Time/Place: 11:25 at University 6
I grew up with Mike Tyson. I don’t mean to infer that I lived in the same city he did, of course, but I grew up watching his fights. Yes, I also grew up playing "Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out" on the NES, but more than that I grew up watching his fights. Tyson intrigued me even as a little tyke, so when I heard about this documentary on his life, I wanted to see it. I know his story well, but this was a chance to hear the whole thing in his own words – and for that reason alone it is captivating.
First, I have to admit that the documentary isn’t AMAZING. The director makes some odd stylistic choices that I wasn’t a fan of, but the whole thing is not that way – so don’t worry if the opening minutes tire you out.
Mike Tyson is the only fresh interview in the piece – and it was filmed while he was in rehab last year. Have you ever stared at something for so long that you begin to see beyond your passing familiarity of the object and see it for how it really is? Have you ever really looked at a celebrity long enough to see their face become somehow more "real" to you? That sounds much more existential than I intend, but if you’ve ever encountered what I mean, you’ll understand that I had this experience while watching Tyson. Tyson’s face fills the screen (or a part of it) for most of the running time, and it gave me the chance to look at him as a person I wasn’t used to seeing. I found it extremely beneficial to the documentary’s intention of presenting Mike Tyson as a person – no excuses or sympathetic pleas, just a man and his life story.
Mike Tyson is a heck of an interesting guy. People can be very quick to label others as one thing or another because it is easier to deal with issues that way, but calling Tyson a monster and walking away is missing the chance to see the person underneath the problems… and yes, he does have a heck of a stack of problems. I’ve always said, even of sociopath killers, that everyone was a baby at some point – we’re all human. It’s not an excuse, but an attempt to remind people that nobody is a simple, one-sided caricature. Not that Tyson is average, by any means. Watching 90 minutes of him explaining his life was both hilarious and entertaining, but also touching, as he fluttered between beautiful thoughts and seemingly incoherent insanity. The documentary never makes excuses for Mike Tyson’s past, neither do I, and neither does Tyson, himself. He even says that he is embarrassed of his past, and that he has nobody to blame but himself. I’ve heard reviewers give the documentary a bad rap for being one-sided, but Tyson freely admits his mistakes were his choices. He is at a point now, much like he has been his entire life, where he feels lost – and that’s why I really liked Tyson.
As a little kid watching Tyson fight on HBO, I was always amazed. To see that man fight in his youthful prime was to see the scariest, most intense boxer that’s ever fought. Then, things kept going wrong. He continually made horrible choices, but I still wanted to see him come back. When he fought Lennox Lewis a few years ago, I watched the fight with a group of friends – and I found I was still pulling for Tyson. I’m not a sports fan by any means, but this was more than a boxing match… I was pulling for the guy to succeed in his own life. Even as a kid I felt that same compassion for the guy, though I can’t tell you exactly why. Maybe I saw something in him that made me sad. Seeing this documentary about his life resurrected this feeling all over again. Yes, Mike Tyson has done really bad things, and he’s paid a number of prices for these choices, but as a 40-year-old man indebted for large amounts of money, I just want to see him be okay – just like I do anyone else. George Foreman was a mean boxer, but as he aged he became a lovable, gentle giant. This is my hope for Mike Tyson, as well. Tyson ends with the subject of Mike with his kids, and how he looks forward to seeing them grow up and have their own children. It is touching because we see a man who besides his success also has a nearly insurmountable amount of failure – and he knows it. "I never thought I’d live this long" – Mike Tyson.
Perhaps this review has become a little more personal, but that’s because it’s not a regular review. Movies revolve around characters; documentaries revolve around people, and in this case it’s a person I’ve been rooting for since I was a kid. Someone who isn’t a role model, or necessarily deserving of pity (who is?), but a man who I would love to see find his place in life, to be content, and to find a happiness that has eluded him since he was a little kid getting bullied. Tyson is the story of one screwed up guy’s journey through the highs and lows of his 40 years on Earth, but it re-instilled in me a hope for his next 40 years to be a smashing personal success. Come on, Mike… you can do it.