(Above [Center]: Mark Zupan)
Documentary explores the world of quadriplegics, Paralympics
As a documentary that sets out to shatter our assumptions about quadriplegics, Murderball succeeds admirably by painting its characters as regular guys
—or not even regular guys but testosterone-fueled jocks proud of their aggressive playing and proud of their dicks (which still function, they’re quick to point out, even if their legs or arms don’t). These young men play wheelchair rugby, which they aptly called “murderball” before it gained enough popularity to earn corporate sponsorship and a place in the Paralympic Games. It’s a sport played by teams in armored wheelchairs who roll around on an indoor court, where knocking each other sideways incites a roar from the crowd. It has all the trappings of any other team sport, including hot-headed coaches, displays of bravado and nail-biting championship games. Even when the movie tries to shoe-horn its stories into the standard documentary mold, resolving all the personal conflicts miraculously by the end of shooting, it serves to drive home the point: these guys aspire to the same clichés as the rest of us.
The movie is also likely to raise awareness of the Paralympic Games, the world’s second largest sporting event. The games are all but ignored in the States, but no one who watches Murderball will ever confuse them with the Special Olympics. As one player points out, “The Special Olympics are great... but we’re not going for a hug; we’re going for a gold medal.”
Despite all the adrenaline, the heart of the movie is something more important than just a game: it’s acceptance of yourself. Each tough, competitive personality shelters a damaged but recovering self-image.