MovieHype00862 – MURDERBALL
Documentaries have become cool. Sadly, we probably owe this phenomenon more to that jackass propagandist Michael Moore than any other factor, but if that’s his legacy (it won’t be, but if it were), I guess I can deal. 2003 brought the amazing CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL and FOG OF WAR, three very different and very watchable movies. 2004 had SUPERSIZE ME, BORN INTO BROTHELS, TUPAC RESURRECTION, TWIST OF FAITH and IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL. Last year had the likable MARCH OF THE PENGUINS as well as the more cerebral ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM and my pick (which wasn’t even nominated!),
Another nominee from 2005, which I just got to, was MURDERBALL.
Add it to the list of incredible stories out there. If this keeps up, we may have to start a club.
MURDERBALL is about—sort of—Quad Rugby, an incredibly violent game played in modified wheelchairs; built to withstand a battering ram. The participants are all quadriplegics, who all have some degree of incapacitation of their arms and legs.
I have to admit that last sentence came as a surprise to me. I thought paraplegic meant your legs didn’t work, and quadriplegic meant arms and legs were no go. As usual, that knowledge was an vast oversimplification borne about by our insufferable need to categorize things.
Quads are actually designated in three categories (1, 2 and 3, with 3 the most use of the limbs) by how severe the injuries are. A game of Quad Rugby allows four players on the court at any one time, and their combined rating cannot be greater than 8. In this way Quad Rugby allows for players with different levels of injury to still compete at the highest levels of the sport.
And compete they do. This game is as violent as professional football in many respects, and if anything the competitors even more macho. (More on that in a minute.) One bitter joke that came up a couple of times was the disgust of some of the players as they prepared for the Paralympics, recounting how perhaps well-meaning but truly idiotic people had mistaken the Quad Olympics for the Special Olympics. In the Special Olympics, we’re told, anyone who competes is considered a winner; the accomplishment merely trying. “We’re going to
MURDERBALL is about the American Quad Rugby team and the Canadian Quad Rugby team, who seem to be such bitter rivals as to make Yanks/Sox look like a love-in. Joe Bishop, a perennial American player, is left off the team one year and in disgust agrees to coach the Canadians, and the hatred is born.
The documentary—produced by MTV Films—has that MTV style, and gets the anger and rivalry to us quickly, so that we understand what’s at stake. Unfortunately, after a quick build up we lose some steam exploring the various lives of the highlighted players and coaches. One involves a subplot of Joe Bishop’s son, and his struggles, while another involves Mark Zuppan (
Don’t get me wrong: these are stories worth telling, and if someone (Bravo: I’m looking in your direction) wanted to make a Reality Series, I’d be all for it. But we only have 90 minutes in a documentary, and the Murderball itself is so compelling, that’s all I want to see.
Well, maybe not all. I was very interested in the subject of sexual function. I don’t say that to sound prurient by any means, but as a male this is something you think of, as apparently does everyone on the teams, a fact which they discuss rather openly and graphically. You might roll your eyes just a tad with how enthusiastic they are on the subject, but realizing what these men have lost, the emasculation that comes from needing someone to get out of bed, wipe your own ass, or do anything that used to be taken for granted, it seems very human to how excited they are about—let’s face it—just about the most important aspect of masculinity.
This brings us back to the anger. All the guys in wheelchairs I’ve ever known were or had gone through a tremendous amount of anger. Anger for their situation, the unfairness of it all. Anger for how helpless they now feel. One thing the movie doesn’t discuss—but I happen to know—is that many don’t make it. The number of Quads who commit suicide or otherwise basically give up fighting through the tremendous amount of daily pain (not to mention myriad secondary and tertiary injuries and illness that come from their debilitation) is staggeringly high.
That these men in the documentary are able to find something positive to focus their energy on is laudable, and perhaps makes their win-or-die attitude understandable. This is what some of these guys live for. Then again, that’s not a quadriplegic thing. Any athlete at a world class level could perhaps say the same, and make no mistake: these guys are the best at what they do.
Bottom line: MURDERBALL isn’t the greatest doc. out there, but is tremendously fascinating. I don’t see how the subject couldn’t be. You root for these dudes, and admire them, not for overcoming injury or any of that bullshit, but for making to the top, and beating the hell out of each other for honor, glory, and many many chicks.
It’s more than most of us can say.