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The Iron Claw

The Iron Claw

The year’s most sensitive film is all about masculinity

By Bradley Lane

The real-life story of the Von Erich family is one of unfathomable pain and loss. Any filmmaker could adapt the story into a film and have it be sufficiently sad. However, it takes a filmmaker of considerable talent to not let the scale of loss dull the searing painful impact of individual loss. Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw molds one of professional sport’s (or sport theater’s) most tragic stories into not just a sad film, but a profoundly thoughtful film set on harnessing that pain into something transformative.

            Following in the footsteps of their father, the Von Erich brothers, through passion, compulsion, or coercion, decide to follow in their father’s footsteps and compete in professional wrestling. The audience anchor and perspective of the film is the eldest brother, Kevin, played by a masterful Zac Efron, begins his journey uncritically. He wants to wrestle because his dad did; he wants to be in the ring because his brothers are there; it is as simple as that for him. However, as he and his brothers get pushed by their demanding, yet distant father figure, Kevin finds himself in a series of tragedies that force him to reevaluate what he wants for himself and for his family’s life together.

If you don’t know anything about professional wrestling or think it’s silly or unserious, this film is still for you. I had no prior knowledge of the events of the film or the sport it focuses on, and the film almost expects this of its audience. It conveys to you the stakes of professional wrestling, both in the way that it is fixed and in the way it can be very, very, terrifyingly real. The film also cleverly uses the rules of the sport as it understands them as a clever way of illustrating the Shakespearean level tragedy of it all.  

            Most clearly though, Durkin explores brotherhood and parenting through the lens of gender, and more specifically the suffocating expectations of traditional manhood. The brothers have difficulty confiding in one another and clearly communicating despite caring about each other more than anything in the world. Intimacy and violence also blend in Durkin’s frame as brotherly embraces and in ring grappling blend to create a layered visual metaphor for the alienation of masculine identity. 

Durkin’s film is certainly pointing the finger at the flaws of masculine expectations and gender roles but isn’t complicit in simply rejecting the traditional ideals of manhood. Without spoiling anything, Kevin becomes a paragon of modern masculinity; he is loyal, responsible, hard-working, and importantly, open to growth and change. In the same way that Kevin’s journey is about challenging his role as a son, brother and father, Durkin is asking audiences to reconsider how their lives are shaped by societal expectations and pushing them to change to reject the systems of patriarchy that create these harmful conditions. In that way I believe that The Iron Claw is not just one of the year’s best films but cinema’s answer to something like Bell Hooks’ The Will to Change in how deeply it tears into the facade of toxic masculinity. The Iron Claw is exclusively showing in theaters. – 5/5 stars

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