A wrestling ring sits encircled by concrete and bleachers, washed in stage lights, spectators disappeared into shadow. This is the arena for men with red sequin short-shorts and trapezius muscles up to their ears to perform choreographed violence and scripted greek tragedies. It’s a literal box, the boundaries against which they hurl their bodies at full velocity. A stage for the performance of masculinity. Kayfabe, the perfect metaphor for the illusion of gender with its all-too-real consequences. And the Von Erich family, perfect vessels to carry that metaphor to its logical conclusion: death, of the mind, body, and soul.
Fritz Von Erich (played by an unflappable Holt McCallany) coached his five sons into professional wrestling, only to see one die from an injury and three take their own life. Director Sean Durkin adapts this cautionary tale from a place of love, not critique, for the sport, bringing audiences closer to life, with its infinite overlapping and contracting realities, rather than to an idea.
That love saturates every scene, embodied by Kevin (Zac Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson), and Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons), who adore one another in spite of, or because of, their father’s cruelty, making the inevitable travesties all the more devastating. Again, Durkin’s nimbleness as a filmmaker avoids overstating the point. He builds his world with space for truth to seep in, like the closed yet open wrestling ring. And even though that ring sits isolated and solitary, sometimes it’s inhabited by the entire Von Erich clan. Hypermasculinity can kill a person, physically and spiritually, but human beings are more than the ideas we impose on them.
Iron Claw hits theatres Dec 22