[As this is an analysis post, please be aware that this may contain spoilers. If you have not watched the film, and you do not want to know what happens in the story, then please do not continue reading.]
Warrior (2011) is more than just a mixed martial arts film. After my most recent watch of the feature, I sat there wondering how it still manages to give me goosebumps in the final fight between the two warring brothers. Why am I on the edge of my sofa, with my hands together, forgetting the room that I sit in, feeling tense about something I have seen plenty of times? You could argue that this is a typical reaction when watching a film regarding a professional sport, but Warrior feels different. It is not just the fights that matter, there is much more to it than that. The film is about human failure.
You are, in essence, watching three men, all with flaws, all at fault for something in the past, and despite the many meanings in the film, I am unreservedly convinced that none of them deserves each other.
If you start by examining Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) – the father of the two brothers and the cause of everything that we are witnessing in the narrative – he has torn the family apart with his drunken behaviour. He is a desperate, recovering alcoholic, and at the start of the film he makes it known he has been sober for 1000 days. It is evident from the reactions of his sons that what he had done to the family when he was drunk was bordering unforgivable, yet he keeps on trying to create new bonds. Paddy looks even more desperate and weak, as he should understand the mental and emotional suffering that he has caused. At times, he stands there with not much to say when challenged by one of the two brothers, and you wish he would just turn the volume up and put some passion into fixing the situation, and admit that he was wrong and admit his shortcomings as a father. The storyline loosely suggests that he is a war veteran, which has damaged him mentally and led him to be dependant on alcohol to mask the horrors of war. The film touches on how the US government fail to mentally assess and aid returning soldiers, which has become a common subject amongst the American people. If any story can reflect how it affects and torments people’s lives directly and indirectly, then Warrior is one of them.
Moving on to analyse the youngest brother Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), and he is perhaps, to the greatest extent, the most lost out of the three family members. Unfortunately for Tommy, his haunted past tragically gets the best of him. Tommy is an ex-marine and also mentally troubled like his father, a theme that again is loosely touched upon regarding the relationship between the US government and returning soldiers. He is incredibly angry and despondent to people, even family. On-screen, Tommy instils this fear that passes to the audience. His thirst for violence takes you off-guard, and he can clearly smell blood.
You are awed by him in a sense, and you come to admire how strong and powerful he is in mixed martial arts, but feel saddened by how careless he is with human relationships. Tommy does not outwit you as a viewer; there are moments in the film where he is so needlessly mean to his father with venom and the whip of the tongue that you question why? If he does not care, why does he have to bring people down to his level? At one point he says to his father something along the lines of, “I think I preferred you when you were drunk. At least you had balls”. That kind of line that Tommy delivers provides so much impact and shock, that without hesitation, and for a split second, you feel sorry for the father. You shouldn’t do, but it is a human flaw to be so quickly drawn in by cruelty. You can tell it is killing his father, who must have put in a lot of mental strength and vigour in attempting to become sober over the past three years. Funnily enough, Tommy is similarly following the same footsteps of his father, with the heavy drinking and drugs that he appears to consume frequently at the start of the film. Tommy is afraid – afraid that he is becoming his father, afraid of being connected with this family again, and he is troubled by what occurred to him as a marine. Unbeknown to Tommy, he is reconnecting with his father through training, because he needs a coach for the upcoming tournament (Sparta). He quietly, with a weight of denial, re-establishes a relationship which ultimately provides an undesired moment later in the film, which is spurred by him being nasty and loathsome, and with that, older, better times resurface.
The second brother, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), is the most fortunate brother out of the three family members. He took the chance when he was younger to start a life with his loyal wife by starting a family and making something for himself. The film creates this tension for the viewer that Tommy feels hatred towards Brendan because he did not run off with their mother to protect themselves from their drunken father. I believe Brendan is not selfish; in fact, I think he is trying to create a family life that he did not have when he was younger. There is a reason why Brendan feels like he has to associate himself with Tommy at Sparta, and why he tries his best to disassociate himself from his father. Brendan feels guilt, and he knows he should have never left his family behind, and was obviously naive to think it would never come back to haunt him. And as you know it haunts him in the worst place possible – in the cage.
The film encapsulates the flaws and insecurities that human connections can bring. It brings the realisation that family life can be extremely harmful. When Brendan beats Cobra that, for me, was the “finale” of the fighting. The final between the two brothers at the tournament had nothing to do with fighting at all. In fact, it was Tommy slowly coming to grips with the fact that he has to let go of his anger towards Brendan, to forgive the past and let go and realise that he can have a family to rely on. Whereas Brendan has to understand that he does have family that needs him, and he cannot just focus on his new family. Tommy has a lot of personal scars, and the many events he has had to handle in life prove he has had to endure hardship. If you list it: he survived a childhood with an alcoholic father, looked after his dying mother alone, had no support from his brother, joined the US Marines, watched a close friend die, saved a group of soldiers from a tank, and went AWOL. The only way he has dealt with that pressure is by drinking and violence. If anything, out of the three, Tommy deserves to be free out of most of them, which is why for me the film was not as fitting, because he did not win the final fight. After years of pain and endurance, there was no triumph, just tears and emotions and reconnection with a loving brother. Okay maybe there was a victory, but his bloodthirsty determination probably deserved more than that. His pride was a terrible failing, which he eventually let go.
As for Paddy; he was still a failed father at the closing credits. Despite his willingness to be sober, he did buckle under pressure. He crushed under the weight of Tommy, when instead he should have played it patiently and stayed by his side until the very end. Tommy pushed for him to fail but that does not mean he had to. The most shocking moment of the story is when the father finally gets drunk and trashes the hotel room, and you see a soft side to Tommy, who cradles him on the bed until he falls back to sleep. Tommy did care after all.
In the end, Paddy accomplishes his mission that he probably did not know himself. Due to his drunken past, he allowed two brothers to get separated and pushed them to stop loving each other. Throughout the film, he is pushing for both brothers to reconnect. The story brings the most signifying end of the movie, where he is stood from a distance watching both of his sons walking away from the cage with each other in an emotional embrace, and for a second you can see him smiling. His job is complete. The family is back to where it should be. The likelihood is that he will not be a part of it, but at least he can let go now knowing that the brothers have something. Each other.
Enjoyed reading this analysis? Then you will probably like listening to us too so check out our podcast