Parents' Guide to

Pumping Iron

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

'70s docu featuring Schwarzenegger has some cursing.

Movie PG 1977 85 minutes
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This documentary is no deep analysis of the bodybuilding world, and it doesn't dwell much on nuance or subtlety, but it's a portrait of a star in the making. Schwarzenegger does a lot of the talking, and his depth and magnetism create all the movie's brightest spots. Butler and co-director Robert Fiore encourage Schwarzenegger to outline his practiced gamesmanship, and Arnold proudly describes undermining naive opponents with warmly administered bad advice. It's clear that he would later bring such insights and experience to his successful acting and political careers (from The Terminator of 1984 to California's governorship from 2003 to 2010).

On the whole, the movie tells the story of the way the greatest champions endure self-inflicted pain and practice steadfast determination, but the negatives of this sport are omitted. Steroid use is not mentioned at all. And these guys spend a lot of time looking in mirrors, working on self-sculpting, a quarter inch at a time. It could be argued that the extremes to which bodybuilding take the human form line up with the kind of disfigurement brought on by excesses of cosmetic surgery commonly seen on television and movie personalities. While the movie serves as an unwitting advertisement for a culture of male self-obsession, narcissism, and physical perfectionism, it also begs comment from some young boy with an Emperor's New Clothes outlook. Symmetry may be objective, but beauty is not. There is something a bit silly-looking about top-heavy towers of protein, whose arms can't hang straight because their muscles are so big.

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