Foxcatcher (film)

Foxcatcher (Directed by Bennett Miller)/2014

Some reviewers have claimed that Foxcatcher is at essence a movie about repressed homosexual tension. To me, this is an instance of the projection of an individual’s own concerns and ideological framework onto a movie.

In response, you may ask why any interpretation that I develop is in anyway different: surely I have my own dogmas and conceptual constructs that get in the way of an “objective viewing”. Such an objection would have some truth to it, but I won't be willing to concede the post-modern notion that there is no objective truth to any piece of art as all artists and their supporters have intentions.

If interpretation was merely projection, then I cannot see how any kind of discussion could take place about a piece of art: regardless of the question of whether it is good or bad, there must be some objectivity to what it is. Foxcatcher is a movie about power. The movie nearly explodes with tension: a tension between individuals dominating each other psychologically and physically, under the all embracing power of wealth. It is also about narcissism. The attempt of someone to create a reality about themselves that is wildly disconnected from who they are.

The movie presents events that occurred in the real lives of Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Both brothers won Olympic gold medals in wrestling at the 1984 games held in Los Angeles. The movie opens with them practicing together. When Dave gets the better of his younger brother, Mark reacts with a cheap blow to the face, making Dave bleed. This action symbolises the relationship that follows: an emotionally vulnerable younger brother, who lashes out at his older brother in the knowledge that his older brother will not hurt him back; an older brother who knows the vulnerabilities of his younger brother, but does not react due to a understanding of his own role as the holder of power in the relationship and his perhaps deluded self-definition as benevolent leader.

The power dynamics intensify with the introduction of John du Pont, played by Steve Carell. Carell plays du Pont as a slightly disfigured man on the threshold of insanity. Carell could be criticized for overacting the role; however, the performance works when contrasted against the considered Ruffalo and the quietly brooding Tatum. Du Pont is the heir to one of the wealthiest families in the United States and lives in an enormous compound with his mother. His mother disapproves of him, and du Pont is desperate for her approval. We are made to feel that du Pont is a man without any achievements of his own and has bought his way to artificial success. His mother has a large stable of expensive horses, for which she has won various awards. Du Pont attempts to out-do his mother with his own stable of successful wrestlers, and in doing so gain her respect.

With the promise of money, stability and a paternal role model, Mark takes up an offer to live in du Pont’s commune as part of Team Foxcatcher. At one stage, Dave asks Mark what du Pont gets out of the relationship, to which Mark states that du Pont simply wants to help people and advance America. As the movie progresses we realise that du Pont wants to be the team’s guru: their respected life coach who they look to for wisdom and support. Essentially he wants to help himself, by manufacturing a reality to confirm his narcissistic veneer.

The movie escalates when Dave joins Mark as the coach of Team Foxcatcher. Dave realises upon arrival that Mark has entered an unhealthy relationship with du Pont: his once idealistic brother has been victim of du Pont’s narcissistic rages, and is once more playing the role of tormented child. This time the master’s intentions do not contain staged concern and true affection. Dave is the true threat to du Pont, as he enjoys the true respect of the wrestlers, and has a sense of genuine authority. His authority has been won by achievement and wisdom rather than money. Dave also sees through du Pont’s mask more clearly than the others, which is something du Pont both senses and resents.

The final stages of the movie see du Pont’s mask gradually slipping, and Mark moving back under the comforting shade of his older brother. Upon being revealed as psychologically disfigured to the people that he was desperate to lead, du Pont explodes under the tension, and by killing Dave murders the shame he felt towards his own weakness and ineptitude. Foxcatcher is a magnificent account of power: power between siblings; true versus bought power; and ultimately the power that misplaced shame can have on the life on an individual and those around him.

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