The student news site of Stone Bridge High School

The Bulldog Tribune

The student news site of Stone Bridge High School

The Bulldog Tribune

The student news site of Stone Bridge High School

The Bulldog Tribune

“The Iron Claw” Cuts Deep


Esteemed entertainment maestro A24 released their highly anticipated wrestling flick, “The Iron Claw,” nationwide on Dec. 22, 2023. The story, which follows the unimaginable, tragic lives of the Von Erich wrestling family, establishes themes that dive deep into the pressures of family and sports and the significance of brotherhood. 

The film opens with a black and white glimpse into the origins of the Von Erich family–when they still lived in a trailer and there were only two sons–as they attend one of patriarch Fritz Von Erich’s (Holt McCallany) wrestling matches. It’s during this opening scene that the Von Erich “iron claw” wrestling move is first seen, whilst the film’s title overlays in big block letters, declaring its significance for the rest of the film. 

As the story enters the 1980s, the grown up Von Erich brothers are introduced. There’s the serious Kevin (Zac Efron), superstar David (Harris Dickinson), quiet Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), and sensitive Mike (Stanley Simons). 

As Kevin enters the wrestling world, he undergoes significant personal growth, especially as he enters a relationship with Pam (Lily James). It’s through his romance with kindhearted Pam and his journey into fatherhood that Kevin is able to escape the confines of his father’s pressure to perform in his wrestling career and develop a sense of self throughout the film.

At his wedding, Kevin discovers that his brother David has been hiding medical issues to avoid canceling his upcoming international wrestling tour. It’s here that the first inklings of a “Von Erich curse,” which began with the loss of their oldest brother Jack Jr. before most of them were born, seem to be coming true.

As the film enters its second act, it’s revealed that David has died in Japan due to intestinal failure. Then, like dominoes, tragedy hits the Von Erichs nonstop. 

Fritz’s pressures and expectations for his sons’ wrestling careers skyrocket, leading to soft-hearted Mike forced to join wrestling and suffering a shoulder injury that leads to a rare case of Toxic Shock Syndrome, and a newfound pressure for Kerry to work towards the World Heavyweight Championship in David’s honor, before he unexpectedly loses his leg in a motorcycle accident. 

One of the film’s standout–and saddest–moments is in its closing act. Following Kerry’s death, there is a moment of stillness as Kerry reunites with his brothers in the afterlife. He glides across a serene pond before meeting David, Mike, and Jack Jr. for a tender, emotional hug that emphasizes the bond between the brothers and directly contrasts the type of affection they received from their father.

“The Iron Claw” is filled with such tragedy that, as The Ringer says, “puts you in an emotional headlock.” It’s a story filled with so much sadness that tackles the complex, tough topics that plague the Von Erich family. 

Their so-called “curse” isn’t a true curse, but rather the effects of an emotional, aggressive, controlling father. Fritz’s many expectations and demands for his sons lead to a development of competition between them, an attempt to drive a wedge between their unbreakable allegiance to one another for his own personal gain. 

This curse is seemingly broken by Kevin (through the motif of giving his children his actual last name of Adkisson, instead of the stage name Von Erich) due to his foundational differences from his father. Kevin is giving, loving, and sympathetic and he outwardly shows affection to his brothers and sons through his unwavering support and concern for their needs and wants. 

The film’s closing scene hones in on the theme of brotherhood in the film. Kevin sits in the yard of his home, watching his children play with tears in his eyes. When his sons ask why he’s crying, Kevin tells them, “I guess it’s because I used to be a brother, and now I’m not a brother anymore.” 

“The Iron Claw” is a story about brotherhood and familial pressure–how much pressure before you break?

“The Iron Claw” is a story about brotherhood and familial pressure–how much pressure before you break? What can you handle? The signature “iron claw” wrestling move that the film is named after represents the beginning of the end. Starting the film with this image foreshadows the role wrestling plays in the destruction of an All-American family with superstar sons. The “iron claw” was used by Fritz to win, but it’s also used to force his desires onto his sons, causing them to crack from the debilitating pressure of their father’s expectations. 

The only thing the Von Erich brothers had that was true and healthy was each other. 

A must-see introspective look into family dynamics and the strength of sibling relationships, Sean Durkin’s “The Iron Claw” is not a wrestling story, it’s a cautionary tale about toxic masculinity, the importance of brotherhood, and the debilitating effects of unbridled pressure.

About the Contributor
Maddie Willinger
Maddie Willinger, Staff Writer
Maddie Willinger is a senior, and a first year at the "Bulldog Tribune". She is an officer in Girl Up, EdRising, SBHS’s chapter of The Launch Project, and a Cappies Critic. Maddie loves to keep up with pop culture, and can be found reading Taylor Jenkins Reid books, watching new movies to log on her Letterboxd, or listening to Taylor Swift way too often.