Why I Always Cry At the End of the Film "Warrior"


**Spoiler Alert
When was the last time you blubbered after a film? Maybe it was at the end of Titanic when you saw a young Jack take Rose's hand. Maybe it was at the end of Forrest Gump when he mutters through his tears about his son, "He's so smart Jenny." Or maybe it was the beautiful final scene of The Notebook which symbolizes the eternity of true love. We all have a blubbering film, for my wife it is Moulin Rouge, a film that she would start again from the beginning the moment it ended in a vicious cycle of tears. My uncontrollable tearjerker is the film Warrior. It is easily one of the most underrated movie ever made as it is the Rocky of MMA (mixed martial arts). The film is not so much about mixed martial arts as much as it's about the triumph of the human spirit. 

I've seen it four times now and each time I have embarrassingly cried at the closing credits. I'm talking shakes, lip quivers, and short breath panting. I needed to explore why this movie made me feel this way and I'm sure much of it has to do with my brother and my own masculine genetics.

The Plot
Warrior is a story of two estranged brothers, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), who end up fighting each other in the championship bout of an MMA tournament. Trained at a young age to be vigilant fighters by their alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte), both Brendan and Tommy reunite to settle the ambiguous hatred for one another that was built from their parents separation. While Tommy followed his mother and watched her lose a slow battle with cancer, Brendan stayed with his father and eventually parted ways due to Paddy's abuse of alcohol. 

Brendan became the family man, was married, had children, and took a job teaching high school physics. Tommy joined the Marines and abandoned his company after a traumatic event overseas. The story takes place after Tommy returns and seeks out his now sober father to help train him for an MMA tournament granting a five million dollar prize to its sole champion. Meanwhile, Brendan's family faces the foreclosure of their home and in a desperate attempt to make ends meet he participates in illegal street fights for extra cash. By a stroke of luck Brendan finds a way into the same MMA tournament as his brother without knowing it.

Each character has something to prove, something to gain, and something to lose. If Brendan does not win he will lose his house and if Tommy does not win he cannot support the family of his fallen comrade (whose death he takes responsibility for).

Okay, so why all the crying?

My Brother
My brother and I grew up very close. I remember how he would cry on the front steps of our New Jersey home when I refused to take him with me to go hang out with my friends. He so badly wanted to be a part of my life at such a young age (there is a four year difference between us). I remember one time our older friend, Derek, was criticizing my brother Chris over some dispute about roller blades. To alleviate the pressure off of my brother, I picked up Derek's roller blades that were sitting on my front porch and I threw them off to the grass below. The thud of the blades lit a flame of anger in Derek's eyes as he turned his attention to me now. He simply said, "Why don't we go across the street, if you are man enough." This was clearly going to be a fight and I was definitely not going to win as Derek was twice my size and much older. Yet, I was not going to allow Derek's criticism of my brother be taken lightly.

Rather than appear like a wimp in front of our two other friends who were present for this as well, I obliged to meet him across the street in the parking lot of a Jehovah's Witness church. It was freezing that day and there was snow all around me. The moment we reached the emptied lot, Derek threw me to the ground and pinned me there. He picked up my head and began smashing it against the cold asphalt. He kept seeking an apology, but none was offered. I just stayed there quietly and took an ass whooping for my brother. Derek did not feel good fighting someone who wouldn't return his frustrated blows and he let me go, riding away on his bicycle. (Ironic side note, Derek is now an MMA trainer!

That was a great day of bonding for my brother and me. I stood up for him and he was proud of that. He was much smaller than I was and I was obligated as his brother to protect him. He wouldn't stay little forever though.

Sometime later, Chris and I were standing in line buying Mystic drinks at our neighborhood Exxon convenient store, when the guy in front of us turned around and asked if we were brothers. I told him we were and he told me to remember that one day my brother was going to be bigger than me and I would have to learn how to deal with that. He said that his brother now towers over him as an adult. I never forgot that because eventually Chris grew to become bigger and physically stronger.

Through the years we slowly drifted apart, taking separate paths and finding different interests. The most devastating divergence between us was when I asked him to step down as my best man at my wedding because I felt he was not stepping up when I needed him most. We never talked about this further and it still feels like a wound in our relationship even though it has been almost six years since. I grew up like Brendan Conlon, a family man working hard to support the ones he loves. My brother is a less angry version of Tommy Conlon, focused on physique, nutrition, and holding a dark cloud of emotional repression.

Masculine Sentimentality
Men have an inner need to express themselves physically. This is why violent sports are entertaining. This does not mean that women are excluded from this, but it tends to be the majority of men who have trouble communicating their feelings through thoughts and words. Men communicate physically through the pummeling of their bodies. Maybe it is rooted from the early days of Gladiators, but men tend to settle the score through physical means.

There is a dichotomy when it comes to the way men and women share their feelings and connect with others emotionally. Without completely generalizing, women tend to express their feelings more openly then men do. Saint John Paul II said that women are more sentimental and men tend to be more sensual. It is through that sensuality that mend discover their sentimentality. However, I also believe that men are called to sacrifice their bodies as a virtuous act. This driving force to lay down one's life can be misconstrued and taken out of context when it comes to violent sports, but it can also be used to understand the way men communicate. Think of William Wallace in Braveheart or Leonidas in 300. A hardworking husband may show his love through the intense hours he puts in, trying to balance work, family, and self-development. Physical activity is a way men work out the emotional stirrings that settle in their hearts. Is it perfect? No, but it's our challenge as men to be aware of our masculine sentimentality and its deeper desire to express externally that which is hidden internally.

This is vividly expressed in Warrior when Tommy faces Brendan in the final showdown. Despite the many attempts to reconcile, Tommy refuses to listen to Brendan and see reason. At the same time Brendan refuses to see his brother’s emotional pain caused by witnessing the deaths of his mother and Marine brothers. So they must settle their emotional battle in a very physical way. Without spoiling the ending, it is the last two minutes of this fight that always bring about uncontrollable tears. 

Those last two minutes send a shockwave of emotion through my body. I begin to shake because I am reminded of every missed opportunity I had to be a responsible big brother. I am reminded of all the times I failed to shield my brother from witnessing the domestic disputes in our household. I cry because I stopped fighting the Derek's of the world for him and lost myself in a web of familial numbness. I cry because when our parents split up I didn't choose him just as  Brendan didn't choose Tommy. And no matter how beneficial it was for my well-being and maturity, I'll always fee guilty for not being there when he needed me most. 

Those final two minutes showcase the need for the human body to physically break in order for one's emotional wall to be torn down. I secretly want to fight my brother in order to crack open the the sealed container we buried our childhood innocence in, allowing it to spillover in the grace of forgiveness. I cry because I find more courage in writing these emotions than actually speaking them. 

Is this a movie worth watching then? Definitely, especially with your brother.
I love you Chris!
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