I am definitely not the person to write about domestic abuse (other than to oppose it), homosexual issues in the sporting world, women’s boxing, problems with anger, or long-term trauma. But if you’re interested in any of those topics, you’ll want to take a look at the latest episode of the Netflix series Untold: Deal with the Devil. In this episode we see the boxing career and abusive marriage of Christy Martin.
As with the previous episode in this documentary series (reviewed here), rather than a full-blown biopic what we get is a hyper-focused look at one or two things. In this case, we are told the story of how Christy Martin became a professional boxer, married her trainer, rose to international fame, and then was nearly killed by her husband/trainer–barely escaping with her life.
Again, there’s a lot here that I’m not competent to discuss (not that incompetence usually stops me from discussing things…). But at least one thing that is of interest to the Christian viewer runs underneath this episode: how important repentance is to everyday life. I don’t even mean “repentance” in the sense that we Christians usually mean it–as a part of embracing the Gospel. I mean the common, everyday “repentance” that involves admitting we were wrong, experiencing a sense of remorse over our actions, and asking forgiveness of the individual whom we have wronged. To be sure this is a core component of the Christian Gospel, but it’s also something that we do regularly in our lives whether we are believers or not. (Or at least, it’s something we should do regularly–I’m aware of the gap between “do” and “should do” in my own life.) Such repentance is the mortar that makes genuine reconciliation work and helps our social bonds remain strong. It is also a sign of maturity and moral growth, and evidence that there can be hope for anyone on either side of an evil.
In 77 minutes of seeing people genuinely wrong each other in ways both mundane and extraordinary, not once do we see anyone come even close to admitting to being in the wrong because of their own choice or action in a way that requires admission of guilt and repentance.* Without even getting into the weeds of who was wrong about what (and it may very well be that some of the wrongs committed against Christy Martin were so great that even genuine repentance may not have met with forgiveness), Deal with the Devil is a grim tale of fractured lives and relationships. That someone can sit (in prison no less!) with apparently no awareness that remorse might be a legitimate emotional response and repentance a legitimate action to pursue is worth reflection not just by Christians (though perhaps especially by us), but by society as a whole.
As with Malice at the Palace, the unusual focus and cadence of this documentary is both striking and, if it continues to land effectively, will result in a style of filmmaking that brings a different view to non-fiction movies. I’m still going to reserve judgment on whether it works, particularly given how dark this story is. But it’s worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.
Also as with Malice at the Palace, Deal with the Devil is worth watching. But, you know, be aware that you’re not watching something full of sunshine and puppies.
*An important disclaimer here: I assume that there was some repentance on the part of Christy Martin’s parents, who had originally sided with her husband and who at the end of the documentary seem to be reconciled with her. But even that is left for us to fill in the gap on our own rather than being explicitly stated.