There was a trend on TikTok that went viral during the latter half of 2023 where women would ask men in their lives how often they thought about the Roman Empire. The answers shocked me as someone who never thinks about the Roman Empire. Some even said multiple times per day.

Since December 26, 2023, I have thought about the Von Erich family almost every day.

I am not a wrestling fan and I knew nothing about the family until I saw the movie The Iron Claw. As my girlfriend has put it, it has quickly become my Roman Empire.

(This is the point of no return. If you do not know anything about the Von Erichs and want to spare yourself, stop reading now!)

I first watched the trailer for the movie about a month before it came out. I’ve enjoyed nearly every A24 movie I’ve seen, and the trailer was interesting enough that I bookmarked it in my brain to watch. It looked like it would be a movie about a successful family overcoming a tragedy.

I was not prepared.

I went to Grand Rapids for Christmas, and while my girlfriend went out with some of her high school friends, I watched The Iron Claw with her dad.

For the first hour, everything went exactly as expected. A wrestling family consisting of four sons with a close bond works to become the best in the business with the help of their father, a former wrestler. I waited for the tragedy to happen and around the hour mark of this two-hour film, David, the second-oldest brother, tragically dies.

“Alright,” I think to myself, “Now we’ll see how this family overcomes this tragedy.”

They don’t.

Fifteen minutes later, Kerry, a brother who didn’t even show up until the forty-minute mark, loses his leg in a motorcycle accident right after winning the World Heavyweight Champion Belt, an achievement elusive to their father.

The youngest brother, Mike, gets into wrestling to try and fill the void after David’s death. He injures his shoulder, goes into a coma during surgery, suffers brain damage, and then commits suicide after not feeling like he can fill David’s shoes.

Kerry gets back into the ring, but the pain of hiding his prosthetic leg and the disappointment over his career drives him to suicide. 

The oldest brother, Kevin, who states at the beginning of the movie that his goal in life is to spend more time with his brothers, arrives at the family ranch just in time to hear the gunshot that takes Kerry’s life. Kevin lunges at his father, who he called to check on Kerry, that he told his father to take care of his brother.

His father coolly responds, “He called you last.”

Kevin takes his brother into the house, and the movie transitions to Kerry, in the afterlife, meeting up with his brothers, including meeting the oldest brother, Jack, who died before Kerry was born.

The movie ends with Kevin watching his two sons play in the yard, sobbing. When his sons ask him what’s wrong, he replies, “I used to be a brother, and now I’m not one anymore.”

I left the theater devastated, and yet somehow it got even worse.

When I got back from the theater and looked up the family, I found out that the Von Erichs actually had six sons, not five as portrayed in the movie. The producers of the film felt the audience wouldn’t be able to stomach another death and left out Chris Von Erich.

Since watching the movie, I haven’t been able to get the final line out of my head. I’ve watched a documentary on the family, read articles, and even rewatched the movie with my girlfriend so I didn’t have to keep processing the movie with her. 

There have been days where I have avoided thinking of the movie and the family, only to run into something from the movie on Twitter, like when Kerry says, “Tonight, I walk with my brothers,” and spiral down the rabbit hole again.

Despite thinking about this movie and family consistently for nearly two months, I’m still not entirely sure why it’s hit me the way it has. Is it because the movie was based on a true story and the real story was somehow even more tragic? Was it because I went into the movie blind?

One comment on a post I came across pointed out that they wished there were more movies like The Iron Claw. Not necessarily movies that wreck you emotionally, but movies that make you feel. 

I watched a lot of movies in the last year thanks to Alamo Drafthouse’s Season Pass. I’ve watched a lot of incredible movies (The Holdovers, Past Lives, Oppenheimer, The Boy and the Heron), some really good movies (American Fiction, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, Barbie), and some outright bad movies (Madame Web), but none of them made me feel the way The Iron Claw has. 

I don’t know if I’d highly recommend the movie, just because of how crushing it is, but if you want a movie that makes you feel, this might be the one for you.


  1. Jim Barbee

    Good article Mitchell! I need to see this.

    • Woody Cain

      I had been interested but now not sure I want that much misery all at once. I agree that too many films are paint-by-numbers and protect the stars at all costs.
      I also can’t deal with the ones where the dog gets killed.

  2. Riley K

    I have felt the exact same way since watching The Iron Claw mid February. I’ve watched it multiple times and encouraged friends to watch it so I have someone to discuss it with. I have no idea why this movie, or the Von Erich’s, have become my Roman Empire but I just assumed it was because I felt inspired by Kevin and his resilience. That being said, I think that you’re right. This movie made me FEEL a lot of emotions and very deeply. Thank you for writing an article that made me feel a little less bonkers!

  3. R. Schneider

    I just finished watching the movie, and found your article after the fact. Your analysis is great, but I was absolutely destroyed by this movie. I lost my brother last year, and this movie shows that pain. I’d never consider it entertainment, but the story is powerful and important.


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