Now that I have seen the Foxcatcher movie, I can comment with more certainty and accuracy about it. I wrote about my assumptions in Foxcatcher Pre-Visited. The story itself is a reflection on the sorry state of support for Olympic athletes in our country: the Olympic ideal lives in poverty. But for the lack of support for Olympic athletes, the story would not have happened. Olympic gold medal winning siblings, Dave Schultz and Mark Schultz, would not have needed to rely on the money and support of the psychotic benefactor, John DuPont. There would have been greener pastures for these thoroughbred athletes to play out their careers.
The movie is more than that, however. It is about character, strength and weakness. Character, strength and weakness are not always readily apparent until tested in the arena. Some people rise to the test on the strength of character; some people can be inspired by the character of others; and some people want the honor and nobility of character without having the substance of it.
The opening to the movie shows the DuPont legacy as a leading American family in patriotism, wealth, business and developer of champion thoroughbred horses. John DuPont was born into that legacy, but the legacy alluded him personally. From the vantage of the viewer, that legacy was more like a specter that mocked him. DuPont aspired to be part of that legacy, but DuPont’s vision of himself was an apparition.
Steve Carrell is unrecognizable as the ghoulish DuPont. His performance is Oscar worthy. The palatial estate spreads out over hallowed ground near Valley Forge, where he fancied himself a patriot, a philanthropist and a great American person – everything his family history suggested he should be. But, DuPont was friendless, lonely, delusional and psychotic. He settled long ago for the appearance of greatness, having no foundation for the substance in himself.
Channing Tatum is the moody, self-doubting hulk of an athlete, Mark Schultz. The younger Schultz and his brother, Dave Schultz, played by Mark Ruffalo, grew up without a father. The movie is based on the story of Mark, who was largely raised by his brother, only 18 months older. He knew no privilege, but for the natural gift of athleticism that he had in spades. The Olympic gold medal he won, the pinnacle of athletic achievement, however, was not large enough to plug the gaping hole left by a childhood lacking in parental involvement and stability. Mark had wrestling; but he was alone and had nothing else.
Mark Ruffalo completes the trio of sure Oscar nominees as Dave Schultz. Ruffalo became the affable, elder Schultz, taking on his very mannerisms and demeanor. In reality, Dave Schultz was a student of the sport of wrestling; he was also teacher, mentor and coach, willing to help anyone, even his opponents. Dave had the things money could not buy, including a family. He was honored among his peers worldwide. He was a virtual ambassador of the sport. Having learned Russian, he was welcomed as a star even in the cold war Soviet Union.
Dave Schultz was gregarious and humble. Only 18 months older than his brother, Dave was a father, brother, mentor, coach, ambassador to the world – he was a great man with real character. Dave Schultz is not the focus of the movie, however. The movie is the Mark Schultz story, and DuPont stars as the parasitic benefactor.
The Schultz brothers rose from the humblest background to world and Olympic champions. Dave Schultz lead the way on the strength of his character, work ethic, study of the sport, personality and relentless pursuit of excellence. Dave Schultz is the real thing, full of substance, honor, nobility, character and achievement that recognized by all.
Dave Schultz is everything John DuPont was not. DuPont was raised in privilege, but he was a wisp of the person he imagined himself to be. We see this in the scene in front of the prodigious trophy case in the generous den of the massive estate was filled with accolades of days gone by. They were trophies not earned by John DuPont. When two Foxcatcher wrestlers won world medals, DuPont had the biggest trophies moved from the case to make room for the two world medals that DuPont also did not earn – a metaphor for his sorry life.
The fact that the World medals were tiny in comparison to the over-sized trophies of thoroughbred horses is also telling. The horse trophies took on more significance in prominence and placement in the cavernous den of the DuPont manor than world medals earned mano-y-mano, through blood, sweat and strength of will in the honest struggle of men against men. The affected nobility of wealth and privilege is more highly valued than the substance and character out of which common men hue their destinies.
Mark Schultz was more affected by the absence of a father and unstable childhood than his brother, maybe, because he did not have to be the strong one. Only 18 years younger than his brother, he was highly dependent on him. He also lived in his shadow of the strength, character and personality of his brother. He thrived in connection with his brother, but he withered apart from him.
DuPont saw that weakness and attempted to exploit it. DuPont desperately wanted to be something, and his way to achieve what he wanted to be was to buy it. He saw the value in the unsung heroes that are wrestlers, and thought he could strap himself to the honorable and noble value of the World’s Oldest Sport like a man strapped to a rocket heading to the moon.
DuPont had never earned anything in his life. His life, position, money and name were all given to him. He had no friends. His accolades were manufactured. He found in Mark Schultz someone who was not adequate in himself, in spite of his achievements. The younger Schultz had nothing but wrestling, while his brother had moved on to family and mentoring others as a father, husband and coach.
DuPont found Mark willing to accept DuPont’s stilted patronage, but he could not thrive under DuPont’s shadowy tutelage. DuPont only fancied himself a coach, a great leader and a man of inspirational substance. DuPont scripted the relationship, but the doughy actor of the story concocted in his own mind could not produce in Mark Schultz the substance that he he desired to replicate.
Eventually, DuPont rejected the weakness in Mark Schultz, though he never seemed to recoil from the façade in which he hid his own weakness. Dave Schultz accepted an offer he could not refuse to give his family a stable environment, something he never experienced for himself growing up, but the affection of Dave Schultz could not be bought. The elder wrestling statesmen immediately took over the Foxcatcher room as easily as strolling into it. Leadership was in his gait and substance was in every word he spoke.
The natural strength and substance of Dave Schultz eclipsed the weak and shadowy DuPont. Schultz would not play the part DuPont wanted of him. He would not allow the shady affectations of DuPont interfere with the real business of training men, including his brother. If Schultz had a weakness, it was that he accepted the assignment for what it appeared: an opportunity to train world champions and provide for his family a stable home. Schultz was a man of substance among men of substance and could not identify with or understand the pretensions of the unstable, delusional mind of DuPont.
In the final scene of the movie, DuPont watches a tape of Mark Schultz giving a speech DuPont wrote for Mark to deliver extolling DuPont as a father figure, mentor and coach. None of it, of course was true. DuPont previously tried a different speech on for Dave Schultz to give, but the older Schultz could not do it – because he would not say what was clearly not true.
DuPont, however, could not accept the truth. As he had done his entire life, he played out the lie. Without any warning and few words, DuPont instructs a servant to drive him to the Schultz house on the compound where Schultz is working on his own car. Schultz greets DuPont, and DuPont shoots him without a word spoken.
In what some might say is the most ironic and poignant scene of the movie, DuPont’s mother refuses to allow him to place a medal DuPont won in an old timer wrestling tournament in the main trophy case. She also tells him, “Wrestling is a low sport. I don’t want to see you low.” Appearances and realities are two very different things.
It is also ironic that DuPont saw the value in the unsung heroics of wrestling, but he could not attain to it. True character and nobility in the movie is seen in the strong but tender Dave Schultz. Privilege and advantage could not give DuPont what he wanted most, but it gave him power –power that he used to buy a facsimile of that honor and nobility; and, when he could not purchase the words from Dave Schultz’s mouth, he simply eliminated Schultz like one of his mother’s thoroughbred horses.