Wheels of Fortune
A documentary uncovers the fascinating world of quad rugby.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
With Murderball, Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro follow the phenomenon of quad rugby all the way to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece, where a fierce rivalry between the US and Canada culminates. Along the way, they reveal a sport far more complex than its most immediately penetrating aspect, a surprising brutality far more violent than able-bodied rugby. One player describes the quadriplegic men in customized Blade Runner-esque wheelchairs as trying to “kill the man with the ball.” It’s an accurate description.
The film’s structure is similar to Robert Altman’s Short
Cuts in that it is made up of many stories connected through
the unique sport of quadriplegic rugby. Every person in the
film has their own story, which unfolds like a narrative with
dramatic effect. As a sports documentary, Murderball is
similar to Hoop Dreams because it really isn’t about sports;
it’s more of a social commentary.
MUDERBALL ( * * * ½ )
Directed by Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin
Starring quad rugby players
(R, 86 mins.) | At the Lighthouse Cinemas
One key character is Mark Zupan, who was thrown out of his best friend’s truck in a car accident, leaving him stuck in a canal next to the road for 13 hours before he was rescued and sentenced to a wheelchair, indefinitely. Later, Zupan invites his best friend—the driver of that truck—to Greece to watch Zupan play as captain of US Quad Rugby.
Another is Joe Soares, a onetime US Paralympics champion, who became the coach of Team Canada after getting cut from the 2000 US team. Soares, a polio victim, is a gung-ho sports fanatic; he’s like the little league father that gets a little too emotionally involved. Robert, Joe’s 10-year-old son, is a straight-A student who studies the viola and looks up to his father as the ultimate hero, but is uninterested in sports. The only way he connects with his father is by dusting his wall of trophies.
Bobby Lujano, a 33-year-old rugby player, lost all his limbs at the age of 9 due to a rare form of meningitis. He uses laughter as medicine to get him through difficult days. When the team arrives in Athens they put a small cardboard box over Lujano’s head and body, and call in the hotel bellhop to lift the box onto the bed. Needless to say, the bellhop is scared senseless and Lujano and his teammates wet their pants in laughter.
Halfway through the film, we are introduced to Keith, a young man recently paralyzed in a motocross accident, still feeling as if he is in a bad dream. Keith says, “I still can’t believe it, I’m in a wheelchair; this sucks,” his first day home from the hospital. When Keith is introduced to Zupan, the future doesn’t seem all that dark anymore; he feels at home on Zupan’s rugby-rigged wheelchair.
Besides being another documentary that proves once again that truth is stranger than fiction, another extraordinary element of the film is it provides tidbits of information to the audience; Murderball gives informative answers to questions we would never ask ourselves, like, “Is it possible to engage in sexual activity as a quadriplegic?”
In the end, Murderball isn’t a film about overcoming a handicap or the crashing spectacle of the sport; it’s a movie about family, friends, love, sex, and competition.