Eight minutes into one of my favorite movies of more recent times, the film’s protagonist finds himself covered in blood holding his wife’s lifeless body as he screams for help. So, naturally, it grabbed my attention as it began when I walked by my TV earlier.
The film I speak of is the boxing drama “Southpaw”, written by Kurt Sutter and who’s embattled main character Billy Hope is played by Jake Gyllenhal but was interestingly enough written for one of my favorite creatives of all time, Eminem.
The “Sons Of Anarchy” writer, Kurt Sutter, wrote the role both for Eminem as well as with the various personal demons the rapper has battled throughout his life and career in mind when he created Billy Hope’s story.
As the movie opens, we see Hope on top of the world, having just won another title fight. The following scene is his wife expressing her concerns to him about the way he is fighting and the amount of punishment he is taking, even in victory.
At the press conference of his next victorious fight, Billy Hope is verbally taunted by a fighter looking to instigate his way to a title shot.
As he and his wife go to leave the building a scuffle ensues between Billy and the instigator, after Hope loses his temper and rushes him after the man makes a disrespectful remark to his wife. Both fighters entourage’s rush the scene and Hope’s wife is mistakenly shot from a gun that accidentally goes off after being dropped in all of the confusion.
She dies in Hope’s arms moments later, leaving him with a little girl to raise alone.
I’ve always seemed to see the underlying message others don’t always as easily spot, not only in art but in real life also. I saw this movie in theaters and it spoke to me deeply on a personal level from almost beginning to end.
Granted I was biased because I knew it was written by the writer of one of my favorite shows of all time but I felt like I saw the subtle story Kurt was really telling as “Southpaw” unfolded. I also related on an eerily personal level for a number of reasons. How closely it resembled tragedies I've lost loved ones to was hard to ignore.
Hope goes from on top of his world to losing everything he loves in what feels like a matter of moments which is something I unfortunately know all too well. He loses it due to rage, lack of self control and ego which probably could have been written for me just a few short years ago.
He has tremendous guilt stemming from an event from his past that is as much out of control as it ever was but can’t seem to own any of his current actions or responsibilities, which is a language I once spoke fluently.
The man who goes on to become Hope’s mentor and help him eventually rise back to the top is played by Forrest Whitaker. After Billy tells him the story of how his wife died and all that’s happened since, Forrest asks him “Yeah but what did you do? What got you here? You can’t even see what you did, that’s what got you here”. That line was a punch to the gut for those like myself who have struggled with ego or accountability.
Billy is taught humility through training kids at the man’s gym and first reluctantly scrubbing toilets. Humility is like kryptonite to the arrogance and ego that causes so much chaos in so many of our lives.
Hope’s mentor tells him “You’ve been fighting angry, fighting angry drains you”.
I fought angry for the better part of my being and I wondered why I was always so exhausted. Why it constantly felt like I was in a 12 round fight I couldn’t win that never seemed to end.
The writer metaphorically expressed not only Eminem’s story through Billy Hope’s but also all of ours. He was speaking to anyone that ever suffered a loss they felt they couldn’t come back from. To anyone who ever let anger turn them into someone they weren’t or anyone who guilt has ever crippled.
Knowing Kurt Sutter and Eminem are both recovering addicts, I also couldn’t help but see the underlying spiritual message and principles that were subtly crafted into the story.
Twelve step programs teach that self will is the opposition of recovery. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the main character Billy’s name is a variation of the name Will. Nor that his last name was Hope. Southpaw itself is a boxing term that essentially describes a left hand fighter, one who does the complete opposite of what is typically done. Throughout the movie, Billy Hope is taught to not only fight from a southpaw stance but also to apply the same strategy to his entire life, to do the opposite of everything he’s been doing.
The film concludes with Billy Hope defeating the same boxer whom he blamed for the death of his wife, in a hard fought knock out win for the title. To me it was not at all a boxing movie. It was a story of redemption, resiliency and human struggle. It was better than a rags to riches story, it was a hero to hopeless then back to hero story.
During the concluding fight, commentator Jim Lampley says that Hope “Once lost everything that was of value to him, including his hunger to continue to fight.” That is a fight I also know all too well.
As the movie ends, just before credits begin to roll the camera pans on Billy Hope holding both his title belt and daughter as Jim Lampley repeats “We still have Hope, we still have Hope”.