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Lucy Walker on Comebacks … with Complications

Lucy Walker courtesy HBO

Lucy Walker has been nominated for Oscars twice for her documentaries, most recently for 2010’s “Waste Land,” and has directed and produced over a dozen feature and short films. Her newest full-length documentary, “The Crash Reel,”  is about snowboarder Kevin Pearce who was sidelined from the sport after a devastating crash. Pearce desperately wants to get back on a board – even though it could mean risking his life. We asked Ms. Walker to list some other comeback stories. They’re each a little unusual, and leave the audience wondering if coming back is always such a good idea.


Hi, my name is Lucy Walker, and I produced and directed “The Crash Reel.” The film follows a remarkable American snowboarder, Kevin Pearce. Prior to the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Kevin was considered the only rival who could touch Shaun White, the “Tiger Woods” or “Michael Phelps” of snowboarding.

Kevin really was trying to learn this new class of tricks called the double corks, and was doing extremely well until, when training one morning, a trick went just very slightly wrong and he missed his edge, landing right on his forehead.

Miraculously, Kevin did come out of his comma. He just wants to get back to snowboarding, but doctors say if he hits his head again, he could die. So it got me thinking about other complicated comebacks. I’ve got three of them that I’d love to talk about.

1. The Wrestler

Number one, I’m thinking about Darren Aronofsky’s incredible movie, “The Wrestler.” So we have over-the-hill wrestler Randy “The Ram” played by Mickey Rourke, who himself was having quite the comeback with this movie.

Randy is down on his luck, has a heart attack because of all of these steroids and all this terrible training, and the doctors say you can’t do this anymore, or you will have a heart attack and die.

And yet, he has this big 20-year anniversary match with The Ayatollah, and he’s determined to get back in shape to do that. It’s like, they shoot horses, don’t they? You’re watching this athlete, who you just wish wasn’t suffering so much. You’re not quite sure what to admire anymore.

There’s one scene I’ve never forgotten.The film has this unbelievable ending. It’s kind of like “The Sopranos” ending, but way better if you ask me. Randy goes for his signature move wherein he sort of leaps from on top, and as he does this kind of Christ-like, arms outstretched leap in mid-air — at once sort of victorious and vulnerable — we cut to the credits.

You’re just left there with this massive sort of question. It’s still reverberating for me. I must say I never stop thinking about it.

2. Anthony Wiener

So, very current right now, at least here in New York, is the Anthony Wiener complicated comeback story question mark. He was on the fast track to political glory, and then crashed all the way to the bottom. And he lied, and the whole thing was just so incredibly, vividly disappointing.

And here we are, two years later, and he is tied in first place in the polls to be the mayor of New York City. The big thing about the comeback I think that screams at me, which is very like the Kevin Pearce story, is that you’re watching him and thinking, “Is this a good idea? Hasn’t your family been through enough?” And you sort of want to shake him.

Resiliency and determination, passion, ambition. We value these things. And yet, here’s the situation that takes that hypothesis and really starts to make it wobble before our very eyes. I mean, this ambition, is it a good thing?

3. Sunset Boulevard

And for my third complicated comeback, “Sunset Boulevard,” Billy Wilder’s amazing 1950 noir. This is the story of Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson, who is a silent movie star, now aged 50, which was considered so past it, and she’s dreaming of her comeback.

I think there’s a fabulous dramatic irony in “Sunset Boulevard.” We know too much. We know that no matter how many beauty treatments she goes off and does, she’s no longer a starlet. But I guess you do, it still plays with you, it still catches you up, you’re still wondering, is it possible?

You want that dream to come through no matter how far out of reach is seems to you, it makes you very complicit as a spectator. I think that’s a very thought-provoking place to be.