- Ok, in honour of it being Academy Award season, I’ve decided that this month’s movie pick should have one of the greatest actors, and multiple time best actor award winner Daniel Day-Lewis. There’s not much that I can say about him that hasn’t been said already. He’s phenomenal*. The movie is actually pretty deep as well, and has some themes that are definitely worth considering as a present day martial artist.
The Boxer (1997)
“I’m not a killer, Maggie. This place makes me want to kill.” – Danny Flynn
In The Boxer, Daniel Day-Lewis plays Danny Flynn, a boxer and former member of the Provisional IRA who has just been released from jail after 14 years of imprisonment for crimes against the state. Imprisoned since he was 18, he has spent almost the entirety of his adult life behind bars, and wants nothing more than to return to his home in Belfast, live in peace, and attempt to rebuild his life. He reconnects with his former love interest, Maggie (Emily Watson), who is now married to a different imprisoned IRA member. The IRA has strict codes about the wives of imprisoned members remaining faithful, at the risk of serious, violent repercussions for both of those involved in the affair. Much of the film deals with the progression of their relationship, which is complicated by the fact that Maggie’s father is a higher-up in the local IRA who wants Danny to fight for the cause once more. Northern Ireland was still going through The Troubles in the mid-90s, with the delicate ceasefire between the IRA and the UK forces not coming until 1998. The Boxer does not paint either side of the conflict as being “right”, rather it depicts the multi-faceted situation as being incredibly complicated.
Initially when Danny gets out of prison, he’s not sure what to do with himself. He considers getting back into fighting so that he can make some quick money. But with the help of a friendly police officer who donates some equipment to him, he decides to open a boxing gym in order to teach youth from either sides of the conflict to channel their emotions into something constructive in a neutral setting. After all, it did the same for him while he was in prison. We hear stories about a young Danny being uncontrolled and volatile, but we never see it. Rather, we see 30-something Danny as a self controlled, emotionally contained man committed to non-violence in violent surroundings.
Despite the title, The Boxer is definitively not a boxing movie like Rocky or Southpaw. Rather it is a movie about a boxer who tries to make positive change in his community using boxing to teach discipline and self-control. And this is what I, personally, see as being the role of a modern martial artist. Martial artists, and athletes in general, have a responsibility to the community in which they operate. We have the responsibility to be good citizens and to affect positive change. Not every athlete takes this responsibility seriously. Tell me this, who used their influence as a world class athlete in a more responsible way: Adrien Broner throwing his change at a Walmart cashier on Instagram or Muhammad Ali negotiating the release of 15 hostages from Iraq in 1990, well after his boxing career was over? One used their influence to get likes and the other used their influence to save lives. Now, they are operating at a different level than most of us are, but the point still stands. In The Boxer, Danny is using his skills and influence in order to affect positive change in his community at a more grassroots level. If he can channel the rage of the youth growing up in chaos, and focus it into a more constructive force, then he is potentially preventing a murderer from being created and forging a more useful person. He can take a yellow fire and make it a blue fire. Yellow flames are uncontrolled and can cause damage and destruction. Blue flames are focused, powerful, and are used to build. We too, as martial artists, can affect positive change in the lives of others. We don’t know what people are going through when the walk through the doors of YMT. They might be angry, undisciplined, or have low self-worth. We rarely get the full picture of how complicated the lives are of those we train next to. But we can use what we know to help them grow. We can count a set of skip knees for them and encourage them not to stop. We can hold pads for each other after class. We can let them know that we’re all in this together. We can be one stop on their path to becoming a more useful person.
This one isn’t on Netflix, sorry.
*A quick note on the professionalism of Daniel Day-Lewis: Rather than learning simple boxing choreography for this film, Day-Lewis actually trained for 2 years with professional boxers and learned the actual craft of boxing. His coaches said that he could’ve pursued a boxing career if he wanted to. Which is a serious commitment considering there’s probably about 10 minutes of actual boxing in this film. But that 10 minutes is some of the most realistic boxing I’ve ever seen in a movie.