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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Murderball is a documentary that features hard-hitting quad rugby scenes. Shot from multiple angles (subjective and objective), the games and practices are rough, exciting, and sometimes unsettling. The players use strong language, drink and smoke, and make slangy references to sexual acts. The film includes some shots of missing limbs, as well as footage of a player in the hospital (and briefly in surgery), following a heart attack.
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What's the story?
Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro's documentary MURDERBALL delves into quad rugby. The fast and hard sport combines elements of rugby, basketball, roller and demolition derbies, as the players bring pit crews to maintain their tricked-out wheelchairs during matches. Conceived in Canada as "murderball" (then renamed wheelchair or quad rugby), the sport is now organized into international competitions. Murderball is organized to highlight three interrelated storylines. Mark Zupan's background emerges slowly. He was injured in a car accident in 1993. Three years later, he was playing rugby. Passionate, devoted, and supported by his girlfriend, Zupan has found a sense of order and focus in the sport. Similarly committed, Joe Soares is a onetime U.S. star cut from the team when he began to slow down. Frustrated by what he perceived as rejection, Soares started coaching for the Canadian team. Keith Cavill was injured in a motocross accident. His story reveals another angle on quad rugby, in that he enters the film at the start of his recovery, finding in the sport a way to channel his energy and depression. As if to underline this point, the film ends with the players meeting a group of injured Iraq War veterans.
Is it any good?
Rowdy and inspiring, this documentary provides multiple perspectives on what it's like to play quad rugby. The players see themselves as gladiators, and Rubin's innovative camerawork suggests why, alternating between long shots of the arena (bodies and chairs crashing into each other, barreling down the court, scoring and spinning) and close, "wheelchair cam" shots that emphasize the intimacy of all this speed and aggression.
The community of quads -- and potential rugby players -- is not limited to those who have suffered illness or freak accidents. Instead, Murderball suggests, war (and the improved technologies that allow troops to survive devastating wounds) extends the community. It's a smart, sensitive coda for this saga of survival.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the representation of various players' attitudes in Murderball, which range from frustrated, angry, and resolved, to introspective, selfish, and audacious.
How does Joe's heart attack frighten and also motivate him?
How do the players interact with each other, their families, and partners? How do they work together as teammates, and work against competitors? How do the national designations of teams (USA, Canada, Australia, Netherlands) provide another sort of identification for players?
- In theaters: July 8, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: November 29, 2005
- Cast: Andy Cohn, Joe Soares, Mark Zupan
- Directors: Dana Adam Shapiro, Henry Alex Rubin
- Studio: THINKFilm
- Genre: Documentary
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and sexual content
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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