We are Marshall
Friday night I attended the opening of the movie We are Marshall.
The film is about a plane crash that took place on November 14, 1970 in Huntington, WV. All aboard were killed – 75 people total, including almost all of the Marshall University football team (there were a few who were not on the plane).
It shattered the town, which has a population of less than 50,000 in the entire metropolitan area, and, as David Strathairn said, “people there are two degrees from one another – not six.”
The movie chronicles how Jack Lengyel and Red Dawson put the team back together and helped the town move on (Red Dawson was the assistant coach at the time and was supposed to be on the plane but instead traded seats with someone who needed to get back to town earlier – an act that pretty much fucked him for life with survivor guilt).
Now. Why this is important.
I grew up in Huntington, WV. I went to Marshall University, as did my parents, and my brother, and my sister.
I lived up down the street from Red Dawson. I went to school with his kids and played Dungeons and Dragons in his basement. My parents were in the same diner as the president of the university, Donald Dedmon, when he was informed of the tragedy. The lore of this event has been steeped in my bones from the day I was born – one cannot live in Huntington and not feel the impact of the crash, even thirty-five years later.
I cannot possibly impress how deep this history runs within me, what it means.
So to say I was apprehensive about how the subject would be treated is an understatement.
The film opens with a sweeping shot of a fountain that appears to have been sculpted from nails – coffin nails, actually – one for each person lost. I must have spent five hours a day sitting on the edge of that fountain for several years, playing chess, smoking cigarettes, talking philosophy and art. It was pretty central to my college years.
I like the film a great deal, but I also recognize that I am not in a position to review the film objectively. It was handled with a lot of taste, which was good, because it could so easily have been a trainwreck. It’s been savaged by reviewers, calling certain elements cliched or what not – but I can tell you that even though some things are cliched, they were true and actually happened. The members of WVU did paint green crosses on the back of their helmets and the head coach of WVU did give them his playbook.
Matthew McConaughey pretty much nailed Lengyel. I know Red Dawson, and Matthew Fox had down several of his ticks. It was creepy.
I have no idea what I’m trying to say here, other than I think it is a film worth watching.