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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Cannes Review: Foxcatcher (spoilers)

I don’t really want to review Foxcatcher. The script is solid. The direction is beautiful. The performances are topnotch.

I’m not really sure how much more I can say about it that is of value.

I can say that I don’t think it is at all about the corrupting nature of money. The money is really beyond the point. John DuPont was a sad, inconsolable rich kid. But the point is not that he had power from his wealth, but that he could never use the wealth to make himself happy and to some extent was trapped by his perception of his position.

There is some drug use, but my feeling is that this is about vulnerability, not power or being out of control. The film infers a possible sexual subtext to the wrestling that wrestlers insist is untrue all of the time. But is there a problem created by the drug use? Well… only if you take the inference of an unusual, abusive sexual incursion under the influence. But even if you go there, that incursion is a breach of the parental relationship, not a “drug problem.”

The following is my take on the story in the film. I am not usually one for retelling the story in a review, but I feel like so many reviews are suggesting that it is some other movie, I feel compelled, if only for my own sanity…

Foxcatcher is a movie about desperation for parental love. The two men at its center, Mark Schultz and John DuPont can’t fill the hole in their lives… Schultz’s caused by the death of his parents at a young age and DuPont caused by his unforgiving mother.

Schultz has a gold medal, but it’s not enough in many ways. DuPont is one of the richest men in the world, but is not interested in being what his mother wants and has found an affinity for a passion she deeply disrespects.

But if DuPont can lead his men to an Olympic gold medal, maybe she will finally respect him. And he knows what Mark Schultz needs (or thinks he needs)… a parental figure who is not his older brother, allowing him to individuation.

DuPont’s money isn’t really important to Schultz. It allows him some space, but DuPont’s mind-fuck is about making Mark feel special, capable, and powerful aside from the older brother who has overshadowed him all of his life.

And for a while, it all works. Mark wins the World Championship. But this does not convert Mrs. DuPont to seeing her son more kindly. DuPont needs more. So he insists on bringing Dave Schultz into the fold.

Ironically, DuPont’s wealth, which meant next to nothing to Mark, is everything to Dave. He has a wife and family to raise.

But once Dave, a natural leader, enters the picture, DuPont dumps his friend/son Mark. It’s every abandonment nightmare that Mark has ever had. And he shuts down.

In turn, DuPont starts to seek parental attention from Dave, who is a leader and otherwise superior in every way – except financially – to DuPont. This intensifies when DuPont’s mother dies and then again as it becomes clear that, even for money, Dave cannot pretend to respect DuPont the way he seeks.

This inevitably leads to DuPont killing his mother – as then embodied by Dave – and Mark being forced into independence, though forever to be haunted by his brother and DuPont as the tale becomes legend.

The movie is really missing the coda of where Mark is today. Is he still living in the shadow? Has he freed himself to some degree? Somewhere in the middle? Disconnected? It’s not my question to answer.

There are many wonderful things in this movie. And I am sure my view will evolve… not necessarily to thinking it something I don’t think it is now… but there is a richness to it that is of great value. But the movie reviews I read right after its screening were, to my eye, of some other movie altogether.

And so it goes…

2 Responses to “Cannes Review: Foxcatcher (spoilers)”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    not all rich people are awful, certainly, but when they are their money makes the awful far worse…. and often dangerous. no one would care about DuPont – and he would probably have done little harm, but for his money.

    everyone’s got his reasons.

  2. PcChongor says:

    Haven’t read the review yet, but thanks for marking it as containing spoilers. Most reviewers seem to think that just because a film is based on a true story (no matter how obscure), all bets are off when it comes to spoiling the plot.

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MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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