Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

The Devastating Consequences Of Toxic Masculinity: A Review Of The Iron Claw

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KCL chapter.

When I decided to go and watch The Iron Claw, I knew next to nothing about it apart from that it was about a wrestling family and that it had Zac Efron in it. I went into the cinema not expecting much and left a complete teary-eyed mess. This film exceeded my expectations in every sense of the word because it was not merely a film about wrestling, but about the hardships of such a fiercely masculine world and the strength of brotherly love to keep afloat. The Iron Claw highlights an issue that is still as potent today as it was in the 1980s, toxic masculinity and the consequences of not being able to express yourself and your feelings because of what is expected of you as a man. The film confronts the issue head on through the traditionally cruel patriarch Fritz, and we watch in despair as his unbending beliefs and the pressure to succeed shape and destroy the lives of his sons. 

[Warning: Spoilers ahead!!]

The beauty of brotherhood shines through in this film and acts as a protective blanket for the brothers when facing the toxicity of their father, Fritz. Kevin, as the oldest living brother, feels an immense responsibility for his brothers and tries to protect, care for, and motivate them in any way he can. Yet unfortunately, they are all subject to their father’s manipulative favouritism hierarchy and must do what he says. So even though it has always been expected that Kevin will win the Heavyweight Champion belt, when their father decides that David will fight for it instead, they cannot protest. Thus, when David dies from a ruptured spleen, alone in Japan, in the build up to his title fight, Kevin is left feeling guilty and responsible. This death begins a series of tragic events that lead to the death of his two other brothers in what seems relentless and almost unbelievable to the audience. What makes this even sadder is that in reality, there was another Von Erich brother, Chris, who died but was not included because it was felt it would make the tragic nature of the film too unbelievable. The prevailing issue throughout the film is the brothers’ inability to cope with the pressure placed on them by Fritz, who believes that being the strongest and toughest prevents you from being hurt. However, it is this unbending belief that pushes the brothers into dangerous situations, where Kerry loses his leg in a motorbike accident and falls deeper into addiction, and Mike is left with severe life-long injuries after being pushed into the ring before he was ready. Both brothers cannot cope with their disabilities and the bleakness of their lives ahead under the unempathetic rule of their father, and therefore choose a permanent end to their suffering. Each death tears an unclosing wound in Kevin, particularly Kerry’s, as he was only seconds away from saving him. His father’s refusal of responsibility for Kerry’s death, instead placing it on Kevin, triggers an unbridled rage in Kevin. All the years of abuse and neglect catch up with him to the point where, in a fit of rage, he almost kills his father. This is a terrible moment as while we are thankful that Kevin is finally standing up against his father’s tyranny, we are watching a man who is so relentlessly caring and family-oriented resort to the violence that his father treats them all with. He responds to Fritz’s malicious words with the only weapon that his father responds to, and it is this act of violence that almost breaks his spirit. But instead of succumbing to the cruel fate his father has prepared for him, we see him distance from his parents and prioritise himself and his chosen family. 

The final scene of the film is the most poignant, and shows Kevin finally beginning to heal from the emotional trauma and tragedy he has been subject to. He is sitting in the garden watching his children play American football, reminiscent of previous scenes where he played with his brothers, and begins crying. His children ask him what is wrong, and he responds, “I used to be a brother”. These heartbreakingly simple words summarise his character beautifully, and all that is and has been important to him: family. And it is through family that he can heal because his sweet boys respond, “we’ll be your brothers”. It is through the innocence and goodness of his children he is able to start anew, because his tears have been met with empathy and not punishment. He has been allowed to express his sadness and so he learns from his children the lesson that his father rejected: that men can cry, and that men do not have to be tough, or unbreaking. From his children he finds true acceptance, and with that he can break the cycle of toxic masculinity that was the death of his brothers, and fully embrace the kind and gentle nature that has been inherent to him all along. This scene, paired with a previous scene of the dead brothers reuniting happily in the afterlife, give us hope that the brothers can find peace, and that Kevin has found the strength to carry on living for his chosen family.  

The Iron Claw shows us how far empathy and understanding can go in keeping people alive and afloat. It is heartbreaking to question how differently the Von Erich brothers’ lives could have been if manliness and strength was not the be all and end all. The film discusses a curse that plagues the family, but I do not buy this convenient tale. The curse plaguing their family was their father’s iron fist and unrelenting psychological cruelty, and I cannot accept the blame for his abuse being laid on a mysterious curse. If he had allowed his sons to express their emotions instead of shaming and punishing them for being human, or as he saw it ‘weak’, then maybe such tragedy would not have afflicted them. Despite this, the love that the brothers had for each other in the face of such adversity is admirable and the depiction of such beautiful, genuine family bonds really made this film special. Love, human connection, and empathy is what saved Kevin Von Erich from his brothers’ fate, and it is what we should all seek and protect wholeheartedly in this life. If you take away anything from watching this film, I hope it is that kindness and understanding should not have to be earned or begged for in our relationships, but given freely and willingly out of love for each other.

MENTAL HEALTH: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit Mind’s website https://www.mind.org.uk/ to access mental health resources. If you would like to talk to someone, or need crisis support, contact Samaritans for free by calling 116123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org.

SUICIDE: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call Samaritans for free on 116123 or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. You can also contact SHOUT, a confidential 24/7 text service, on 85258, Papyrus Hopeline UK, a confidential suicide prevention service, on +44-08000684141, or Nightline, a confidential, anonymous listening service for students, through their website https://nightline.org.uk/. You can also call Switchboard, a listening service for and operated by LGBT+ people, on 0300 330 0630.

Eliza is a writer for the culture section at Her Campus at the Kings College London (KCL) chapter. Eliza is currently completing her Masters in Modern Literature and Culture at KCL. She completed her undergraduate degree in English and related literature at the University of York. Beyond Her Campus, Eliza enjoys playing music, and grew up playing traditional Irish music and competing in competitions across Britain and Ireland. Eliza also loves travelling around Europe (when she has the funds), reading, and having cosy days watching films and baking.