My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 98% Certified Fresh
PLOT: Teams of quadriplegic athletes overcome unimaginable obstacles to play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
“Murderball” is one of the best documentaries I’m ever likely to see. It details the trials and tribulations of two competing teams of quad rugby players, Team USA and Team Canada, over a 2-year period. I won’t bore you with a detailed explanation of what quad rugby is; it involves two teams of quadriplegic players decked out in heavily modified, reinforced wheelchairs ramming the hell out of each other for three periods of play. That’s it in a nutshell. Like the best documentaries, “Murderball” presents brand new information, dazzles you with the novelty of this unseen corner of the human condition, gives you the background of the primary “characters”, then puts it all against a backdrop of real conflict. (Think of it as “Hoop Dreams” crossed with “Jackass” and, I dunno, “Rocky”. It’s unique.)
What’s fascinated me about this film is the way the quadriplegic players are…normal. I can’t think of a better way to say it. You get this standardized image in your head of wheelchair-bound people as stoically going through life, grimly courageous, functioning only with the help of others. Not these guys. One player talks about picking a fight and taunting the other guy: “What, you don’t wanna hit a guy in a wheelchair? Hit me, I’ll f*****g hit you back!” There are frank discussions about the mechanics of sexual intercourse as a quadriplegic. The average length of time before a girl in a bar will ask the inevitable question: “Does everything still work down there?” Some players can still drive a car, and one of them tells how he drives to the store, buys groceries, and as he’s going back to his car, he’s invariably asked, “Can you get back okay?” His response is classic: “If I couldn’t get back okay, why would I be here in the first place?” (I’m paraphrasing a little, but you get the idea.) A poignant middle section shows quad players visiting a rehab facility to show new patients that there can be more to a wheelchair-bound existence than just feeling sorry for yourself.
So, as I said, that was all eye-opening for me when I first saw this film. It’s one of the main reasons I give it a “10.” It enabled me to see certain kinds of people in a new light, not as people that need to be coddled or pampered, but as just, you know, regular dudes who occasionally like to beat the s**t out of each other on the murderball court. (That’s not an exaggeration; one shot proves emphatically that blood can and does flow during matches.) What an uplifting, inspirational piece of filmmaking.