Sometimes you think life is about one thing, but it’s really about something else.
For example, The Fighter is a movie about fighting. But it’s not really about boxing.
Sure, there’s boxing in it. But the main point of the boxing seems to be to give the movie a place to end – it’s over when the main character starts winning fights instead of losing them. But the fact is that the average person can’t really relate to boxing. I know I can’t. To me, boxing is two people standing around in their underwear and punching each other. My little boys do that sometimes, and it’s my job, as a parent, to break it up before someone wins.
It’s all about life, really.
The Fighter is about fighting, but it’s about a type of fighting that more people can relate to. The movie is about family, and like most families, the family in this movie spends the entire time yelling at each other. The mother yells at the kids, the kids yell at each other, the father gets things thrown at him, and no one really likes the girl that the son brings home. It’s all about life, really.
The movie follows Micky Ward, a real-life boxer from Massachusetts, and this is what his family is like, except with Boston accents.
It’s a hahd life. Wicked hahd.
Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is a low-level boxer who moonlights as a street paver, and at the beginning of the movie, he’s being trained by his half-brother, an ex-boxer named Dicky (Christian Bale), who moonlights as Batman. (Dicky is the trainer Micky needs, but not the trainer Micky wants. Well, actually, he might not be the trainer Micky needs either.) Dicky spends most of his time at a crack house, and between his boxing history and his drug habit, not one tooth in his mouth is his. Dicky’s one of those guys who cannot talk to you without putting his arm over your shoulders. He’s so messed up that when HBO comes by to shoot a movie about celebrities addicted to drugs, he thinks it’s a movie about his boxing comeback. He walks around throughout the taping, giving high-fives to everyone in town, and they all know who he is and are all into boxing, because apparently there’s not much else to do in small-town Massachusetts after 4 PM.
Dicky is an unreliable trainer -- sometimes he doesn’t show up to the gym at all. The boys’ mother, Alice, who is also Micky’s manager, does show up, and she gets upset that Micky’s training with someone else instead of waiting for his brother to get off his tuchus and remember where he’s supposed to be. To Dicky and Alice, the training, the movie, and Micky’s career are all about Dicky. It’s not about Micky needing help. It’s about Dicky helping him. And if Dicky isn’t helping him, then no one should.
Dicky and his mother aren’t the only family in Micky’s life. There’s also Micky’s father, as well as a gaggle of seven sisters whose major form of entertainment is collectively standing in on arguments that don’t concern them and not quite knowing what’s going on but taking sides anyway.
But as far as Alice is concerned, she has only two kids who can bring her any kind of nachas, by which she means money. So Dicky and Alice get Micky into whatever fights they can – even fights that Micky can’t possibly win – and they don’t care, so long as everyone gets paid, and Dicky can buy who-knows-what and Alice can continue housing her seven grown-up daughters, whose combined monthly hairspray bill alone has to be at least three digits.
Micky goes along with it and rolls with the punches, even though they’re actual physical punches, and even though he has better options. Because what is he going to do? They’re family! On some level he realizes they’re doing it for themselves, but they’re not willing to admit it, and he’s not willing to say anything.
So at the beginning of the movie, Micky is losing every fight. He’s what boxers call a “Stepping Stone” – he’s like the evil mushroom at the beginning of every Mario game. He gets out there thinking he can defeat Mario, but really he’s there so Mario can practice jumping. And the mushroom’s family doesn’t care, because he has life insurance.
But then Micky meets a girl who loves him but doesn’t love his family quite as much as he does, and she encourages him, for his own good, to cut them off. She and Micky’s father get him a different trainer and a manager named “Sal” (every boxer, at some point in his career, is legally required to have a manager named “Sal”), and Micky starts actually winning some fights, but Dicky and his mother are, of course, offended.
Then at some point, Dicky gives Micky some advice that helps him win a fight that he otherwise would have lost, and Micky eventually brings Dicky back, only to have everyone else walk off. In the end, it’s up to Dicky to wake up, realize that not everything’s about him, and bring everyone back together.
In general, our families can be our greatest causes of emotional duress, but they can also be our greatest instruments of success. Most of us, at some point, find ourselves in Micky’s shoes. When we first get married, for example, our parents give us lots of loving advice, and we know it all comes from a good place. But then our in-laws also give us a lot of meddling advice, and most of it conflicts with our parents’ advice. So we sit down with our spouses in each given situation and figure out what we’re going to do, and whenever we pick one option or the other – What do you know? – someone gets offended.
But are they giving advice for you, or for them? People keep making Micky choose between one relative and the other, but all he really wants is everyone. No one person will get him to the top. Everyone has strengths to bring to the table. But really it’s about the rest of the family understanding that, right?
But what about you? Right before each of my kids learns to crawl, I have this slight hesitation about encouraging him. Perhaps you feel the same way with your kids. You know that once he starts crawling, he’s going to get into everything, and you’re going to have to spend the whole day pulling him out of under the furniture and rooting around in his mouth to find out what he’s chewing. There’s a part of you that would prefer he stay still until he’s old enough to understand the word “no”.
But you teach him to crawl anyway. And yes, he’s going to put things in his mouth, and yes, you’re going to have to chase him around the house, yelling “No!” But sometimes you have to put yourself to the side and realize that your child learning to crawl is not about you. It’s about him.
At the beginning of the movie, Dicky thinks that HBO is making a movie about his comeback. The Fighter is about Dicky realizing that he’s not making a comeback, at least not at the moment. Sometimes, your comeback is more about what you give others. Many parents have a deep-seated fear that their child will outgrow them, but it’s all about passing the torch. Sometimes you have to put yourself to the side to let other people get through. And in the end, when Micky wins, Dicky is happier than he’s ever been, even in his own victories.
The Fighter is not about Micky. It’s about Dicky realizing that it’s about Micky.