My followers on twitter know I’m an avid follower of mixed martial arts (MMA). As a pathetic attempt at a submission grappler myself, it would be reasonable to assume that I’d be first in line to see “Warrior.” Truth be told, I avoid MMA movies like the plague. Prior to this film, the MMA genre was relegated to nothing more than straight-to-DVD filler whose voluminous presence in the bargain bin was surpassed only by the increasingly fluorescent Steven Seagal. I’d hate to see the world’s purest sport sullied by the likes of Degrassi dropouts and pretty boy soap stars, and so I was dragged to “Warrior” kicking and screaming.
Not only did I leave the multiplex misty-eyed and exhausted from the film’s emotional gut punch… but more strikingly, for the first time in a very long while, Hollywood made me feel truly proud to be a man.
Much like the sport of MMA, men in modern America are often misunderstood. One needs look no further than the hilariously ignorant review of “Warrior” from Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com in which he describes MMA as “a theatrical hybrid of boxing, wrestling and kung fu.”
Firstly, Kung Fu plays little role in MMA aside from that of a debunked joke that died in 1993 when the sport birthed stars like Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. Also, as anyone who’s watched the sport can attest, MMA is often not theatrical at all. To the untrained eye, its game of human chess often looks like nothing more than two sweaty, bloody masses dry-humping each other into oblivion.
More importantly, elitist leftists like Andrew (who went on to call the movie a “pseudo-individualist, sub-Freudian, Tea Party-friendly fantasy”) seem to have little grasp of what it is to be a man in this century. Don’t worry, little guy, I’ll help you out.
Despite what feminists have peddled and regardless of whether one lives in a dual-income household, men will always burden themselves with the responsibility of providing for their family. Sustaining and protecting our kin can be seen as either our birthright, or our cross to bear. I can’t think of this ideal being better crystallized in recent memory than through the character of Brendan Conlon in “Warrior.”
A struggling ex-fighter-turned-teacher trying to support a family during a recession, Brendan returns to fighting as a means of keeping the family home. He falls firmly under the male archetype as being the head of the household, but more importantly he loves, honors and respects his wife. He exhibits a loving leadership over his household, but never dominance. “Everything I do is for them,” he says in a powerful scene, explaining his need to fight. His masculinity is that of a quiet strength, not that of an Affliction T-shirt wearing, nightclubbing, pseudo-macho uber-douche.
Enter the characters of his brother Tommy, and his father (played by Nick Nolte in the best performance of the year). One is a tattooed, drug-addled, super-athlete with anger issues and a checkered military past, the other is a former alcoholic/abusive father who’s now trying to get his life straight. Unlike Brendan, they’ve both crumbled under the pressure of manhood, having lost their way and because of it, are now chasing redemption. That in and of itself is a huge part of being a man; bettering one’s self. Not only to honor those who love you most, but because it is through trials and failure that we develop into true men.
**small spoiler below**
It is in the grinding legwork, the necessary selflessness and the understated self-improvement that we become men and it’s something of which each and every real man should be proud. “Warrior” bears no shame in celebrating this ideal for the viewer. One of the most powerful lines in the film, is when Brendan is in his corner, down on the scorecards in the last round of his most significant fight yet:
“You want to go home? … you don’t knock him out, you have no home.”
Sound cliché and unrealistic? Just ask Fedor Emelianenko, the greatest fighter of all time who once explained of his dominance:
“Years ago we hardly had anything to eat… I see every opponent as a man that tries to put me back to that poorer period. That man has to be eliminated.”
Thank God for real men.