THREE STARS – Thought-provoking
Embedded in a high school culture of vulgarity, drunkenness and sexually provocative scenes, “Varsity Blues” presents issues of love, loyalty, friendship, family and heroism. But the central theme focuses on the effects of the type of coach who rages at students in a toxic mixture of motivating abuse.
Due to the power of the coach to decide who does and who does not play, the students in their powerlessness either take the abuse or quit. If they quit, they are denied the joys of athletics and team relationships. If they stay, they are physically, emotionally and spiritually damaged.
But, there is another solution. It is possible for a student to stand up to such a coach and stop the abuse - but he or she cannot do it alone, the entire team must stand together. This is the message of “Varsity Blues.”
An MTV film, “Varsity Blues” has struck a chord among students. Rated as mediocre by adult critics, it is nevertheless a popular film among high school students, many of whom painfully identify with its plot. Although the film is situated in the football-worshipping culture of a small Texas town, the all too common experience of high school athletes being cursed, belittled, intimidated and abused is nation-wide.
In this film, football Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) is a successful coach. It is this success which seduces parents and principals to ignore or excuse his tactics. The Coach’s language and actions, which would be cause for dismissal in the classroom, are excused on the athletic field. Instead, a 20 foot statue of Kilmer honors his two state championships and 22 district titles.
But the price of his success is the destruction of his students’ lives.
His star quarterback, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) has a knee injury. With the cooperation of the team’s trainer, Coach Kilmer medicates the knee so Lance can play. Predictably, Lance is injured and requires major surgery because, the doctor explains, “He never should have been playing on that knee.”
When Coach Kilmer lies and says Lance had never mentioned he was injured, he is observed by the backup quarterback, Jonathan ‘Mox’ Moxon (James Van Der Beek). Mox is a student who loves football, but would not acquiesce to the Coach’s intimidation, so instead he has focused on academics earning a full academic scholarship to an ivy league school. But with Lance permanently injured, Coach Kilmer must play Mox, even though he cannot control him.
Mox turns out to be an even better quarterback than Lance, but the seduction of success begins to lure Mox toward his own destruction.
This seduction goes beyond the heady pleasure of fame and attention. Lance’s beautiful, cheerleader girlfriend, Darcy (Ali Larter) dumps Lance and tries to seduce Mox. Although Mox at first resists, he weakens to the temptation and goes to Darcy’s home. When confronted with the realization that Darcy is only using him like she was using Lance, he confronts their motivations and stops
This is a powerful message within the film. The question of what kind of person would abuse or use another for personal gain is a central spiritual question.
The seduction of success has long entangled Coach Kilmer into willingly abusing and using others for his own advancement. Now, in the beginning stages of his own enslavement, success has confronted Mox with the temptation to betray Lance, betray his girlfriend, and betray himself by having sex with a girl he doesn’t love and who wants him because of his success.
When Mox resists the temptation, he sets the stage for the possibility of also standing up to the evil which has been embodied in Coach Kilmer.
The show down occurs during the district championship game when their running back, Wendell (Eliel Swinton) is injured. Coach Kilmer believes they won’t win without him. But during the half-time break, when he prepares to give Wendell a shot of painkiller, risking permanent damage in order to win this one game, Mox confronts him.
As one player, Coach Kilmer intimidates and rejects him, throwing him off the team. But when Tweeder (Scott Caan) and Billy Bob (Ron Lester) and other players one by one stand up as well, it is not Mox who is ejected, but Coach Kilmer who must leave.
Although abused students may dream that they will one day stand up to their coach and force him or her to stop as this film presents, this seldom happens in real life.
The message of “Varsity Blues” is a legitimate call to action from MTV on behalf of all student athletes who have been abused. It is a cry parents, coaches, principals and school administrators need to heed.