‘Foxcatcher’: Unforgiving Expectations

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Foxcatcher is based on violent and disturbing real life events. The extent to which these events are portrayed truthfully is unknowable, but nonetheless there is an abundance of social truth in the performance of the three leading men in the film. The protagonist, Mark Schultz, is played with full belief in the body and mind of the character by Channing Tatum. Mark Ruffalo embodies the affectionate, devoted, talented elder brother, Dave Schultz. And Steve Carell gives a remarkable stiff, pallid face and up-tilted chin to the performance of his career: that of a coldblooded murderer millionaire. Bennett Miller tackles manhood, and this story of three men- two of whom come from nothing, did everything, and deserved more and one who was born to wealth and used it to buy his own world- is the pinnacle of his award winning streak. Truths about money, poverty, family, and performing maleness in America are evident in this story. There is relevant information, and though the pace of the story is tedious and the aesthetic a vision of impotent cold sweat, it is a truly great film.

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The first truth is related to the brothers. In the film, Olympic athlete brothers, Mark and Dave, share a seemingly unbreakable bond. Throughout the film their connection to each other is tested -bent and warped intentionally and selfishly- by a wealthy sponsor. The brothers were once successful, but their sport doesn’t pay to live, and by the time the story begins they are broke. Both train professionally, but the younger, Mark, is eating canned corn in a shabby apartment while Dave gets by on a contract, living humbly and working with passion while supporting a loving family. Their means are not too different, but their purpose is not tethered. Mark wants the gold medal and nothing is holding him back but a lack of attention. It all changes with an unexpected phone call.

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The second truth breaks in here. The two merge along the lines of heart and destiny. The love of brothers, these brothers who formed a union of honor and trust before they understood such things, isn’t broken, but it is and always can be used as a tool. John Du Pont seems to have been the kind of character who has without regard, therefore he takes without regard. In the process, he learned nothing of honor or love, and every emotion was imitated. If it could not be imitated, means of distraction were purchased to uphold the facade of an expensive and failed campaign of personality (of which he may have really had* none).
But just as it is true that some bonds can’t be broken, it is also a fact that money cannot buy real feelings or skills. If Foxcatcher is worth the salt it took to make it, John Du Pont was the poorest rich man around in the 1980’s sports scene.

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Unity on the level of family can’t be purchased- Mark makes this claim repeatedly, if for different reasons at various points: “Dave can’t be bought” when Du Pont first asks, when Mark retains loyalty to his brother, and “it isn’t happening” when he is deeply invested in separating himself from his brother, paid, drugged, and charmed into being a talented show of strength.

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There is a shame to being under someone else’s thumb when you know what you are worth. The next truth is that valuing oneself means measuring that value against the price of fame and fortune or other conventional components of “success”. Artists, performers, athletes- they all want to be recognized and share their work. However, the costs presented are often under a thin cover of cheap veil of manipulation, for some people have with no need for regard, and they take what they want without a care but for having a sing-song bird of any kind. Mark weighs his worth and decides that he can afford to pay the price of an investment in being paid for.

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John Du Pont therefore purchased his athletes, including Mark Schultz- as any team might. And, as any other athlete would, Mark weight his value with what would be expected. He just didn’t foresee that the expectations would be unforgivable. Du Pont wanted to win the gold for the USA. He wanted to own a gold medalist in lieu of being one, once removed he bought the best possible coach, also in place of coaching professionally. If they had only won, the equation would mainly have meant that he purchased the win.

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Only you can’t buy the feeling of accomplishment. And when, in Du Pont’s mentally ill mind, his team -of which he was head of propaganda in the Show of John- did not win, he became certain that they were against him. This is a story because Du Pont went on to shoot Dave Schultz in cold blood, with witnesses. And so the truths merge: Not only could this wealthy man not buy love, he could not purchase success or loyalty either- he could never have the bond shared by Dave and Mike. The thing is, he had loyalty. He simply chose a shot at success over the admiration and trust of a worker bee. It’s a pity he didn’t make an effort to interact on a human level before turning to violence, but the winding road of the film story leads more down a path of emotional destruction and gave few solid facts about the man’s clinical status, so we can only judge by his cold demeanor and lack of regard for others that he was simply an antisocial man who murdered someone he didn’t use for any longer.

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By the time we get to the shooting, Mike is long gone, full of regret and barely speaking to Dave, with Dave having replaced him as Du Pont’s super star athlete. Du Pont managed to sever the life of the loyal and loving union of brothers both with greed and bloodshed, but this film -labeled a “docudrama”- is a testament to their strong bond against manipulation and abuse that runs ramped in the upper rungs of society.

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