With the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) serving as a symbolic setting for WARRIOR, this emotionally intense drama from Lionsgate becomes a striking portrait of the healing power of forgiveness. The story focuses on the lives of a recovering alcoholic (Nick Nolte) and his two estranged sons (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton). They are a wounded, alienated family brought together by financial necessity, only to discover their true need – to find salvation through pardon.
From the press notes: “The production of WARRIOR marks director Gavin O’Connor’s return to sports-related storytelling after his acclaimed Olympic hockey movie MIRACLE, though he is quick to assert that WARRIOR is not really a sports film. “This movie was never about fighting,” O’Connor explains. ‘It’s about spiritual warfare, which may not be perceived by the eye but is a powerful reality in our lives nonetheless.’”
O’Connor continued in a recent phone interview: “The brothers are dealing with their past lives and finally finding salvation through forgiveness. The youngest brother (played by Tom Hardy) is spiritually bankrupt. And when they face off in the arena, he needs to die, metaphorically, by his brother so that he can be reborn.”
What Do You Fight For? is the main question posed by co-writers Anthony Tambakis and O’Connor. Tambakis’ answer: “Family. It was important to us to make a serious pro-marriage, pro-family movie. And therefore we don’t shy away from revealing the intense struggle of family life because that’s reality and also the key to growth.”
I had complimented Mr. O’Connor in my interview concerning this incorporated pro-marriage portrait.
“It was important to me to present a marriage, including its happiness and its pain. When you show a marriage under duress, many people in our country can relate because of the stressful financial times we live in. I wanted to explore how people survive that struggle,” the filmmaker said.
I then mentioned the subtle presence of the Bible in one scene. Just one shot sent us the message that the father had found his way out of his futile existence through faith.
“The intention there was to show that he now clearly embraced Christianity. The back story, which was eliminated from the script due to time restraints, was that it had been his ex-wife’s Bible, she having been a practicing Believer. And now he has also embraced a faith in Christ.”
Though I found WARRIOR melancholic in tone, its perception, its occasional humor, and its three-dimensional portraits kept me engrossed. Each desperate for a resolve, these aren’t characters we just casually observe, but rather quickly come to care for and relate to. And though the bouts in the ring are as primal and kinetic as any I’ve ever seen on screen, the film’s ultimate energy exudes from the cast’s verbal and gestural tugs-of-war. The characters, like the sport portrayed, serve as metaphor. Their tale is a parable, a life lesson about the joy of finding peace through forgiveness.
That said, this is a PG-13 Hollywood venture, not one by a Christian film company designed for a church night presentation. Though we see a Bible on a living room table, the gospel is not preached, but stealthy injected as the source of the father’s spiritual recovery. And profane and objectionable language is sprinkled throughout. The twenty or so obscenities and three profanities raise the question – does the profundity of the film’s message trump its profanity?
Here was O’Connor’s defense: “The language in the film represents the messiness of life. I thought that if I kept things squeaky clean, it wouldn’t be reflective of life. And if you look at who is using the profanity, it also sends a message. In the movie, the son is railing at God. He says things that aren’t Christian, because at this stage he isn’t one.”
As you know from my past grievances concerning the misuse of God’s name in movies, I can point to productions that have handled similar subject matter without the cursing. For example, ON THE WATERFRONT, the Best Picture of 1954 dealt with this redemptive theme. Marlon Brando gives an electrifying performance as an ex-fighter making a living on the gang-run docks of New York. I mention this film because though it examined the lives of tough men and their even tougher surroundings, it did so without any crude or offensive language. Times have changed and, sadly, most filmmakers find it difficult to represent social behavior without the inclusion of profane dialogue.
WARRIOR is a film that moves and unites. Though our situations may differ, the story’s emblematic desperation, the characters’ need for love’s healing power, comforts us by film’s end. Sitting in a dark theater, staring up at the shadows of light, it becomes clear that people can’t just lie down for the count, but must continue this enigmatic battle called life.
For me, WARRIOR is a spiritual reminder that I have the Trainer and Coach in my corner. I found it gritty, poignant and relevant. Still, if you’ve drawn the line, declaring you won’t attend any movie containing profanity, well then, you’ve been informed.
WARRIOR is being released nationwide on Friday, September 9th. Rated PG-13 (around 20 obscenities, and five or six minor expletives; three or four profanities; several mixed martial arts bouts, but not excessively or gruesomely portrayed; the father is a recovering alcoholic; drinking is portrayed as destructive). Lionsgate is making a scripture-based Film Companion available for Christian filmgoers to use as a tool for strengthening their grasp of scripture and Church teaching as they relate to the film:
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of "Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad," available on Amazon.com.