Under Further Review: Slaying the Badger

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The success of Richard Moore’s 2011 book, Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France, inspired John Dower’s documentary Slaying the Badger. I have not read the book, but the titles of these two works suggest they are fairly similar. The story is about two legends in the cycling world of the 1980s: Bernard “The Badger” Hinault, French cycling’s Hannibal, and Greg “L’Américain” LeMond, the Luke Skywalker of American cycling. From the beginning we see that these two teammates are bound for conflict. But which one will be roadkill? Bernard the Badger is a gifted French kickass, and Greg is a very different kind of ass, who is seduced by the Badger into a prison of competitive cycling and cheese-like body odor: France. After joining one of the most competitive bike gangs, La Vie Claire (French for “The Vie Claire”), a doe-eyed Greg runs head first, along with his newlywed wife, Kathy, into a professional cycling world that is essentially the French Mafia, led by Le Badger. The impressive young Skywalker learns how to speak French, and maintains an American-style relationship with his wife on the bike path to glory.

You learn more about cycling than one would care to know if one did not want to know anything about cycling to begin with. Why, then, did I see this film, you ask? Only the man upstairs, God, knows. But, despite my recalcitrant attitude, I was delighted happy fun times yays! No, no, not really, but I was not disappointed in any time poorly spent. It’s a decent film if you want to learn something about the history and culture of the Tour de France in 77 minutes. Who knew Lance Armstrong wasn’t wearing yellow as a fashion statement? Apparently wearing a yellow jersey means you are leading the race! Who knew politics could permeate something so trivial as riding a bike up a mountain and then down it? The constant debate about when to “attack” the other racers is a quarrelsome quarrel amongst all those reminiscing about the time of The Badger.

As the film progresses, the “Slaying” of “The Badger” is something that becomes desired both figuratively and literally, as Greg is wrongfully mauled by his Badger friend over and over again – it is, as the French would say, “nothing personal.” Although there are moments when the two seem happy and in love, it takes only moments for the milk to turn sour and divorce papers to be signed. LeMond’s actual wife has to learn to live with the fact that her husband has a knife sticking out of his back; many tears are shed by both of them. How they dealt with this isn’t really discussed, but I suspect they collected their tears in large jugs, and Greg consumed them before racetime to balance his electrolytes.

LeMond (left) and Hinault, in 1986

LeMond (left) and Hinault, 1986

Highlights to look for include snarky remarks about the folly of Lance Armstrong, and watching The Badger fall off a cliff. My only qualm relates to the excessive footage of men on bicycles. I’m not sure if anything can be done about this, given the subject matter of the film, but if some edits can be made before the worldwide release, I would be ecstatic!

You get an understanding of what it means to be a badger, what it means to live with a badger, and what it takes to slay a badger. It’s a very emotional process, especially when you are in a bike race with one. I’m not going to ruin the ending for you, but I can tell you that the titular event does not end with a perfect happy rainbow – it’s more like a crooked double rainbow with specks of fortune and misfortune. In other words, it is a beautiful ending, but it’s kind of ambivalent, because some crazy things happen after LeMond finally wins the Tour de France. He is never given an easy time. His life is an uphill race in which he is constantly being thrown curveballs. LeMond has lived with lead in his heart for decades after a hunting mishap, and he sports a stylish back brace in the interview footage due to a recent car accident.

The film successfully immerses you into the cycling culture of the time. If you know nothing about cycling history or the characters in it, this film will allow you to discover a new world, and if you know everything, you will be served a delicious badger filet with a side of coleslaw. However, I’m not recommending this film to everyone. It’s a film that takes time, patience, and an open mind – like most documentaries do. But if you stick with it, like Greg does, you will slay this badger of a film.

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