You Got Balls Talking About Forgiveness: Warrior (2011)

The perfected male body is something that has emerged in discussion here on this blog, particularly when I was delving through the kung fu marathon last August.  Reading though a Linda Williams inspired lens, I argue that this sort of body on spectacle is somewhat homosocial and somewhat a mastery of technological embodiment.  Though I was unable to devote any amount of writing to the film when I encountered it a month or so back, Rush uses the body as a purely technological beast, one that become tied to a race car and is destroyed or advanced based on a relationship with said machinery.  Though a a year earlier in its release, Warrior is also expressly concerned with how a body could be displayed, altered and pushed forward into a state of ideal existence, one that tis capable of, in turn, competing with other forces, here also male bodies.  The idea of a sporting body then comes into play in works like these and with a runtime well over two hours, Warrior is a text that is expressly concerned with how spectator culture and violence have invariably altered even a seemingly hyper-violent sub-genre like the boxing film.  In many ways because it is a so much a body film, Warrior plays with genre in knowing ways, but as it is intended also to be a sports film at heart, it swelters and paces itself between traditional formalist structures as opposed to outwardly subverting the genre as was done in a work like David O. Russell's The Fighter.  Warrior manages to pull of the rare feat of creating a film about white male figures that are worthy of compassion and empathy, while somehow managing to denote the ways in which their struggles are still from a relatively privileged point of contact.  Acted almost impossibly good, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton disappear into their roles, becoming two estranged brothers whose disdain and trauma are worn on their bodies, which still manage to exude as a point of idealism and desire.  It is in the disheveled and perfectly cast Nick Nolte where the narrative takes its means to show what is not desired.  In no small way director Gavin O'Connor provides viewers with a definitive stamp on the furthest explorations of the boxing film, while allowing for the kung fu influences that invariably come by way of it specifically dealing with mixed martial arts, to push what is a decidedly realist film into the realm of the impossible.  While I would never call a work like Warrior magical realist, it is not purely a work of realism for too many coincidental moments occur for such an interpretation, nor is it the magical nihilism I have previously placed upon something like Miranda July's The Future.  In as pure a sense as possible, Warrior is a work about bodies in constant motion and as any person who has take basic physics knows, said bodies become quite dynamic upon collision.

Warrior focuses on the emergence of a new mixed martial arts tournament within the sports entertainment field known as Sparta.  Set to occur in Atlantic City, this revelry in all that is violent is the implementation of a Wall Street magnate, who purports to want to find out the strongest man in the world.  While many assume the entire ordeal will fall to the hands of Russian powerhouse Koba (Kurt Angle) it does not stop a slew of competitors from putting their everything into the possibility of fighting.  In the wake of this announcement two brothers move about the space of Pennsylvania, the first being Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) an ex-Marine who lives a purposefully desultory life, only returning for the help of his recently sober father Paddy (Nick Nolte) in training and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) a former UFC fighter who never made it big.  Though Brendan had vowed to remove himself from competition at the request of his wife, his salary as a physics teacher and bouncer at a local strip club fail to pay his daughter's medical expenses leading him to begrudgingly return to fighting.  Thus both brothers enter the Sparta by various means, Tommy does so after showing noted skill when he makes quick work of the American champion fighter Pete "Mad Dog" Grimes (Erik Apple), whereas Brendan only initially working closely with his former trainer Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) becomes his next alternative when his prized fighter injures himself during training.  While the two remain out of contact prior to meeting in Atlantic City, they each climb up the ranks in the tournament much to the surprise of all in attendance.  During Tommy's particularly brutal victories, it is revealed that he was indeed a former Marine and had earned a Medal of Honor, before going AWOL upon the friendly fire death of a close friend.  Brendan continues to strive for victory through hard-earned submission wins, all the while making up for his being suspended from school when it is revealed that he had been fighting while salaried as a physics teacher.  Though each faces challenges during the bouts, for Brendan the challenges are very physical whereas Tommy faces issues of internalizing his own relationships with others, the two ultimately face off in the closing fight, wherein their particular fighting methodologies and philosophical outlooks on life collide, resting in an intense and moving victory for one brother, but a huge step of advancing in the brothers' strained relations.

While I am not particularly fond of the term "balls" which I pulled for the quote for this post, I do think it fitting for the idea of how the perfected body is at play in this film.  In the narrative of Warrior, much is hinged upon the ability of proving authenticity.  For both Tommy and Brendan they are capable of proving their worth as fighters because they can tangibly and effectively destroy their competitors, but for Tommy things like heroism are particularly complex, because while he can show his physical heroism by way of ripping a door off of a military vehicle to rescue a fellow soldier, it is much more challenging to conceptualize rejecting such a label when he refuses to continue work upon the death of a dear friend.  Similarly for Brendan, he can perform his duty as a father and as a teacher with great success, being given admiration in each role, however, when his actions outside of these spaces are made known, his perfected body is a thing to be questioned as it does not mesh with a space of a physics teacher who 'in theory' should have a perfected intellect which is less tangible.  Indeed, to affirm such a concept, the narrative has Brendan obtain nearly all of his victories by submission, suggesting an intellectual methodology that counters the physical prowess of others, say Tommy, but most notably attained in his defeat of Koba.  The two bodies work in constant (dis)harmony of one another, always at odds and collide in an incredible way in the closing bout.  Indeed, this final encounter deeply troubles the idea of the perfected body, by negating any singularity to such a concept.  Both Tommy and Brendan have methodologies that are capable of assuring victory, but when perfected on different avenues they will invariably cause one body to be destroyed.  Here though, the destruction is somehow empowering by way of a homosocial bond because both have the reference point of their father as a bad example of destruction to consider.  Wherein Paddy is a wreck of a man, Tommy and Brendan are exceptional, albeit, troubling in their willingness to destroy their bodies sacrificially.  It is not until both realize that far more can come by unifying their points of perfection than questioning their validity that the narrative shifts.  Again positing the possibility of multiple perfected bodies.  Though a victory is awarded to one of the brothers, it is suggested rather blatantly that it is in performance alone.

Key Scene:  The entire casino confrontation between Tommy and Paddy is stellar filmmaking existing within what is frankly an incredibly well-shot fighting movie.

This bluray is cheap, but I also believe it is watch instantly on Netflix.  Either option will suffice, although I would suggest the former as it is a surprisingly cinematic film.

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