The Cynical Optimist vs. The Fighter

Church is an empty cinema on Sunday morning. The lights go down and the holy scripture celluloid is projected against an expansive silver screen – the pulpit for today’s sermon, ”The Fighter”, by David O. Russell.

The American dream is, in reality, a Greek tragedy. The story of America is not in our successes, but in our failures – it has come to define us as a country and as individuals. David O. Russell’s film, The Fighter, is about overcoming those tragedies and failures and achieve greatness, to triumph against the greatest of adversities.

Based on a true story, The Fighter documents boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s unlikely road to the world light welterweight title. His ascension was shepherded by half-brother Dicky Eklund, a boxer-turned-trainer who rebounded in life after nearly being KO’d by his own assorted vices, specifically crack cocaine.

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a Rocky Marciano type – an average guy with a day job on a road-paving crew who spends the rest of his time in the gym training. He’s the kind of humble, hardworking guy that you can’t help but cheer for. You want nothing more than to watch him succeed overcome that which has hindered him so long – to achieve greatness.

His half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is a broken and beaten man with a monkey on his back – cocaine. Bale has proven that he’s willing to immerse himself completely into aroles, whether it meant working out excessively to play Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or starving himself death for The Machinist, where he dropped to a mere 120 pounds.

Bale added more than 100 pounds of muscle to his skeletal frame to play Batman in Christopher Nolan’s super hero series. And now, Bale has dropped 30 pounds to play the gaunt, fully tweaked Dicky Eklund. He is truly haunting as Dicky Eklund, a ghost of a man who clings to a past of falsehoods.

As Micky begins hitting the gym hard and training, Dicky hits rock bottom and goes to prison where he shakes and shivers in his cell going through withdrawal, his teeth rotting and fall out of his black, bleeding gums.

But then, something wonderful happens – Dicky starts training, running laps around the prison courtyard, shadowboxing in his cell – and when he finally gets out, he’s clean. He’s got a new set of teeth, a healthy complexion and a little meat on his bones.

This is redemption – the potential of every American dream. And never is redemption more potent than on film, when a viewer has the opportunity to follow a character through the trials and tribulations of life – to take part in the intimacies of a life that is not their own.

It is the vanquishing of those inner-demons and watching someone realize their full potential that touches us all – it simply compels the human heart.

And this what David O. Russell has accomplished in ”The Fighter”, a sermon on perseverance – on drive and determination. Our lives are filled with tragedy, but with every failure and shortcoming there is an opportunity for redemption, a chance to achieve greatness.

“Irish” Micky Ward and his half-brother Dicky Eklund did it together – every time they were knocked down, they picked themselves back up again, and David O. Russell has achieved his own level of cinematic genius with ”The Fighter”.

An empty cinema on a Sunday morning, alone in the pews – I quietly cheer on Micky Ward and rock in my seat as if I’m tied up in the ropes, dodging body blows and uppercuts.

I am so wrapped up in the excitement, the drama of this moment – a moment that will define Micky’s life, when his heart and determination overcome his opponent’s fists.