Wrestling with family demons: Emotional impact of “The Iron Claw” on the Von Erich legacy

"The film does tackle the topic of toxic masculinity throughout the film. Even though the Von Erich brothers expect Mike (sorry, Mike) to have some of the best physiques to be put on screen, these are still men who go through emotions and insecurities." - Arts & Entertainment Editor / Al Harmon.

The story of the Von Erich family is one of sadness and brotherhood. The Von Erich family was a professional wrestling family out of Texas. The film follows them on their quest to capture a world title.

The father of the family is Fritz Von Eric, who Holt McCallany plays, a controversial figure in the movie and real life. Fritz’s wrestling gimmick was being a Nazi heel (villain) in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) promotions. One of the main storylines in the movie is how Fritz never won the NWA World Heavyweight title and put that burden on his sons.

The first son was Jack Barton Adkisson Jr. This would be the first child that would die in the family at the early age of six in Niagara Falls. He stepped on a trailer tongue and was electrically shocked and then fell into a melting snow puddle face first and drowned. Jack would make a short appearance in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the movie.

The second and the last surviving son would be Kevin Von Erich. In the movie, he is played by Zac Efron, who might have played his best role in his career. David Von Erich is the third son who is played by Harris Dickinson. David would die in Tokyo with a bit of controversy behind it. The US Embassy reported that he died of acute enteritis, inflammation of the small intestine but there is speculation that David died of a drug overdose. 

The fourth son played by Jeremy Allen White is Kerry Von Erich. Kerry would sadly die after shooting himself with a .44 caliber, and this was shown in the film with a gut-wrenching scene between Kerry and Kevin. The fifth son was Mike Von Erich and was played by Stanley Simons. Mike would commit suicide by drinking alcohol and overdosing on sleeping pills.

The last brother was Chris Von Erich, who was left out of the film. Chris would commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. Director Sean Durkin would state that he cut Chris due to the repetition of death and the film’s ability to withstand another tragedy. 

With the amount of death that happens, the movie tackles the topic of the brothers’ death with class. The first death that hits is when we hear about David’s death, we do not see him die on camera, it is only told to the audience that he died in Toyko. When we hear about Mike’s death, all the audience sees is a long shot of the family finding Mike’s body in a wheat field. When Kerry commits suicide, he is sitting behind a tree and all we hear is a gunshot. All of the brothers’ deaths are saddening and very gruesome in real life, but Sean Durkin beautifully handles the death of each brother in the film without being disrespectful.

Fritz is the “villain” of the film. Holt McCallany gave a great performance as the authoritarian father who forced the dream of winning an NWA Championship onto his four sons. Fritz is portrayed as not caring about his son’s interests outside of the ring. His sole goal is for one of his sons to win the title belt. 

During the movie, he is seen changing his focus which so gives him the best opportunity to win a title belt. Fritz is ruthless throughout the film to each of the kids. This is to the point where Kerry has to go up to their mother, Doris Von Erich played by Maura Tierney, to speak with Fritz about how he is too hard on all of them. The brothers fear speaking up against their father and being able to communicate how they feel.

Fritz is the epitome of old-school parenting and where that can lead when taken to the extreme. Telling his sons to be “men” without actually saying. The brothers cannot be themselves but are forced to be the people that they portray in the ring. The brothers are forced to be put against each other as they compete for their father’s approval. Fritz has a ranking of who is his favorite son and will tell them all straight to their face.

The film does tackle the topic of toxic masculinity throughout the film. Even though the Von Erich brothers expect Mike (sorry, Mike) to have some of the best physiques to be put on screen, these are still men who go through emotions and insecurities. Mike becomes a wrestler only to impress his father even though his interests lie in music. 

Kevin and Kerry also want to impress their father to the point where they battle each other outside the ring on which one should wrestle for the world title. When one of the boys died, Fritz told the boys not to cry in front of cameras. Their wrestling personas’ are tough boys from Texas but outside of the ring, they become broken and have no outlet to express themselves, which leads to some of their deaths.

The biggest star of the film is Zac Efron. As said before, this is the best role he has ever played. He shows Kerry as shy even though he looks like a superhero. Efron can show Kerry as a loving brother even when his title opportunity is stripped away and given to his brother. The final scene of the film shows off-acting which we have never seen from Efron. He was able to show how much he had lost and how much he missed his brothers. But after a heart-wrenching line from both of his sons, “We’ll be your brothers, Dad.” He can get up and play with his new “brothers”. 

This was an Oscar-level performance from Efron but he did not receive a nomination for best actor. The Iron Claw received zero Oscar nominations this Academy season, to the shock of many. The Iron Claw was one of the best movies of last year. The movie was fun at times and had great wrestling scenes with the help of Chavo Guerrero, a WWE legend. There is also a great dancing scene with the cast to “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver that is fun and reminds audiences of Efron’s old “High School Musical” days. But when the movie is sad, it makes you want to tell your loved ones that you love them and makes you want your brother even if you don’t have one. The Iron Claw is a movie that will make you smile, be amazed, and make you emotional but one that you should go see. 

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