Have you ever looked the other way on a friend or loved one’s mental illness because they have money?
Maybe you rationalized taking an insult because they pay the rent. Maybe you sucked it up and turned a blind eye to their abuse because you have nowhere else to go.
As the story of “Team Foxcatcher” unfolds, you realize that there were numerous early warning signs that multi-millionaire John du Pont, heir to the vast chemical company fortune, was one hair’s breadth away from snapping like a twig.
And while in hindsight, it’s easy to blame the wrestlers, the estate employees, the coaches, the local police, the Wrestling Association and so on, one has to remember that financial security is the end all/be all of life and few will be willing to bite the hand that feeds them until the abuse just can’t be ignored anymore.
The boiling point came when du Pont shot and killed Dave Schultz, an Olympic wrestler and family man who he’d invited to train on his property. Once the gun was fired, everyone surrounding the murderous madman realized they should have seen it coming and yet, in the years leading up to it, no one did.
This documentary does a great job of telling the story of du Pont’s long descent into madness, and how so many people who depended upon him were willing to look the other way on his mental illness because he was their goose who laid the golden egg. (And in many respects, while money initially got them into his life, love for the man got them to stay.)
We learn that Du Pont has been socially isolated and sheltered his entire life. He grew up in posh wealth with his mother, but never had any friends and never met a sticky situation that he couldn’t buy his way out of. Although a man of great wealth, it was his father and others before him that built the company and so, he has spent his life as an eccentric, awkward weirdo, desperately wanting to do something that would leave his own mark, earn him respect independent of his family name and money, and so on.
Ironically, he almost got there. A sports fan who didn’t make it as an athlete himself, he builds an athletic complex on his large, sprawling PA estate and invites America’s greatest Olympians to come and train. He is quickly hailed as a hero, especially to wrestlers, who are typically dominated by the Russians. We are told that wrestling is a rather complicated sport, taking years to master, and by the time a wrestler really gets the hang of it, he has to quit and find a paying job to support his family. Russia pays its wrestlers and du Pont solves the problem by paying the wrestlers a salary out of his own pocket and even given them homes on his property.
Though truly a loon, he might have gone down in history as a great benefactor for American sports. But alas, as the documentary unfolds, he gets crazier and crazier until tragedy strikes.
The documentary tells the tale of a man coddled by everyone, for he has coddled them with his money and so they are essentially returning the favor. Not happy to sit back and take praise the way so many other pro sports team owners do after a major win, Du Pont wants to get involved and train with the wrestlers, though he has zero skill to offer and is an old man.
He says weird things. He does weird things. He has guns. A lot of guns.
The warning signs were there. Perhaps not so much that he would kill someone, but there were situations where had it been a poor person doing what he did, people wouldn’t stand for it.
For example, du Pont develops a strange fear of anything colored black, and demands that anything black be removed from his estate. No black clothes. No black cars. No black paint on buildings. He even fires all the black wrestlers. Du Pont argues it is nothing personal or racist, he just can’t stomach the color black anymore. As a high ranking wrestling official (I forget the name of the organization) explains, that moment should have been the point where his group should have cut ties with du Pont but alas, there just wasn’t another way for wrestlers to train and afford a decent living.
Local law enforcement is aware that du Pont is a loon too but du Pont has helped them with his money over the years.
Du Pont becomes paranoid and hires serious, big time security agents. He’s convinced there are secret tunnels on his estate and spies hiding in his walls and though they agents realize these beliefs are crazy, they investigate his strange claims anyway…and the viewer is left to debate whether or not they should have just told him he’s an idiot or if they were just doing a job they were hired to do.
It all comes to a head when du Pont becomes increasingly jealous of Dave Schultz, the wrestler that everyone on the team rallies around and views as their leader. Du Pont wants to be loved just as much, but no matter how much dough he doles out, he just can’t get as much love…and eventually breaks down and sadly, shoots Schultz, killing him.
The Foxcatcher movie with Steve Carrell was great, but I think the documentary did a better job of showing how people around Du Pont realized he was nuts and should have removed themselves from him….but its one of those things where you support your crazy uncle figure until his craziness consumes him.
And ultimately, it is a sad story. Schultz could have gone one last victory before retirement and being with his family. Du Pont could have maybe seen a shrink and gotten some help and gone down as a respected sports philanthropist but…sadly, mental illness took its toll.