Saturday, October 28, 2006

Murder & Intrigue

Murderball has a near perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where many reviewers tout it to be one of the best films in 2005.

While I wasn't nearly as excited by it as were the "professionals," I can — at least — see their point. It is compelling, and I would even wager to say that the things I didn't like about are reflections on myself rather than the film itself.

You see, Murderball is a documentary about the America rugby team for the Paralympic Games. The rugby players are all quadriplegics with varying degrees of paralysis.

But how, on earth, could someone paralyzed from the neck down play rugby?

Good question. Or I would say "good question," because I went into the film wondering the exact same thing. And so what happens throughout the course of the documentary is this miraculous thing that American schools could use a little more of:

You learn something.

I learned that many quadriplegics can use their arms and hands, though the degree to which they can depends on their injury. I learned a valuable lesson in the difference between the Paralympics and the Special Olympics (two very different games one should never confuse in the presence of paralympic athletes).

"We go to the games to win," says one rugby player. "We don't go there for hugs."

(I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

The lessons continue from there, almost by happenstance. And by that I mean: this film doesn't overtly teach the "walking" public about spinal chord injuries but, in the course of interviewing/filming the athletes, the knowledge just... happens.

What you see in the interim is one of the most brutal teams sports I've yet to witness: it really is rugby in that the players slam their chairs into each other to "tackle." Chairs overturn, players bleed. There's screaming, yelling, and a lot of practice involved in winning the gold. It was actually "fun" to watch the fractions of games we see, and I couldn't help but think I'd like to sit in on one as a spectator sometime.

But I also felt tremendously uncomfortable watching players dangle upside down, waiting for referees to flip them right side up. And sometimes seeing them struggle off the court to dress, eat, open cards, etc... made me want to jump in and help (which is precisely the sort of response that offends them... since they know, in time, they can manage to do just about anything without assistance).

Still, it's the same thing I feel when I see someone with an armful of bags struggling to open a door. You open the door for them because you know, if you were them, you'd like a little help.

Ditto with seeing someone in a parking lot, lifting their parent or grandparent from a chair and putting them into the seat, then struggling to fold the chair and throw it in the back. The last time I saw this happen (within the last month, I'm sure)... I actually turned to walk towards them. Stopped. Sort of hesitated. And then turned and walked to my own car.

Murderball confirmed what I've heard so many times... that people who step in to help don't understand that the person in the chair wouldn't go out if they couldn't handle getting back in. But, man, if that isn't sometimes difficult to walk by without at least offering.

And I think that's what bothered me about the film — the thing that says more about me than it does the documentary. I want to help people but, sometimes, you've just got to realize...

you can't.


Matthew said...

I really loved this movie.

And you're right, it tells the viewer much about himself/herself.

But I thought the narrative was great, too. The subplots involving the coach and his son and the one player and his friend were truly moving.

disgruntled world citizen said...

I saw that movie a few months back. I had the same reaction as you did. I thought it was an okay movie, but it didn't wow me.

The guy with the tattooes, I don't remember his name, just came out with a book called, of all things, Gimp.

Winter said...

I saw this movie last year. I then watched these guys on Larry King Live, it surprised me when one of the guys said they wouldn't change a thing in their life, including what got them in the chair in the first place.

I found it a bit odd, and hard to relate to.