So upfront, before the other list items, we need a mini-list:
1) I will be taking a lot about the ending of the 2011 movie Warrior. If you haven’t seen the film yet (huge mistake) and are planning to, you might want to bounce.
2) There is literally no reason I should be bringing up an almost nine-year-old movie now. It’s not an anniversary, there’s no new release or news. I’m writing about it simply because about twice a month, I watch the following clip and I sob until I get the hiccups. (I did finally convince a friend to watch it recently, and she judged the film as “not being Con Air.” Which we both agree with, though for very differing reasons.)
As Dustin talked about in his original review, all of the acting in Warrior is phenomenal but especially Nolte’s. Good enough that I want to start taking back Oscar’s from other performances so he could get one. Or two. Or eight. He doesn’t have a single line in the last ten minutes, but the entire movie is right on his goddamn face. It’s not a performance or a character that elicits sympathy necessarily (because he’s an abusive, alcoholic fuck up of a person), but does gain complete empathy. You know exactly what he’s feeling, and you understand why. What he’s feeling is grief and regret and sadness because he’s watching his two grown sons punch the shit out of each other in large part because of how badly he fucked everything up.
And you feel how hopeless he is. This’ll be a bigger thing later on (it’s point three), but a lot of the final fight scene is about the inevitability of the fight itself. Nolte’s character Paddy started this fight so many years ago that there’s nothing he can do at this point. Literally relegated to the sidelines, all he can do is watch as a lifetime of bad decisions plays out. He can’t stop the fight, he can’t change it, and, because it’s between his sons, he can’t even root for someone to win. He just has to watch, and it kills him. Although not as much as it kills the audience because …
We All Got Beethovened
I have a feeling that whatever song the movie went with for this scene would have destroyed me but choosing “About Today” by The National might have been a gift especially and exclusively for me. See, I love The National. Love the balls off The National. And “About Today” is such a gently heartbreaking song it’s sort of a wild choice for this scene. The secret is that the gentleness of the song immediately resolves all of the tension the previous unscored fight built up. Dustin also talked in his review about how the story is Rocky times two, but, to publicly disagree with my boss, there’s just a bit more than that. There are two Rockys, but there aren’t any Ivan the Russians (or whatever his name is. I’ve never seen a Rocky movie. My apologies). In the fact that you, the audience member, are sort of rooting for both brothers, you’re also not rooting against anyone. There isn’t any relief when the “good guy” lands a punch because neither one is the bad guy.
There isn’t a guilty party, (yes, I did just link to a National song called “Guilty Party” because I’m at an age where I tend to sing songs that have a word in them that anyone in the room just said. Turns out this movie is special for both middle-aged men, and not quite middle-aged women who are rapidly becoming their mothers) so every hit feels equally good and terrible. It’s anxiety-provoking in the worst ways and hurts like a motherfucker when that stupid, nearly-bouncy guitar strain kicks in. The song starts, you start breathing, and, if you’re like me and have any feelings, you immediately start crying. The fact that the song itself is about an inability to connect with someone despite caring about them isn’t beside the point, but it wasn’t necessary for the Beethovening. In fact, it really just helps to highlight that the whole point of the movie is …
Sometimes I’m Sorry Is All You’ve Got
So here’s a thing, relationships are hard sometimes (you might want to bookmark this page because I’m pretty sure I’m the first person to have and write that idea). Relationships are hard, and sometimes there’s no fixing them. And while none of that is revolutionary, parts of what breaks my heart every goddamn time is how much Brendan and Tommy care. Brendan cares way, way more openly than his brother, but that’s mostly of a function of being older. His little brother is alone and hurt and being a fucking dumbass, and as an older sibling, I can attest to the desire to simultaneously punch your younger sibling in the face while also shouting about how much you love them. Tommy can’t afford to openly care about his brother during the fight because he’s alone now and he’s been alone for too long. He can’t risk being vulnerable because there haven’t been people around before to take care of him when he was. You understand both of them, understand why they’re both hurt, and understand why all they can do by the end of the movie is punch the shit out of each other.
But you also understand that these two probably aren’t going to be having any holiday dinners anytime in the near future. A big focus on relationships being hard and taking work in movies and TV usually is on the resolution. There isn’t a resolution in Warrior. Not really. Because the resolution isn’t what’s important. What’s important, both literally and figuratively in this case, is having the fight. You don’t have to fight with everyone you love, but you only fight with people you care about. Sometimes you fight with them even though you know it’s not going to work out. You fight with them because even when you can’t resolve whatever’s going on, you have to. So when Brendan shouts that it’s OK because he loves Tommy, that’s not really things being fixed between them. It’s just an acknowledgment of why they were there in the first place.
Plus seriously, just from a movie-making perspective, there’s the crescendo in the song that coincides with Jennifer Morrison’s The Wife character shouting and the kids all cheer but Tommy’s still on the mat and oh my god then Brendan keeps the doctors back because he’s protecting his brother and there’s the one part where he puts his forehead on the back of Tommy’s head and they walk down the hallway together and Paddy is so sad but happy his sons at least had this and son of a bitch HE’S SORRY, TOMMY. HE’S SORRY. TAP, TOM. IT’S OK. IT’S OK. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU, TOMMY.
If anyone has any tips for middle-aged suburban dads on getting rid of hiccups, please leave in the comments.
Header Image Source: Lionsgate