Movie Review: Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

I’ve been on a documentary kick lately, and so this documentary on the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs drew my attention.  I watched it early this morning and thought I would pen some thoughts while it was still fresh in my mind.

The 2008 film is directed by a guy named Christopher Bell, who situates the larger story of steroids within the context of steroid use by his older brother Mark – who at 40 years old still aspires to be a professional wrestler – and his younger brother Mike, a competitive powerlifter.

Bell masterfully weaves his own family’s story within the larger questions of steroid use in America.  The film is not an anti-steroid diatribe.  Rather, it questions whether all of the attention that steroids have received is a red herring.  Did Congress really need to call all those baseball players into special session?  Is the use of steroids really to blame for ruining kids’ involvement in sports?  Why is Tiger Woods allowed to get Lasik surgery to improve his vision to 20-15?  Why are athletes allowed to receive cortisone shots?  Why are they allowed to sleep in altitude chambers to increase red blood cell count?  Are we really being consistent?  Are steroids really hurting people as much as we have been led to believe?

After all, performance enhancing drugs (of all kinds) are very much a part of American culture. Students take Adderall for increased academic performance, musicians take beta blockers to help with performance anxiety.  Fighter pilots take amphetamines called “Go Pills” (two American pilots on these pills mistakenly bombed friendly Canadian troops in Afghanistan).  The pharmaceutical companies spend $5 billion a year on advertising and the American public spends $250 billion on (legal) drugs.

Bell’s diagnosis is incisive precisely because he is unsatisfied with superficial answers.  Steroids, he argues, are simply a manifestation of a deeper problem: our obsession with performance.

We are addicted to winning, performing, succeeding, being the best.  And we will win by any means necessary, even if it means cheating.  This is why I call it an addiction.  Our desire to be the best controls us like a slave master.

The most poignant moment of the film was this moment when the Bell’s mom breaks down and tells her son that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Through tears, she says, the real question is, “what did I do wrong? Why did my boys not feel good enough?”

Indeed.  Why don’t we feel good enough?

Most of us live our entire lives trying to prove that we are good enough, using any means necessary to pad our resume.  We want to prove how brave, how smart, how strong, how worthy we are.

It’s like we desperately need a verdict.  We need someone from the outside to come in and say, “you’re approved.  you are valuable.  you matter.”  We want someone to justify our existence.

Maybe steroids and our other performance-enhancing shortcuts are only a means to get we really want.

The feeling that we are good enough.

Question: Anyone seen the film?  Any thoughts on the use of steroids vs. other methods of performance enhancement?

 

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2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

  1. Another good post! Yeah, that movie made an impact on me as well. I think it was one of the first things I watched that made me really question the ethos of America in general. The best or die mentality. I think that this movie would be a good introduction to the profound folly in worshipping a crucified God. Also, how competitive power structures can literally murder the tender and living parts of the human body, and soul. Babies in mangers don’t last long in the type of world that the filmmaker captured. You have a wise eye, I think that part where the mother cries over her sons is heartwrenching, too. Mothers, man. They can sniff out slow suicide like none other.
    Again, thanks for the post Justin.

    • Thanks for the great comment, Shannon. I think that the performance mentality is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is my M.O. most of the time. 2 Corinthians is a good antidote. I’d love some movie recs if you got them!

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