A Philosophical Athlete?
Vision Quest Directed by Harold Becker At the Sack Somersville and Beacon Hill
HOW MANY HIGH SCHOOL wrestlers recognize their own mortality during their senior year? They are painfully abundant in the recent movie Vision Quest. Louden Swain (Matthew Modine), concluding that you are born and then you die, decides to starve himself and train hard enough to drop two weight divisions and take on the most feared wrestler in the state, Brian Shute, as his grand fling into the nothingness that awaits him. Louden is a jock going for the gusto, a nihilist wrestling for a Michelob Light.
Of course, man wasn't meant to live on nothingness alone. There's sex before the eternal nothingness that awaits high school wrestlers. Enter Carla (Linda Fiorentino) Naturally, she's beautiful and wears transparent tank tops. Of course she's passing through town and needs a place to stay. How about Louden's room?
Will Carla have sex with Louden? Will Louden beat Shute, the feared wrestler who bites the throats of his opponents? All of these questions are asked and some of the answers are mildly interesting.
Vision Quest attempts to be two films at once: a coming of age flick and a jock-epic. As an adolescent identity search the film fails. Louden asks a lot of questions about sex which are neither interesting nor funny. He gets caught sniffing Carla's panties in the laundry room, and he writes a piece for the school paper on female reproductive organs. Yawn, Carla, unresponsive to Louden's sexual urgings, plays the stoic sex kitten for most of the movie. She doesn't even take off her clothes, destroying any hope of a teen-sex angle. In addition, rocker Madonna makes a cameo appearance, and she doesn't take her clothes off either.
However, Director Harold Becker does succeed in capturing the excitement of wrestling and athlete training. A la Rocky, Louden's training is exciting. His heroic--in fact, lunatic--efforts to reduce his body fat and muscle up for the big wrestling showdown with Shufe produces a strange thrill. He runs the miles to his room-service job in a downtown hotel, and foregoes any and all nourishment. He drop the weight so quickly that his nose bleed during practice. We feel his nervous anticipation as he waits in the locker room. His wrestling is not just a sport, it is a celebration of life. In athletic competition and discipline he strengthens and defines his hold on life. In asserting his life be makes it real. He contrasts his life to to the death and nothingness that he believes awaits him.
This is a big theme for a jock of Louden's sort to grasp--too big. It is almost laughable when characters in the movie mumble about the meaning of life and athletics. Becker would have been better letting the characters' actions speak for themselves. Instead he lets the various characters take stabs at his nihilist theme, rendering it ridiculous. Louden brings up the meaning of life in English class. His boss at work throws around his philosophical views. Even a fellow wrestler does some moralizing.
VISION QUEST WORKS as a suspenseful picture about athletics. Even its more subtle theme about growing up rings true. It is when about growing up rings true. It is when Becker tries to combine the two that the film gets pinned. In real life rocks don't always give life-and-death meaning to their sports. At the very least, they don't articulate these notions as high-minded philosophy. Becker's attempt at profundity in high school only weighs the move down. The concepts are bigger than the characters.