Idol Chatter

One of the best movies of the year was not exactly a box office knock-out when it played in theaters this past summer, but the Depression-era rags-to-riches story “Cinderella Man” is now out on DVD, just in time to begin campaigning for Oscar nominations in January. “Cinderella Man” is the true story of boxer James Braddock’s unlikely return to the ring after misfortune and injury to become the world boxing champion over powerhouse slugger Max Baer. The film has everything great sports movies are supposed to have–a likable underdog, realistic athletic sequences, a lovable sidekick/coach, and a loving, patient wife. But it also has something more. The emotional punch in “Cinderella Man” rests not in celebrating Braddock’s success, but in embracing what he learns when everything has been taken away from him.

In the early part of his boxing career, Braddock (played brilliantly by Russell Crowe) fights because he enjoys the sport, the attention, and the money. When the Depression hits and he looses everything through bad business deals, Braddock suddenly finds himself struggling to put food on the table and to keep his family warm. As Braddock and his wife Mae face adversity with integrity–Braddock routinely goes without food so his kids can eat, for example–Braddock’s faith is tested to the point where he admits “he is all prayed out.”

Unexpectedly, Braddock gets a chance, despite his age and broken hand, to enter the ring again. The difference this time is, as he tells reporters, “I know what I am fighting for.” His identity is not tied up in winning a title. He’s simply fighting for enough money to buy milk for his kids. For enough money to pay the electric bill. For enough money to keep his family together instead of sending his children off to live with relatives. But the proud warrior Braddock also learns he cannot fight the fight alone. He needs the help of friends as well as the faith of his wife and a local parish.

“Cinderella Man” is an inspiring reminder of what we all can accomplish when we lose all of our comforts, when everything we think is so important is taken away, when we are forced to ask ourselves the question, “What am I fighting for?” To know with total certainty that what we believe is worth fighting for even when our faith is being tested–and faith is just a warm, fuzzy ideal unless it is tested–is an enormous challenge. And what better time of year than now to look at what is consuming our time, our energy, our spirits, and ask ourselves what we are fighting for?

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