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For this week’s edition of City Paper Arts Club, arts editor Kayla Randall and multimedia editor Will Warren watched Warrior, a 2011 movie about fighting—in every way imaginable—that captured our hearts. The film, directed by Gavin O’Connor and starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte, centers on the estranged Conlon family: father Paddy (Nolte) and brothers Tommy (Hardy) and Brendan (Edgerton). It’s an emotional tale that dives deep into a family torn apart and broken, but ultimately brought together by a mixed martial arts tournament—it broke us a little, too. But, like good art always does, it broke us in all the best ways.
These Arts Club chat excerpts have been edited and condensed for clarity. For the full chat, subscribe to Washington City Podcast.
Will Warren: This is a story about two brothers who are estranged from one another and from their father, who are extremely gifted MMA fighters, but for various reasons that come to light throughout the movie, are out of the game. They get back in the cage for this grand tournament. In some ways, it’s a sports movie, and it’s their journey to compete for this prize, but it’s also about their relationship with one another and their relationship with their father and their relationship with violence and fighting. I really liked this movie, I thought it was really good.
It’s a really tragic movie, I think—even though I guess it ends in this positive way. It leaves you with a sense that the family might be coming back together, but it’s really tragic that things got to this point.
Kayla Randall: I think Brendan and Tommy’s relationship was really severed by their dad’s alcoholism and abuse. Brendan has some genuine affection for Tommy, where Tommy is really resentful of Brendan. By all accounts [their dad] was a terrible person when Tommy and Brendan were young.
This relationship is so fractured, and it’s so broken. The fact that they come together in the climax through violence is really interesting, because they’ve had a life full of it beforehand. I think the way violence is used in the movie is really fascinating in that respect.
WW: The thing that strikes me is that they both turn to violence because they think they don’t have any other choice. Brendan turns to violence because his house is being foreclosed on, he isn’t making enough money as a teacher, and he has this one other prodigious talent—so put that to use and make money. With Tommy, it’s a little more tricky. It seems like he doesn’t know any other choice because his dad trained him from a young age to be a fighter. He went straight from that to the Marines [and] back to this. It’s like this cycle of violence that he’s lived his entire life. This movie is a great depiction of masculinity; these guys are the most extreme version of what society wants men to be. A lot of the things that we think about masculinity are sort of just trickling down from this. Basically, Brendan is beating other people up with his fists for his family, and that’s what the platonic ideal of a man is as far as our society is concerned.
KR: A lot of this movie makes me misty-eyed.
WW: Me too, I got verklempt multiple times.
KR: Another thing about this movie that I really appreciated was its depiction of anger. These are very angry men. And a lot of them have the right to be angry. Brendan and Tommy have every right to be angry—but putting that animosity toward each other and toward fighting is really all that they know how to do.
WW: And you know what’s interesting is that it’s hurtful and, at the very least, not ideal that these men have to both express themselves through violence and also make a livelihood through it. They are at risk of dying. And yet the violence is kind of seductive. The movie does a really good job of depicting [that], on the one hand, these are not people who are emotionally healthy and this is not good, but also, they’re heroes and you root for them and want them to succeed at what they’re doing.