A few days ago I finally convinced my wife to sit down and watch Warrior with me. A couple of years ago I watched the first half of the movie – half-watched for some reason – (so quarter-watched it?) and felt a bit mixed about it, so I was interested to see if it was as good as the ratings on IMDB, rotten tomatoes etc.
I love the way the movie builds by giving the viewer new pieces of information a bit at a time to help you understand the depth of the plot. Sometimes movies try to bring you straight into the plot and keep you immersed for the duration of the film but I think that’s hard to do. Instead, Warrior succeeds in giving the viewer interesting scenes throughout that subtly add to the significance of the final scene.
It’s one of those movies that I watched and felt like the director really respected the viewer. I’m not some idiot who is ready to sit down with popcorn and watch things blow up – I’m a human. And every human who has ever lived will identify with the complex web of problems in Warrior.
My wife turned to me at one point in the movie and commented that their family had heaps of problems. Interestingly, I thought it was a pretty normal representation of families today. The characters are intriguingly put together because everyone is flawed. I really like that because that’s true in life. We’re not surrounded by some people who are pure evil and others who are pure good. No, everybody has their stuff.
Joel Edgarton’s character – Brendan Conlon – is a great example of the way the characters are built to be realistic. By the end of the movie we know that he’s a family man who wants desperately to do the opposite of what his dad did – let his family down. Actually, that’s the central characteristic of his brother in the movie Tom Hardy – Tommy Conlon. That’s what they both want more than anything else, NOT to be their dad.
It’s just that the way they both went about it was different. Brendan has left his fighting past behind and is trying to have the family his dad could never make work. He’s trying to make right the family side of his dad that was always there but lost out. The other side of his dad was the angry, alcoholic fighter. In its purest form, I guess it’s the fighter in the ring who dominates and people love. But when the other person in the ring is the spouse, it’s not respected, no it’s appropriately disdained. Well, that’s the side of their dad that Tommy chased after. He went and joined the military and was trying to do the fighter role in an integral way – by helping people rather than hurting people.
On the surface, Brendan has his life together far more than Tommy, at least at the start of the movie. But in reality, they were both just as distressed and failing in their attempts to rectify the wrongs of their dad as each other. Both of their lives fall apart when the characteristic they most want to grow goes too far and starts to break down the very things they were building. Brendan’s daughter is sick and he’s spent every dollar they had to help her get well – family man. But then the bank threatens to foreclose on their house and it all looks like it’s falling apart. He turns back to fighting but ends up suspended from his legitimate family man job as a teacher because he fights at a strip club car park. For Brendan, this is his failure as a family man, and he’s reverted back to that thing he hated so much in his dad – the fighter.
Tommy seems messed up from day one to the viewer. But as the movie progresses you learn that his authority figure let him down again. His dad abused his power by abusing their mother and Tommy feels like the US army abused their power by putting his battalion in danger recklessly resulting in his best friend and the rest of his group dying. So, like his brother, his attempt to rectify his dad’s wrongs by turning it all around and being a fighter who helps others rather than hurts others backfires. He doesn’t revert to fighting – he was already fighting. No, he reverts to the deeper issue he experienced with his dad. He and his mum left Brendan and his dad because of the abuse. Even though they left, he feels like his dad is the one who ran away. And so Tommy runs, like his dad.
So two messed up boys end up together in the ring at the end of the movie. The brilliance of the plot is that Tommy ends up in the ring committing to give the $5 million in winnings to his best friend’s widow. And Brendan needs to win the $5 million to keep his family afloat. Tommy is to be taken into custody for running away from the army without permission after their bout. So these two messed up boys arrive in the ring having come full circle – Tommy’s stopped running away and Brendan’s fighting FOR his family. It’s a beautiful, deeply tense scene when they get in the ring together.
One more thing adds to the beauty of their fight. Their dad. What a mess. His two boys have gone down hill throughout the movie but the dad seems to be a better man at the start. He’s 1,000 days sober and he wants to make things right with his boys. He’s a dad with a terrible past who’s trying to make things right and seems to be trying harder and harder throughout the movie without making much headwind.
So then we arrive at the final scene. Their dad, in response to Tommy pushing him away the night before, has relapsed. That morning, Tommy goes to see his dad and finds him drunk and angry like he was when he was a boy. It’s like the brokenness of his dad actually breaks Tommy and instead of pushing him away and treating him with pure contempt, he holds him close and holds him in his sickness. Brendan though, he hasn’t had that moment. His dad is still the man who never really cared about him, he always loved Tommy more because Tommy was the natural gifted fighter. Brendan was the under dog and he hoped he might make things right with his dad by staying with him when Tommy and their mum left. But it didn’t. And he hated his dad for it.
Brendan and Tommy get in the ring and fight and Brendan breaks something in Tommy’s shoulder. But Tommy doesn’t give up. He keeps fighting. There’s something beautiful in this scene between the brothers and their dad. It should have been sorted over a coffee – but not this family. For them, it had to be in the fighting ring. The ring that represented all the potential and the loss of their lives. It’s in that ring that Brendan somehow fights his brother to fight for his family and yet loves his brother at the same time. That’s the break through of the final scene, that’s the reason it’s so emotional to watch.
I think all the mess these two boys carry because of their dad’s mistakes – and their own mistakes – comes out in the ring. I love this scene, I’m struggling to explain why it’s so deeply moving. So without giving reasons for it, let me just say what it feels like. It feels like all that mess comes out between the two boys and they have the chance to truly own it. Not to try to rectify their dad’s mistakes by turning away and doing over, no, by fighting in front of him and drawing a line in the sand. By the time they get in the ring, I think they’ve both forgiven their dad but I don’t know if they have forgiven themselves or each other. Theirs is a complex relationship.
So when Brendan holds Tommy down and pushes on his broken shoulder, he is doing it against everything he wants to do. Tommy refuses to give in and you’re afraid he might die before he taps out. But finally, Brendan whispers to his brother ‘I love you’ in one of the most moving moments I’ve ever seen in a film. It’s so moving because of everything written above. It’s all the pain and mess acknowledged and knocked out with a powerfully vulnerable statement of love from one messed up brother to another. And Tommy taps out.
In that moment, Brendan has done something he, his brother and ultimately his dad could never do – put the family first. It’s a moment where his dad seems to nod with a tear in his eye and finally be ok because maybe the majority of the pain he carried was that his actions would mess his sons up as well. And Tommy finally accepts love after running away from it his whole life.
Even if you hate boxing, UFC and all fighting, you should see this movie and watch this final scene for yourself. My wife turned to me and said ‘that’s the best movie I’ve ever seen’ straight afterwards and I think I know why.
It’s the hope mixed with reality of Warrior that is so poignant. These guys? They’re still just as messed up at the end as they were at the start, but they’ve walked through it and somehow come back together as a family. Life isn’t a fairytale where people are pure good or pure evil and the two sides clearly fight one another day in and day out. No, it feels more like messed up people trying to do the best they can with what they have. Some succeed and walk through the pain and some fail and try to escape the pain.
Warrior is a movie about the long lasting impact of the decisions you make today – for good and for bad. It details the consequences of one man’s failures as a husband, dad and person, but at the end you get a glimpse into what might be ahead of this family as each tries to face the pain and walk through it together.
Brokenness and hope can co-exist. What moments are you creating today? Because those moments have long lasting consequences. And no matter how broken you are, your family is, or your future seems …
There is hope.
Warrior – 8.5/10