November 2, 2011
Jesus Walks into a Wrestling Ring . . .
'Wrestling for Jesus' a compelling exploration of a strange but fascinating subculture
Wrestling for Jesus, an award winning documentary, follows Timothy Blackmon, a rural South Carolina man who decided the best way to share his faith was to form an amateur Christian wrestling league to spread the Word. Blackmon, who goes by the nickname "T-Money," faces challenge after challenge -- financial, marital, spiritual -- as he tries to work with this rag-tag-team group of grizzled old bikers and young skinny wrestlers.
The film begins as a kind of cultural side-show, introducing you to a small circle of enthusiasts where Christian evangelism intersects a grassroots form of what WWE calls "sports entertainment." But although the wrestling action may be overscripted, the evangelistic mission rings true as the traditional altar becomes an invitation to meet Jesus at the edge of the ring.
Nevertheless, the façade of sports entertainment becomes a metaphor in the false-front marriage of one of the couples involved. When that marriage breaks up, so does the Wrestling for Jesus team. The air of unreality is capsulized first in an early scene in which one wrestler shows off the trophy he won for being the most Christlike wrestler. Behind him is a poster of a scantily clad female model draped across the hood of a sexy car. The unreality is capsulized again near movie's end when a morose little girl uses a home karaoke machine to sing herself a sappy little princess song.
And yet, and yet, there is a genuine good-heartedness that permeates all this unreality: the divorced father becomes more attentive and nurturing than ever. The leader of the fractured team pulls them back together for a benefit exhibition to support a fellow wrestler who has broken his neck. These things tip the balance of human experience in favor of hope.
Filmmaker Nathan Clarke (whom, full disclosure, I count as a friend) has a wonderful eye for detail and for metaphor. In Wrestling for Jesus, he helps us see human imperfection with compassion and hope.
The film is available purchase at the official website, and here's the trailer: