The Eye in Team: The Gaze of ‘Foxcatcher’

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Foxcatcher either doesn’t care or doesn’t want to establish exactly from whose perspective the film is, which is, in a way, a double edged sword. So much of the film takes pleasure in lacing every frame and action with ambiguity that it does, understandably, get frustrating. It at once wants to become intimate with its characters – Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), two Olympic gold medalists in wrestling, and John du Pont (Steve Carell), the “rich old guy” that recruits both of them to help his Team Foxcatcher to become best in the world – and get inside their heads, but these characters seem to push back against that very idea. So far as understanding them, we get nothing, which is a good thing.

There’s a lurking desire, something sinister and unsavory throughout. Through Miller’s camera and Greg Fraser’s (Bright Star, Let Me In, Killing Them Softly) cinematography, we inhabit various gazes. Gazes that want and yearn and need. But it’s hard to tell whose they are.

The sport of wrestling is by its very nature homoerotic. Two men testing their strengths, their levels of virility in the most physical way possible, the objective seemingly being to out masculinize the other. With its history being traced back to the Ancient Greeks, the homoeroticism isn’t a stretch, given their approach to sexuality.

Thusly, Foxcatcher finds perverse pleasure in deploying that kind of gaze with/to the audience. It makes Channing Tatum’s involvement in the film almost more interesting because of how leery the camera is. We look up and down his body in unsubtle ways, almost hailing him as the film’s definitive Adonis, and especially through the eyes of his mentor du Pont. The camera glides over Tatum’s pectorals, his back muscles, and his arms, amplifying this subtext.

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It isn’t hard to see John du Pont as a predatory creature either. Although his interest in wrestling is ostensibly coming from a ‘patriotic’ stance, the team name seems to automatically indicate that it’s about predator and prey. Yes, Team USA in the role of predator, but moreover, du Pont as this hunter ideal, calling the shots, with his prey right under his beaklike nose (like a bald eagle, the animal of which du Pont has adopted as a nickname). Du Pont’s home is decked out with birds, physical manifestations of his ornithological proclivities. (An observation Scout Tafoya and Kenji Fujishima made was that the film is not unlike Hitchcock’s Psycho.) His mother (Vanessa Redgrave), is a fan of horses, but in the magisterial, aristocratic way, where the narrative of “catching foxes” is handed down and indoctrinated into John. Which makes every team member on Team Foxcatcher is prey, but it’ is especially Tatum’s Mark that interests, fascinates, arouses du Pont.

There’s a strange push and pull here, though, as du Pont seems to struggle with desiring Mark (many a close-up of the two on the floor wrestling, as du Pont attempts to join the ‘over 50 class’) and desiring to be a patriarchal figure to Mark. It almost suggests homo-Oedipal relationship between the two of them, father and son, such as when du Pont out of nowhere changes his attitude towards Mark, causing the latter to boil and simmer and resent. There’s a weird sexual tension throughout their dynamic. When Mark first arrives on the du Pont property to live and train, we see the silhouette of John du Pont in the window, obstructing the light that revealed a shirtless Mark in a reverse shot. The training scenes between the two of them accentuate a queerness in the sport, with bodies not only on top of one another, but trying to prove their dominance.

This father-son relationship isn’t limited to the constructed one between Mark and du Pont, but also seems to exist between David and Mark. David is older and, according to Ruffalo during the press conference, he was raising his younger brother by age five. The natural fraternal competition that bounds the two has transformed into something different. Mark constantly lives in his brother’s shadow, but there’s almost a latent, incestuous desire as the two wrestle. The training session they at the beginning of the film starts off normally, aware of its artificiality in terms of the situation. It escalates, though, as they stop restraining themselves from bringing the other down.

The camera is right in the middle of it, in and out of focus, and when you see the eyes, there’s death in them. There’s hunger there, too.

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3 thoughts on “The Eye in Team: The Gaze of ‘Foxcatcher’

    kermit said:
    October 15, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    This film has little appeal to the masses.

      Kyle Turner responded:
      October 16, 2014 at 12:06 am

      Although I disagree, where did I say that it did or didn’t?

    daysofspeed (@daysofspeed) said:
    January 12, 2015 at 7:00 am

    From the kick off Du Pont wants the better brother but he won’t come. You seem to miss that Mark is a runner’s up prize. I agree about the greco-roman take and mentioned this when watching it that it is a sport already in that water. That said I think you’ve overplayed that a little.

    What is missing is the complete mental breakdown of DuPont – the police apprehend him instantly – in truth it was a 2 day siege ended when they cut off heat and he went outside to fix the boiler. DuPont’s mental state is hinted upon but is seen merely as controlling and spoilt. The reality was more paranoid and he felt people were out for him (culminating in a complex he believed he was the Dalai Lama).

    A good article to start a discussion but as I suggest rather slanted.

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