Murderball was a game I used to play in elementary school. You’d stand against the wall hoping not to get hit, praying that if you did get hit that it wouldn’t be in either the face or the bathing suit spot. Murderball was eventually banned at my school. I guess there was one too many bloody nose or wailing wuss. Murderball was all about being tough, sticking it out, celebrating when you did get hit because then you got to take out revenge on those who were left.
Fast forward 20 years. Murderball has now taken on a whole new meaning for me, yet it still revolves around being tough – tougher than I could ever be even if I were hit in the bathing suit spot and my stomach began to turn. Murderball is a documentary about the sport of wheelchair rugby. Players crash and hurl their chairs at one another in hopes of stopping their opponent from scoring. It’s a fierce sport and the film captures that fierceness in a way that skews expectations about disabilities.
Murderball doesn’t want you to feel sorry for anyone. It wants the viewer to see them for who they are, not what they aren’t. They’re athletes with the same drive and passion for their sport as other athletes. Sure, there’s some background stories about how the players got paralyzed. But they’re not sob stories. All of them speak very matter-of-factly about it, acknowledging that it hurts but at the same time they’re dealing with it. They’ve reconciled with the fact that that may never walk again. So instead they play this new form of murderball.
Like traditional rugby, wheelchair rugby is a vicious sport. It’s got full-on contact where wheelchairs become chariots. It’s portrayed in the film as a mix of American football and demolition derby where men crash full-tilt into one another. They don’t seem to worry about hurting themselves.
Murderball is not successful because of its rock ‘n roll attitude, although that does make it far more entertaining. It works because of its honesty. It shows that people who have been dealt a bad hand in life can still be heroes. But its lack of sentimentality is what’s really refreshing. About a third of the way through, I had pretty much forgotten their disabilities and was focusing on the more traditional sports story I am a sucker for.
There’s also a lot of humour involved, particularly when it goes into answering the question most of us think of but are afraid to ask someone who’s paralyzed: So does it…you know…still work? The way in which the answer is given is as blunt as the rest of the film, but it’s also hilarious given the context and jabs coming from the athletes’ mouths.
Murderball is inspiring as a sports movie, not because it focuses on disabled athletes. Yes, they are an inspiration, but that’s not so much the point. These are men who have a passion for the sport they play. Their disability is what allows them to show that passion.