By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
In the universe of sports films “Warrior” is unique because
the subject is fighting for a spiritual goal through Mixed Martial Arts (MMA),
a “full contact combat” sport. This relatively new sport, though some contend
it does not qualify as such, is a fusion of boxing, wrestling, judo and other
sports. (See the article on Mixed Martial Arts on Wikipedia; it’s pretty
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) that promotes MMA worldwide.
A young man Tom (Tom Hardy) shows up at his dad’s house
after fourteen years. At the height of Paddy’s (Nick Nolte) alcoholism, Tom and
his mom left, leaving his older brother
Brendan (Joel Edgerton) to survive with Paddy, a boxing coach. Tom even takes
his mom’s maiden name, Riordan. When their mom died Tom joined the marines.
Just back from Afghanistan, Tom wants his dad to train him for the UFC. Paddy, now sober for 1000 days, agrees. This
doesn’t mean Tom has forgiven Paddy, and Paddy is still working on forgiving
Brendan is a successful high school teacher, married with
children. He will have nothing to do with Paddy. Brendan and Tom refuse to
reconcile as well. When Brendan’s home goes into foreclosure, he returns to
boxing and tried MMA. His school fires him for a local fight. And soon both
brothers, and their dad, are in Atlantic City for the championship match,
winner take all in only five rounds or less.
Both brothers have their own reasons for wanting to win the purse.
I interviewed director Gavin O’Connor (he directed the 2004
film “Miracle” about the famed Olympic hockey match between the US and USSR in
1980) about “Warrior”. He said that MMA “is less violent than boxing, that it’s
very athletic.” It doesn’t seem this way
to me, as MMA takes place in a cage, not a ring, and going just by movies I
have seen about boxing, I think MMA is far more vicious.
“Warrior” is about forgiveness, and if cinema is at its best
when it is the external manifestation of internal realities (and I think that
it is), then the intense interior struggle to forgive and reconcile with one’s
brother, is portrayed in extreme passion, pain, and physical force.
The ending of the film is especially brutal because Brendan
“breaks” Tommy. So I asked O’Connor to explain it to me from a male sport
spirituality perspective. He said:
“The intention of the match is like an intervention only in
a cage. Tommy needed to die at the hands of his brother in order to be reborn;
he needed to surrender his anger. He is spiritually bankrupt and his breakdown,
so to speak, starts when he gets his father to drink with him before the
match. And when he finally does convince
him to do this as a way to get back at his father, when he wakes up and sees
his dad lying there, it’s the mirror that makes him start to wake up.
“The fourteen years of distance between the brothers is
played out in five rounds. The repairing of their relationship is dramatized
because they grew up communicating through violence. What Tommy ultimately
needs is to hear is, ‘I am sorry.’
“Tommy has so much strength of will but once his brother
starts choking him and then says ‘I am sorry, I love you”, these words allow
him to let go and surrender.”
I believe that our inner struggles with God can be extremely
intense; even in the Scriptures Jacob and his brother are estranged for
fourteen years and Jacob wrestles with an angel (Genesis 32:23), that some say
represented Esau. The yoke was broken from Tommy’s neck, like Esau threw
Jacob’s from his.
Jacob and Esau’s relationship with each other and their
father Isaac seem like a template for “Warrior”.
However violent the Bible can be, I still don’t think it’s
as ruthless as Mixed Martial Arts. Is MMA a way for God to get Tommy’s
attention because he is so headstrong? I will let you decide.
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