The Fighter – Movie Review

The Fighter – Movie Review

Review by Stacey Tuttle

 “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Matthew 16:25

We work so hard to impress people, to hold on to our dignity, to prove that we should be admired and respected.  We may not call it saving our life—in modern terms we call it saving face.  But really it’s the same thing.  Saving face “refers to maintaining a good self image.  People who are involved in a conflict and secretly know they are wrong will often not admit that they are wrong because they don’t want to admit they made a mistake. They therefore continue the conflict, just to avoid the embarrassment of looking bad.”[1] 

We don’t just work to save face in conflict, though.  In fact, we are tempted to do it in everything.  We don’t want to admit our mistakes, our faults, our shortcomings in any area (even if no conflict is involved) so we continue whatever impressive ruse we have constructed about ourselves.  We are terrified someone will expose us and will uncover the truth because we are ever concerned with the embarrassment of looking bad.

But this isn’t the way of Christ, and frankly, it’s not very productive anyway…in truth, it’s counterproductive.

I don’t know if the counterproductive nature of this kind of saving face (or saving life) is often seen any more clearly than it was in The Fighter. 

Based on a true story, The Fighter, tells the story of two half-brothers, Micky Ward and Dickie Ecklund.  Dickie, the elder, was a remarkably talented boxer.  His claim to fame (and he sure clung to it) was that he knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard in a match.  However, Dickie never really achieved his potential.  He never made it big.  As the storyline on IMDB puts it, he was nearly “KO’d by drugs and crime”.  The story’s focus however is actually Dickie’s younger brother, Micky, whose “Rocky-like rise [to the world light welterweight title] was shepherded by” Dickie[2].

I think part of the genius of the story is that though the main character is technically Micky, you’re never quite sure about that because Dickie is so busy trying to make everything all about himself.  While he’s training Micky for the next fight, he is talking constantly about how he, himself, is about to make a comeback.  This is the thing about trying to save face, you never really recognize when it’s time for the story to be about someone else.  You never recognize when it’s someone else’s moment, their time, their opportunity to do something great.  It can’t be someone else’s time to do something great—it always has to be yours. 

If saving our lives is about impressing people, maintaining whatever façade we have created that we feel makes us admirable, then losing our lives often starts with letting go of, and even shattering, that image.  It’s facing what is most unimpressive about ourselves, and letting others see it as well.

This happened in two stages for Dickie.  First he had to see himself truly.  He was in denial about who he was and what others thought about him.  He had been deceiving everyone else for so long he had deceived himself in the process. 

A film crew had been following Dickie around making a documentary about him.  Dickie told everyone (and consequently most believed) that they were there to film his comeback to boxing.  Interestingly enough, the crew had been upfront with him about their purposes.  They told him the piece was actually on crack addiction in America and how destructive it is.  They weren’t documenting his rise to fame, they were documenting his fall from glory.  They told him (it was on tape), but he was in such denial he completely missed it.  He effectively deluded himself into believing that the film was about how great he was.  So much so that when the film came out, he surrounded himself with his prison inmates for a party to watch the shows debut…and his glory.  And for a little while, all he heard was the commentary about what he could have been. 

But finally…finally he saw it.  Finally he saw himself.  And saw himself truly.  He saw the lies he had been believing.  He saw how ridiculous he was.  He saw the pain he was causing his family and his son.  He saw the truth about himself, all of it.  And it humbled him.

The first step toward change, for Dickie, was seeing himself truly.  The second step was letting other people see the truth, and letting go of the need to control and manipulate their perception of him.  This really came to a head in a discussion with Micky’s girlfriend, Charlene. 

Charlene was tired of Dickie’s lies.  But she also saw that the lies were about a bigger problem—his need to be the star, the center of attention.   Dickie could never be the support for Micky that Micky needed if he couldn’t let Micky be the star.  He couldn’t be the trainer Micky needed, he couldn’t truly support Micky in the same arena that he was still trying to prove himself in.  The only way for him to be a help to Micky was if he was willing to relinquish the center ring to his brother.  He had to recognize that it was Micky’s time to do what he didn’t or couldn’t. 

Charlene went straight for the jugular with Dickie—his claim to fame with Sugar Ray Leonard.  “Did you knock out Sugar Ray Leonard, or did he slip?” she asked.  “He slipped,” Dickie confessed.  In this one confession everything he had built his image upon came smashing down.  He wasn’t the great boxer who knocked out Sugar Ray, he was just the fortunate guy in the ring when Sugar Ray slipped. 

His life, the one he had been trying to save so desperately, he finally had to admit, was lost.  He had lost his opportunities…well, thrown them away is more accurate.  And now he lost his dignity.  To be honest, it was lost a long time ago.  And in that strange, wonderful paradox that seems to be inescapable when you deal with Biblical truths, the moment he let go of his dignity (or admitted it was already gone) he began to recover it. 

It’s not enough to just lose your life though, you have to lose it for something better.  The Bible says that when you lose your life for Jesus you will find it. 

Amazingly, Dickie gets it.  I mean, he doesn’t get Jesus.  He doesn’t lose his life for Jesus’ sake.  But he does get the principle that the key to finding his life is in losing it for something greater…in this case, it’s Micky.  He agrees to give up the drugs, give up the need to be in the center ring, give up the delusions about fighting again (he’s too old) and dedicate himself to helping Micky.  Micky has a real chance to do something big.  And while Dickie can’t BE the big thing, he can be a PART of the big thing. 

It is in his willingness to serve his brother and in his humility that he does become great.  His coaching and training were instrumental in his brothers’ rise to the world light welterweight title.  And he has since dedicated his life to training other boxers as well.

Ironically, his life was the subject of a very unflattering documentary most of the world had never heard of when he was trying to save face.  But when he lost face for the sake of someone else and something bigger than his own glory, his life became part of a major motion picture.  Winner of two golden globes, and sure to be nominated for several Academy Awards, this film will be seen by the masses.  And though the movie doesn’t sugar coat some of the negative aspects of his life, the overall effect is positive.  The overwhelming fact and message of the movie is that he was and is a part of something HUGE—something that was and is so much bigger than that little shred of dignity he was trying to cling to in his own potential.

Questions for Discussion:

  • In what ways are you trying to save face? 
  • What are the areas in your life that you are afraid will be exposed?
  • Are there things you think people couldn’t like about you if they knew?
  • Are you lying to yourself?  Deceiving yourself?
  • It took a documentary about his life for Dickie to finally come face to face with who he was and how he was affecting other people.  What would it take for you to come face to face with who you are and how your life affects other people?
  • Do you really think that if you lose your life for Christ, you will find it?  What do you think that means, for you?
  • Dickie saw that he had an opportunity to be a part of something big if he would just get behind his brother Micky and support him.  Is there anything like that in your life that you see as an opportunity to be a part of something great?
  • Are you willing to be part of a team that does something great, or do you feel a need to BE that great thing yourself?