Monday, September 12, 2011

Warrior: Competing Modes of Masculinity

“You’re upside-down on your house mortgage,” a banker tells Brendan (Joel Edgerton): “upside-down” means “perverse,” and the house is a symbol of the soul because a home houses the body the way the body houses the soul; that his “house is upside-down” and the bank is going to foreclose, symbolically translates to him being on the brink of losing his soul.
The reason for him losing his soul is his younger brother, Tommy (Tom Hardy). Tommy is short for Thomas, and Thomas means “twin.”  Most characters in art are doubles or mirror images of the main character (in this case, Brendan) and the point of the work is for the main character to achieve unity; artistically, Tommy is that part of Brendan causing him to be “upside-down.” 
Tommy and his estranged father Paddy training for the Sparta tourney.
What the film uniquely and powerfully achieves is illustrating how the salvation of a man's soul is inherently part of his masculinity as well
But what do I mean by "competing modes of masculinity?" 
At different times, in different historical settings, art has been an arena of various models of what our country should be like, what the family should be like, how to deal with evolving social issues, how women should act and the consequences of them not acting in a particular way, etc.
Singing cowboy sensation Roy Rogers in The Carson City Kid.
During and after World War II, when men were returning from the killing fields, film offered various role models for men (to help with the transition from soldier back to husband, son, brother, employee, etc.), including the genre of the singing cowboy. The advantage of the singing cowboy was that the poetry of his song gave him a chance to release his humanity while the physical demands of upholding justice and overcoming "evil in the land" were also fulfilled so he maintained his self-respect. As the Cold War became a permanent feature in the post World War II world, American culture decided--through trial and error--that the singing cowboys weren't the best "mode of masculinity" to present to the world of the American male. With the Korean and Vietnam wars, the poetry and humanity of men's role models vanished, just like in the 1978 Vietnam epic The Deer Hunter which Warrior invokes in the opening sequence. 
Tommy in a vicious cycle of self-destruction.
Earlier I wrote that Tommy is a double for Brendan, but there are characters who also act as doubles of Tommy, extending the importance of his role within Brendan's struggle. Tommy is a marine involved in two life struggles, one he loses and one he wins. He and friend Manny are being bombed "by their own country" and Manny dies trying to save Tommy; secondly, in deserting the marines after Manny dies, Tommy sees a tank turned over with marines trapped inside, drowning. 
Tommy going to the gym to get into training.
The bombs being dropped by his own country are the obstacles of American culture to letting men live out their own masculine identity, trying to chip away at them to make them fit into a small cubicle (this was skillfully explored in the 1999 hit Fight Club, when Tyler [Brad Pitt] says it all, "We are a generation of men raised by women,"; but don't get me wrong, American culture also doesn't want women to live out their genuine feminine identity, either. American culture wants men to be women, and women to be men). A part of Tommy is killed by his own country; in trying to save what he can of himself by deserting one war, he saves another part of himself by tearing the door off a tank to save the drowning marines, because he himself is drowning, and he goes to fight a different war (in the fighting cage).
Brendan with his trainer Frank, because in training, Brendan has to be "frank" with himself, otherwise, he will never know who his true enemy is. The role of Frank brings the poetry of music back to the masculine identity in a way that hasn't really existed since Roy Rogers.
Is all there is to the "masculine identity" a buff body and a cage fight?  Yes, and no.
When taken as greater, metaphysical metaphors for the spiritual struggle, yes, but if taken just on the surface of a man's need to know himself, then the answer is no.
300: the movie that told men it was okay to be men. The great battle film has a place of honor in Warrior: the tournament Brendan and Tommy compete in is called the Sparta Tourney with a $5 million dollar prize, winner takes all.  For Warrior, the Spartans are the new role models because of their willingness to stand and fight against whoever or whatever the enemy might be. But the men of 300 also demonstrated an ease in other life-settings men of our day need to see: honoring their wives, training their sons, leading and defending their people, being with each other, loving their children and facing death.
The human body is a symbol for our soul: a woman's beauty represents the virtue of her soul; a man's physical strength represents his spiritual wholeness and a knowledge of what he values and what his priorities are. A man's life is a battle, first against himself and anything that can destroy him: usually represented by a fire-breathing dragon, because the fire is the fire of his lust and passion he must learn to control. 
Brendan and his wife when he tells her he's going to the Sparta tournament.
Secondly, a man battles against anything that can harm those he loves. In Warrior, Brendan "returns to the fight," because he has to raise money to make the payments on the house. Brendan is a middle-aged school teacher with a family, and his spiritual situation is that he can't continue to provide for his family (as a man wants to do) until he gets himself turned right-side up again. If a man doesn't save his own soul, he can't save his family's soul. The only way to do this, is to get in the cage where the animals and demons are and fight them with everything he has.
Tommy and his father Paddy (Nick Nolte) seeing each other for the first time in 14 years. Tommy had been a champion wrestler when growing up (meaning, he "wrestled" with the issues of becoming a man) and his father--an alcoholic and wife-beater--trained him, (meaning, he was a poor example). When Tommy decides to go to the Sparta tournament, he asks his dad to train him again because that was the one thing he had been good at. But there are two truths here: one, Tommy wants to find "safe ground" for him to build a real relationship with his dad, and two, his dad getting his own life finally straightened out means that he has the knowledge to help Tommy now when he couldn't earlier in life.
If the point of the film is for Brendan to achieve unity, how does he accomplish this? Paddy has been sober for 1,000 days and has been trying to bond with Tommy who refuses (the only man who can truly hurt another man, is his own father). Paddy, distraught, hits the bottle and gets drunk. Seeing his father vulnerable and weakened somehow moves Tommy to compassion and to forgiveness to create simply the most beautiful scene I have ever witnessed between a father and a son. Tommy quiets his father and holds him to his heart; this is Tommy's strongest moment because Tommy stops fighting himself to show mercy to his father.
On Tommy's left arm is the Virgin Mary (to see a close up just click on it).
Tommy, being an extension of Brendan with his own extensions throughout other characters in the film, has now won his greatest battle within his own heart, and so Brendan can face him now. Once the fight within the cage begins, the referee says, "Go to war!" and that's literal and spiritual. There is no holding back because of sentimental love, they are both out to win.
Brendan isn't looking at his brother, he's looking at the darkness within his own self. I could be wrong about this, however, on Tommy's right arm, it looks like a tattoo of a dragon, while his left arm is a tattoo of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so Tommy's strength is divided between good and evil.
During the fight, Brendan breaks Tommy's left shoulder. The arm/shoulder is a symbol of strength, so Tommy (as a "double" of Brendan and Brendan's own inner battles) has been seriously weakened in his ability to fight anymore, even though he tries to carry on the fight. What's important about this symbol, is the broken shoulder has a picture of the Virgin Mary on it (and is, in fact, the very last image of the movie). 

Brendan in the cage fighting the Russian Koba, the undefeated champion.
Because Tommy keeps fighting even though his "strength is broken," means that Brendan can't just depend on weakening his "enemy," he has to strengthen himself; Brenden does this by saying to Tommy, in the cage of the Sparta Tourney of the toughest man in the world, "I love you, Tommy." When Brendan says that, the spell of the darkness within Brenden that Tommy symbolizes is broken and Brendan has won the match. 
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy.
As Brendan was in training for the fight, his trainer Frank had him train to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy. The Ode to Joy is associated with resurrection because it’s a song celebrating the great Easter mystery, and as Christ went into the tomb to conquer death, Brendan goes into the cage to conquer his passions. Brendan's boss at school tells him that a "Man who is a teacher has no right to be in a cage with those animals," but until a man has been in that cage, and overcomes those animals, he has no right to be a teacher because he himself hasn't learned the most important lessons in life.
So, who is the toughest man on the planet?
Any man brave enough, and strong enough, to be the man he's called to be in life.