Nearly a year ago, Canadian pro wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and seven-year-old son before taking his own life. When it was implied that steroids may have caused Benoit’s outburst, most people probably accepted that reasoning without any questioning. Of course.
But a new documentary, “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*,” raises all sorts of questions about performance enhancing drugs. Actually, the film succeeds in creating questions that the average non-juicer, non-pro-athlete probably never even thought about. The well-researched, thorough documentary which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival never answers most of its own questions, but it is a powerful catalyst into a discussion of what steroids mean to America.
Chris Bell, who is the narrator, director and co-writer of the documentary, presents his own family as a microcosm of the steroid addiction. Both his older and younger brother use steroids, with dreams of becoming famous bodybuilders and pro wrestlers.
Bell grew up with muscles and manliness at the center of his universe. He cites Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and Sylvester Stallone as his heroes of youth. He and his brothers would train and wrestle in the basement in hopes of someday becoming wrestlers as we see through the use of home-video footage.
But, years later, the brothers have fallen short of their championship belt dreams and their childhood realities have been crushed: their idols were doping up, wrestling may be fake, and the American dream to be the best may mean cheating.
Bell’s storytelling is in fine form, as he interviews politicians, ex-wrestlers, weightlifters, Olympic athletes, doctors and activists. Every angle of the steroid debate is discussed from the use of Olympic athletes to high school players.
From the producers of “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 911,” the editing is crisp, clean and succeeds in presenting the irony and contradictions of the characters without forcing it.
There are several surprising arguments that Bell is able to bring to the table. Many of his sources argue that steroids are far less dangerous than many legal substances, especially tobacco and alcohol. There were only 3 steroid-related deaths in the U.S. last year, compared to the over 400,000 due to tobacco, according to their research.
It’s hard to swallow this argument. From an early age, it has been instilled in us that steroids are bad. They are cheating. And the conflicting nature of many of the character’s in the documentary make even harder to really believe that maybe steroids should be legal. First the athletes say they never did steroids. Then they say they did them, but everyone does them. Then they say they only drank herbal tea.
The steroid debate is a mess, but only because the demands of the American dream make it so. To be the best, to be the winner is asking a lot of the people of this country. In the shadows of these superhuman mortals, the fantasy of greatness is more lethal than any shot or pill could ever be.
See this article here.
In theaters Friday, May 30, 2008.