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Rapid Reviews – Beyond the Mat

May 16, 2009

I stopped watching wrestling when I was 12, but for a couple years, I was a huge fan. My friends and I watched wrestling, talked about wrestling, used the couch as the top rope. It didn’t matter much to us that it was fake (and we had at least an inkling that it was), it only mattered that we had fun with it. Fast forward to the mid- to late-90s, wrestling had a resurgence, and I couldn’t have found it more ridiculous. Arenas filled with screaming fans watching a soap opera between grown men in tights. Wrestling fan=slackjawed yokel. Wrestler=Homonculus mongoloid.

And then I watched Beyond the Mat. It is both illuminating and heart-wrenching. From Mick Foley, the thoughtful, gentle family man to Jake “The Snake” Roberts, the washed-up drug user still hoping for glory and reconciliation with his daughter, you can’t help but feel for these guys. They throw their bodies around for our (well, not mine, but you get my point) entertainment, but out of the ring, they are people who rise and fall like the rest of us.  The wrestling business is really an actor’s business, and it’s easy to see how people can get lost in the glamour of pretending to be someone else.  Then the lights go down, the audience goes home, and you have to recreate your real life, the life where things aren’t scripted, where things go wrong, where you’re not the “heel” or the “face.”  The line between fantasy and reality disappears in Jake the Snake’s case.  Fifteen years after his prime, he is still showing up for matches in high school gyms and pole barns, and in many ways it looks like his life is beyond repair.  He’ll never hear the roar of a sold-out stadium again, but he can’t let go, even if it means destroying his body and his mind and leaving family in the wake.

And then we have Mick Foley, a man who is crazier in the ring than anyone else, but has a homelife like something out of a lost Americana.  He has a wonderful wife and great kids, and his job provides them all with plenty of material riches, but that job is so violent that at one point in the documentary, his wife has to leave the arena with the kids, rather than watch as her husband gets beaten to a bloody pulp.  One can only hope that the job doesn’t have longer-lasting and more damaging effects.

Wrestling is our modern-day, gladitorial games, and while these men are often impressive athletes, it goes without saying that we don’t watch them for the poetry of their movements, but for the violence they inflict upon each other.  Beyond the Mat at least lets us see the reality behind all this illusion.

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