Friday, December 02, 2005

Murderball

I missed Murderball at Sundance last year, but it got terrific reviews despite very weak box office performance. Murderball is about the highly competitive world of paraplegic rugby and the people who play it. Directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro follow Team USA as it participates in international play, culminating in the 2004 Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada.

This is one of the most inspiring movies I have seen, as these remarkable athletes display their prowess and share their stories. To its credit, Murderball does not sugarcoat the players—we see them in their weaknesses as well as their strength. But it is marvelous to witness the sheer joy they get by participating and achieving success in this rather brutal and demanding sport.

The movie focuses on the lives of two participants—Mark Zupan, a heavily tattooed and muscled leader of Team USA, and Joe Soares, a former USA star who changed allegiances to coach the Canadian team, leading to a bitter rivalry for international superiority. It turns out that paraplegic rugby is not much different than any other sport played at the highest levels. It takes tremendous commitment and the best players are often fueled by a single-minded passion that sacrifices other things in life.

Zupan and Soares don't like each other much, and at the beginning of the movie it was hard for me to like either one of them. But both characters grow—Zupan by making amends with an old friend that played a key role in his disabling accident and Soares by suffering a heart attack and reevaluating his priorities in life.

It is truly inspiring to see these athletes deal matter-of-factly with their conditions. But my favorite scene was when Zupan introduces the sport to a recently injured young man at a rehab center. You can see his eyes light up as if he has just discovered a whole new world where only those without fully functioning limbs can participate.

I have the highest regard for movies that change my way of thinking. Murderball falls sqarely in this category. From now on, I cannot help but see people with disabilities differently. And I've got a strong desire to go to the Paralympics!

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