Cultural Film Series: Murderball Explores Wheel Sport

Lauren DiSpirito

From gyms in the American heartland to the Olympics in Athens, Greece, the 2005 film “Murderball” portrays a group of top-notch athletes unlike any others depicted on screen. This Oscar-nominated documentary delves into the world of tough-as-nails competitive quad rugby, otherwise known as murderball. Part football and part hockey, this immensely aggressive sport requires tremendous strength and speed. The competitors, once able-bodied men, are paraplegic athletes who have been critically injured in car crashes, diving accidents or by other means. Outfitted with armored wheelchairs, players fiercely ram themselves into their opponents on a regulation basketball court during each of four eight-minute periods. As one player says, the official sport name, quad rugby, is used simply because, “You can’t market murderball to corporate sponsors.” The film’s musical score is, appropriately, mostly heavy metal.

This unsentimental film, winner of the Documentary Audience Award and the 2005 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Editing, will demolish any stereotypes you may have had about the disabled.

“I hate inspiring disability movies,” co-director Henry Alex Rubin admits. “If I were to see a film about disabilities on television, I’d probably switch the channel.”

This film is neither a tearjerker nor a sappy piece on triumph over adversity; there is no place for pity here. Instead, “Murderball” depicts true competition in helmet-less gladiator-style quad rugby battles. While it is about “standing up, even if your spirit and spine have been crushed,” the men profiled here are not saints, and they certainly never play the sympathy card. Rather, filmmakers Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro dignify their subjects with their honest portrayal of these trash-talking, tattooed, practical joke playing athletes who just happen to be paraplegics.

The second feature in the Fall 2007 Cultural Film & Lecture Series titled “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Murderball” will be shown four times on campus in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m. Admission to all screenings is $3.50 for students with ID and $5.00 for all others.

The Monday evening screening will feature guest speaker Steve McWilliams, liaison for students with disabilities at Villanova, who will introduce the film and lead a discussion following the screening.

For more information, contact the communication department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS Web site: