we know this because of one little detail in the first scene of the movie.
The Car Bomb Underneath Their Building Is Still Armed
Fight Club is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of movie, in that blinking will cause you to miss you out on a lot of spliced-in cock shots. But there's one particular moment that completely changes the ending and the message of the movie, and it's the literal blinking of a timer.
When the Narrator successfully defuses a 400-gallon nitroglycerin bomb by pulling a single wire, the timer stops at 25:10. Immediately after, Tyler Durden, realizing his better half is hellbent on sabotaging his plan, beats the shit out of him(self) for around a minute and a half until the Narrator passes out.
We then fast-forward/backward ("Ha, flashback humor") to about 22 minutes later, and Tyler specifically states that it's T-minus three minutes until the big fireworks show. Of course, the audience now knows he's talking about all the other buildings with active bombs, not the one they're in ... right? But let's take a really close look at the first time we see this scene play out, all the way at the beginning of the movie. Look at this shot of the bomb van:
It's a really quick and dark moment, so let's brighten it up and turn it around for all the people not reading this on an easily flippable smartphone:
Right there, it says "2:45." That's a lot later than the 25 minutes and 10 seconds we saw when the bomb was supposedly defused, and it's right on Tyler's schedule. And it gets worse, because if you squint right at the end, you can almost miss it, but ...
That's right, 2:44. So not only is the van bomb timer down by over 20 minutes, but it's also still going. Our hero/antihero/villain is standing over a ticking time bomb. And before you accuse us of being overreaching killjoys ...
The Movie Drops A Lot Of Clues About The Bomb
The movie offers several clues, both visual and narrative, that support this grim theory. First, let's prove that this ticking timer is indeed the same one we saw previously.
We can be quite certain this is the van parked beneath the building they're in at the end because of the way the camera pans straight down. More importantly, we can see the van has a bullet hole in its windshield, meaning it's after the Narrator took a shot at Tyler in the parking lot beatdown scene.
The movie even goes out of its way to show the bullet exiting the front windshield -- the very hole the camera glides through in the opening to show us the still-active bomb. Gee, it sure seems the filmmakers are making sure we take note of this. Almost as if this is supposed to be intentional foreshadowing instead of one of those dumb continuity mistakes where they accidentally make a massive bench disappear.
Speaking of disappearing ...
Durden Knocked Out The Narrator So He Could Rearm The Bomb
After the Narrator surprises Tyler by figuring out how to defuse the bomb, he pushes him(self) out of the van, breaks the lock, throws away the key, and proceeds to go Bruce Lee on the Narrator's ass. (Why would you lock up a disarmed, useless bomb? Was Tyler worried about all the terrorist van thefts in the area? More on that later.)
The beatdown is meant to demonstrate how far the Narrator can be manipulated by his split personality. We shouldn't forget that lesson, then, when the fight ends in a knockout. After all, it has been previously established that Tyler takes control of the Narrator's body when he's asleep or unconscious. So when the Narrator passes out in the parking lot, that gives Tyler Durden a very comfy 20+ minutes to get back to the van, find the key, jimmy the door back open, reactivate the bomb, call his goons to fetch Marla (who he brings into the building because he's "tying up loose ends"), take an elevator to the top floor, and start sucking on a gun while waiting for his better half to wake up.
And Tyler is a smart cookie. He knows that if you ruin every credit card company except for one, you're not creating an anarchist paradise, but the first megacorporation. There's no good reason he wouldn't use his ample free time to reactivate the bomb and finish the job. It's everything or nothing.
Which leads us to the big one ...
Why Would Tyler Durden Want To Kill Himself (And Himself)?
If Tyler knows he's just the badass manifestation of a wimp's psychosis, why does he stick around in a building he's intent on blowing up, killing his host and by extension himself? Well, it might be for the same reason he felt the need to lock the van and break off the key moments after the Narrator supposedly already disarmed it: He realized he's no longer in control of the situation. Tyler is becoming afraid of the Narrator.
By revealing to Tyler that he realizes he isn't real and instinctively knowing how to disarm the bomb, the Narrator demonstrates that he's regaining control of his mind. So if you're an imaginary man on a mission like Durden, better to quietly rearm the bomb and martyr yourself for the cause. This also explains why a movie in which the protagonist is supposedly victorious still ends on a brief flash of his sworn enemy's spliced-in genitalia, a final "Fuck you" right before the Narrator and Marla are turned into an existentialist soup.
Of course, seeing asFight Clubis a movie about unreliable narrators and tricks of the mind, we'll never know for sure if the bomb will go off or not. So you can still choose to believe the Narrator and Marla live happily ever after on the same farm Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidwent to.
Following a deep personal crisis, Eamon spent the whole of last October watching Fight Club every day and emerged with two big revelations about it. You can read about the other one here. If you liked what you read, say hi on his Twitter. If you want him to write for you, mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for queries.