Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Friday, January 30, 2015


I finally got to see Foxcatcher, and it was pretty impressive.  I met Dave Schultz a few months before his murder at the World Freestyle Championships in Atlanta.  I was with Jeff Buxton, the Blair wrestling coach, and Schultz came up and plopped down next to us.  He had that sort of live-wire energy a lot of wrestlers do, and Mark Ruffalo completely captured that about him.  In fact, the wrestling was completely credible.  I saw Invictus, and all I could think was, "Clint Eastwood does not understand rugby."  Bennett Miller understands wrestling.

There is a scene early in the movie where Dave and Mark (Channing Tatum) are warming up their necks and shoulders by doing duck unders and hand-fighting.  It's tender and caring, and we sense Dave's really paternal care for his younger brother.  And then - as things with brothers do - it escalates, gets rougher as they start to raise the intensity.  Mark then brings his head up into Dave's nose and causes it to bleed.  Dave walks around, wipes the blood on his shirt (this was before the elaborate blood protocols we have now), blows a bloody snot rocket, hocks a bloody loogy and then they get back at it.  Dave then takes Mark down.

It's simply a brilliant, wordless scene about brothers. rivalries and the way truths are revealed on the mat.  The long shadow that Dave casts over Mark is what allows John DuPont (Steve Carrell) to manipulate and exploit him.  Carrell gives one of the creepiest performances since Anthony Hopkins sat in that jail cell in Silence of the Lambs.  His menace is completely wrapped up in his stillness.

There is an airlessness in the movie.  It's very chilly and deliberate.  Unlike the ferocious and fast wrestling scenes, the scenes between these three men (but especially the scenes between Mark and DuPont) are incredibly slow, quiet and unnerving.  In a film landscape where almost every other movie is a cartoon, a comic book or a sequel/remake, Bennett's remarkable restraint makes for something that feels more like a small art house film than a major studio release with three major stars.  He allows the slow feeling of dread to infuse scenes that other directors would feel the need to pump up with jump cuts, simmering glances or a bombastic score with minor chords.

As a result, Bennett gives the viewer a portrait of psychological need and predation that won't appeal to many viewers.  The final act of violence is never really "explained" in a pat way.  DuPont shares some characteristics with Norman Bates, but Carrell doesn't have the coda scene that Tony Perkins had at the end of Psycho.  We know why DuPont kills Dave Schultz, but at the same time, we have no idea why he did it.  There is a small amount of text at the end that shows us that Dave Schultz was inducted into the wrestling Hall of Fame, Mark Schultz has returned to his life of "quiet/silent desperation" and John DuPont died in jail.  There is no redemption or moment of moral clarity at the end.

In the end, Mark Schultz was a damaged, fragile man whose only real gift was not valued by the world in any monetary way.  He was given a certain gift of athletic grace and violence, but he had no place in the world.  Dave was better adjusted.  He was a coach, a thinker, a father and husband.  John DuPont was a monster created out of privilege and familial dysfunction.  Perhaps it was Dave's very ordinariness, his human warmth and compassion that led DuPont to kill him.

At the moment of his death, Dave Schultz was working on his beater car, working in the snow on a fuse or wire with a goofy hat and fingerless gloves.  DuPont drives up and shouts, "You have a problem with me?"  Dave is perplexed because Dave didn't have a problem with anyone.  It, of course, was DuPont's problem.  He had created a grandiose myth of himself and Dave highlighted what a lie that myth was.

Foxcatcher is a movie about a lot of things: fraternal love and rivalry, the delusions of a mad man, the broken emptiness of men like Mark Schultz. But it's also a movie about America in the new Gilded Age.  As DuPont's mother says, "Wrestling is a low sport."  It's a sport from farming communities and coal towns.  DuPont tries to buy his way into the reality of that, and when he can't he thinks he can erase that failure by erasing the man whose very existence points out the folly of his thinking.  And why wouldn't he think that.  He's a DuPont.

The rich are different than you and me...

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