Of Tyson Men
Tyson—a 90-minute documentary about Mike Tyson—is not at all what you'd expect from a first-person sports narrative (it's really just one long interview with the boxer, supplemented with old photos and fight footage). There's no grandstanding or blowhard pomposity or hollow equivocation about why the champ eventually fell. It just is what it is: a sad, guileless, freakishly candid story told by a gigantic child who could kill you with his hands. IT IS AMAZING.
In his infantile lisp, Tyson begins with his childhood—essentially parentless—in Brooklyn, where he's mercilessly bullied (one kid pops the head off of Tyson's pet pigeon in front of his eyes). He gets into trouble; gets out of trouble; meets his mentor and trainer, Cus D'Amato; and becomes a heavyweight champion by age 20. The footage of a seemingly invincible young Tyson is mind-blowing—like, let's just go ahead and cancel boxing forever, because Mike Tyson has defeated all of boxing. When Mike Tyson punches you, you have no choice but to fall down. Mike Tyson wins.
But what's really fascinating about the film is the wide-open door into Tyson's emotional life—every word unabashedly damning and tragically childlike. He's terrified of the world, he says. He weeps openly while talking about D'Amato (his reaction to D'Amato's death: "I don't have my friend no more"). He describes a burning sensation during his heavyweight championship bout: "Musta been a prostitute I had sex with, because I had contracted gonorrhea. Either a prostitute or a very filthy young lady." He's devastated by his rape conviction, for crazily misguided reasons: "I may have tooken advantage of women before, but I never took advantage of her."
And, of course, Tyson says and does insane, frightening, horrific things, like bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear, live in front of millions of people (one of the most amazing things to ever happen in pop culture EVER). But his life, reframed as it is in Tyson, becomes bizarrely sympathetic—a full-on Of Mice and Men situation (he just hugged Robin Givens too hard!). Tyson is not a fully functioning adult; he's a bewildered, mentally ill drug addict with no impulse control who got punched in the head every day for 20 years. What makes the film work is that he admits it all without self-pity and asks for no forgiveness. "I'm sorry I let everybody down" has to be the saddest sentence in the English language.