Foxcatcher was the movie of choice on the afternoon of a mild Thanksgiving day after a nice gluttonous meal at a restaurant that my friend selected. The film stars Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum. There was only one reason I went to see this film: I wanted to see the stretch that Steve Carell was making for his acting career. I am a huge fan of Steve Carell, and outside The Office, I find him to be one of the funniest men in modern day comedy. I loved him in the the 40 Year Old Virgin and Crazy Stupid Love. I even loved him in the Way Way Back where he played a character that you are meant to despise from the second he opens his mouth. Then I saw previews of him in Foxcatcher where he was not recognizable at first and listened to commentary in a news segment where he was being praised for his performance. I knew before I bought the ticket that the movie was going to be about the late John du Pont, who Steve Carell plays, and the murder of Dave Schultz, Olympic gold medalist of wrestling.
Wrestling was never my thing…only because I have a history of dislocating my shoulder and my knees multiple times and seeing men practice the art of twisting each others bodies like that always made me cringe. I’m also not a fan of watching movies that recount true murder crimes that took place once upon a time. Other than that, I knew nothing else about the film and Steve Carell’s stretch was the only reason why I was enthusiastic about choosing this film subsequent to my delicious Thanksgiving dinner and good time at Seasons 52.
However, when the movie ended, I turned to my friend Leah, and said, “what the heck was that? Worst movie ever!” I thought that Channing Tatum was typecast for the film, I was perturbed by the character of John du Pont in the film, but most of all, I was saddened by the cold blooded murder of Dave Schultz, played by Mark Ruffalo, who was such a loveable character, you couldn’t help but be indignant that his life was stolen like that. Most of all, there was no explanation as to why John du Pont did such a horrible thing.
I actually spoke to soon when I made that comment to Leah. I obviously needed to digest the events in the film. Later that evening, I drove directly to my sister’s house to end my Thanksgiving day with who I was meant to be with all day long--my family. In spite of the comfort that I always find with them, the scenes from that film kept playing in my head. I felt a profound sadness for Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum, who was close to Dave. Dave was more than a brother and a mentor. In the movie, he expressed to John du Pont that Dave was the closest he had to a father figure. I felt bad for Dave’s wife Nancy and the children that survived him. I was saddened by the murder that happened about twenty years ago of a man that I never met. The question kept coming to my head, why did he do it? Why? Why?
So, I turned to Google. I discovered that the film was based on a recent memoir written by Mark Schultz. I reviewed the fact vs fiction accounts of the movie on the Time magazine web site, I glared at the real pictures of John Du Pont and Dave Schultz posing together during wrestling practice and the Schultz brothers sharing a moment after winning Olympic gold in 1984 on Popsugar.com. I read John du Pont’s biography on Wiki. But what was the hardest for me was reading a recent article from The Des Moines Register. The author, Bryce Miller writes, “Dave Schultz brought the world together — in his sport, in his way, in whatever languages supplied the brick and mortar to build bridges. Schultz, a two-time world champion in wrestling, gained notoriety inside the sport's inner circles for his unique brand of sweat-soaked diplomacy.” The article continues to quote many people that were close to him, including his wife Nancy. He was more than just talented at the sport of wrestling, he was a coach, mentor and a diplomat. A lot of people thought of him as a good person and a friend.
So why did John du Pont kill him? Was it jealousy? Was it insanity? John du Pont’s estate was worth 250 million, he had enough money to pursue anything for his dreams. He was an ornothologist, a philatalist and philanthropist, as Steve Carell repeated multiple times with Channing Tatum in a scene where they are riding a helicopter to an even where John du Pont was being honored. Though he could not become the athlete that he desired to be, he had the power and opportunity to be successful in that area in other ways, such as starting a training camp for Olympic hopefuls on his estate called Foxcatcher.
This turns to the reason why I felt it was necessary to write a Movie Note on this film for this site, which is mental illness. For John du Pont there was evidence of his disruptive behavior from people that knew him before the murder, but there were several people that did not think he was actually capable of killing, including Mark Schultz, even after John du Pont pointed a gun at his girlfriend while showing up at his guest house uninvited. He had also been known to point the gun, even a machine gun, at others that were either close to him or worked with him. It was debated in court whether John du Pont was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia or delusional thinking
So what is mental illness? According to NAMI.org ( The National Alliance on Mental Illness), it is “a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” When I have heard about mental illness in the past, I usually blamed external factors on the cause such an environmental factors or cultural upbringing, but according to NAMI, mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. As the story of John du Pont shows us, money cannot buy you health or happiness. Unfortunately, the film is a sad reminder. Of course, Dave Schultz, is not the only victim of this type of crime. Furthermore, John du Pont is not alone in suffering from this type of illness, and not alone for committing a crime as a consequence by not being treated for this ailment. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 450 million people worldwide suffer from a mental or a behavioral disorder.
As many illnesses, it can affect anybody, and because it is caused by a number of factors, it cannot be prevented. However, NAMI.org writes a hopeful message that mental illness is treatable through various types of therapies and medication.
Psychiatry.org provides a list of signs of mental illness to look out for, but actual determinations need to be left for professionals. What makes it even more challenging is that treating an individual or getting a person to treatment is the responsibility of the person who is suffering, unless it is court ordered and by then, it may be too late. Many people leave treatment prematurely or are let go prematurely because of the lack of funding and resources.
This is definitely a lot to think about.
I will close my notes on the movie Foxcatcher as a good film that seriously brings attention to the ongoing need to be aware of mental illness, pay attention to the signs and promote the necessary care for those who need it. The performance of Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are admirable, but the most significant part we need to take away is that this film is a veritable capture of the spirit and legacy of David Schultz, his good sportsmanship, his kindness, and the positive influence he made on others.
To your health!