Fantasia 2020: You Cannot Kill David Arquette and the Hero’s Journey

I went into this one without much knowledge of wrestling, or David Arquette’s involvement in it—I knew the basics of the story, but that’s about it. And that’s the beauty of the medium; you can go into a documentary blind and by the end of it, you’re somewhat of an expert in the subject. You Cannot Kill David Arquette at Fantasia International Film Festival made damn sure that I knew the full story and then some. But it’s not just about telling a story, it’s about providing David a redemption arc.

The story itself aside, You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a masterclass in documentary storytelling. It sets you up with the anger of the wrestling fans towards David in frame one. It lays out the whole story perfectly. It doesn’t get ahead of itself or focus on the wrong things. Although it does contain some analysis from doctors, it doesn’t get hyper-fixated on it and overexplain things. There’s a perfect balance of talking heads and source footage. Everything is clear and concise—it all flows smoothly. A very impressive documentary from David Darg and Price James.

Now, like I said, going into this I knew little to nothing about wrestling itself. As any ’90s kid did, I watched Wrestlemania with my dad and, along with my little brother, we would act out some of the scenes we watched. But since then, I haven’t watched much wrestling, save for another documentary on wrestling from a fellow student when I was studying documentary in college. The closest I got was spending multiple nights a week at a now-closed burrito bar in Bushwick called Lucha Lucha. Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve dated multiple men who were very into wrestling. If I knew anything about wrestling, it’s how dedicated and intense the fans are. It doesn’t surprise me that when David Arquette came on the scene and immediately won the heavyweight championship title, fans were pissed.

David Arquette laying in the ring, defeated.

Above all else, this is a story about persecution, perseverance, and redemption. That seems to be a theme in his life. David Arquette began his career as a serious actor in dramas like Johns, then once he starred in hit horror movie Scream as the doofy detective Dewey, he was immediately typecast as the idiot and that essentially marred his career. He couldn’t find redemption in his acting career, so he turned to his other passion, another field in which he sought redemption: wrestling. In 2000, David pulled a stunt where, on his first foray into professional wrestling, it was decided that he would win the world title. Insane, I know. I’m sure whoever came up with the idea thought they were creating buzz or something, but all it really did was cause David pain. For years, fans of wrestling hated on him and shunned him from the community he so longed to join.

This is where the redemption comes in. Throughout the remainder of the documentary, we follow David and his family as they took this journey to becoming a real-life wrestling superstar. The path was not an easy one to take, and there were many, many complications from health problems to lack of support. It’s a hero’s journey, like in narrative film, where you have the call to action: David choosing to take back up wrestling, crossing the threshold: David’s first miserable failure of a match, the defeat and rebirth/the metamorphosis: his physical metamorphosis into a fit and prepared wrestler, the atonement: his time spent in Mexico honing his craft and giving back to the public, and the journey home: his final match. That’s what makes this documentary so special. It’s a real-life story that follows a timeless story structure in a miraculous way. They could not have planned this out if they tried, and that’s the beauty of it all. In real-life you don’t know the outcome of any given situation, and the fact that it ended up like this is amazing.

David Arquette standing in the Mexico desert, holding a chicken, surrounded by two luchadors.

Much like a Luke Skywalker type, David Arquette’s journey culminates with a final task. For David, this is winning the match against Ken Anderson at a wrestling event he had been kicked out of the year prior. You’re rooting for David to win this final match—you want it so badly. He’s the ultimate underdog. He’s been through so much and evolved so greatly. You truly believe that Ken, much like the rest of the wrestling world, has greatly underestimated him.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette works so well because of the way they’ve painted David: a scrappy underdog who’s had failure after failure in his life. They make you want him to come out on top. If you’re a wrestling fan, I’m sure you already know the outcome of the match, so please don’t spoil it in the comments. For the rest of you, you’ll just have to wait and see.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette is available via digital and on-demand August 28.

Written by Sloane Kay

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