Warrior – A Storytelling Review (on a movie!)

So, I just got done watching the movie Warrior.  If you haven’t seen it and want to spoiler-free, you pretty much need to stop reading this entry now.

The basic storyline is two brothers, Brendan and Tommy, both enter a UFC tournament with different motivations.  Brendan is trying to support his family, who he has some very surface-level conflict with, and is supported by his school, in spirit (he was a HS physics teacher).  Understandable, if boring motivation.

Tommy is a war vet who saved a bunch of soldiers’ lives by ripping the door off a tank when it went under water, then went AWOL.  Both are sons of an alcoholic, abusive father, and Tommy went away with his mother while Brendan stayed with the father (for his wife).  Tommy was there for his mother as she died of cancer.

They both work their way through the fights, Tommy with an overwhelming anger and don’t-give-a-fuck based on his internal struggle, and Brendan barely scraping by, winning on technique and with heart motivated at doing right by his family.

And they meet in the final match.

Up until that point, I was on board.  They set up character motivations well, as well as internal struggles.  The writer/director/etc did tip the hand pretty hard on the protagonist/antagonist (no! you must identify with Brendan! He’s the good guy!!!11), but both were interesting and had complicated motivations.  Both you could identify with.

Maybe it’s my mistake, but I was expecting storytelling that set up something that was very straightforward and cliche only to turn in the climax.  There was a Good Brother and a Bad Brother, and they would fight.  Four hundred years ago, the Good Brother would win, the bad brother would die or leave in shame, and all would be right in the world.

And that’s pretty much what happened.  Tommy got whipped (though they did show him staying in a fight he should have already been out of), and the only concession the older brother made was helping him out of the ring.

The ending was disappointing because it was so predictable.  It spoiled the story.  It took it from something that showed shades of gray in motivation and pretty much cast it in white and black terms.

Maybe this was my fault, for identifying too much with the younger brother, but I think his story was the more compelling one.  Brendan (the older brother) had a wife, two girls, and was at risk of losing his house (he was doing this for money).  The worst that happens to him if he fails is that his pride is hurt and he movies into an apartment.  Or declares bankruptcy and does okay.

Tommy has watched his mother die after growing up abused by an alcoholic father.  He joined the Marines, was a hero, and that saw his best friend (who he referred to as a brother) killed by friendly fire.  He is internally tormented, and he is fighting to atone for what happened, to provide for the family of the Marine that was killed.

A story’s ending can shift entirely the interpretation of the events of the story itself.  There is literary justice (or at least the concept of it).  By having the white knight win, and win like he did, it both lessens his story and completely invalidates the other brother’s.  It makes Tommy’s story a motivation for an antagonist and not something that should be identified with and understood (and with the number of veterans that we have coming home dealing with this kind of stuff, that is a big deal).

Do you know how I think this should have ended?

The first round of the fight happens as it did this time.  Tommy comes out kicking ass, and at the end of the round, gets his shoulder dislocated (as happened).

Round two, the internal struggles still matter.  Brendan still wants to reunite with his brother, and he takes a dive.  Tommy wins the fight, though not decisively, and everyone knows that Brendan let him.

And the brothers walk out arm in arm still.

What does that change?  It gives Tommy agency.  He wins, and provides for the family of the Marine that he knew, but he also forgives his brother for staying behind and stays with him.  Brendan realizes that there are people suffering more than him, that need his help, and so he sacrifices material gain for his family.

This ending makes Brendan right all along, even for staying with the alcoholic father and not going with his mother, and means that Tommy is even worse off than before.  He is still plagued with issues, and needs someone else to help him out.

All in all, the movie is good, and the action is great.  Just don’t expect a satisfying ending.

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