Battle of the Sexes – Movie Discussion
I saw a preview of Steve Carrell as Bobby Riggs, hilariously “putting the show back in chauvinism” and Emma Stone as Billie Jean King good naturedly sassing him back—and I couldn’t wait to see it. I love true stories (as true as Hollywood makes them, anyway) and I love sports, and this looked delightful, comical and maybe even significantly moving. The second half of the movie did deliver some of what I was expecting, but the first half was an uncomfortable shock, and the overall message of the movie was not at all what was advertised. Spoiler alert—Battle of the Sexes is FAR more about lesbian rights than women’s rights. The battle of the sexes was more of a delivery method, than the actual point of the story.
There are different ways a story lets you into its main idea. Perhaps the most common way is its bookends, its beginning and ending. The first half of the movie focused on Billie Jean King’s developing relationship with her (very aggressive) hairdresser. Billie Jean was married and tried, if weakly, to turn down Marilyn’s advances, but when Marilyn made it clear she didn’t care about right and wrong , Billie Jean gave in. (Personally, I found As the pressures of tennis and the women players quest for equal pay mounted, Billie Jean was torn between her guilt over her affair (which her husband had discovered), her attraction towards Marilyn, and the need to focus on her game.
So Marilyn and Billie Jean took a break. Like many a romantic movie, the characters get together, there’s rising conflict which strains their relationship, and they take some time apart. During that time, they each grow and each realize how much they mean to each other, and then, in the closing act of the story, there is resolution. They get back together. This is exactly what happens here.
Just as the battle between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs is about to begin, Marilyn comes back to help and support a distracted Billie Jean King focus on the game. And now that Marilyn is back in her life, all is right with Billie Jean.
Billie Jean beats Bobby Riggs. It’s a big deal, but in this movie, it’s the sideshow to the real message which isn’t about women’s equal pay in sports. Ted, the girls’ clothing designer (who is gay) had been protecting and subtly helping Billie Jean in her lesbianism along the way. At the end, as he sees her eyeing Marilyn in the crowd and presumably wishing she could bring their relationship out of the shadows and celebrate publicly with her, tells her, “Times change. You should know. You just changed them. Someday we will be free to be who we are and love who we love.” That is the closing line of the movie. It’s not a celebration of women’s rights, or of equality in sports, it’s nothing about a battle between men and women as the title would suggest. It’s a line about someday being free to come out of the closet and be openly gay.
I may not agree with the point of the movie, but I understand the beauty that is American freedoms which means that I can’t really be too upset about it. Why I AM upset about, is the false advertising. The movie I saw is not the one I went to see. I felt like there was a bait and switch going on. A bait and switch that then tried to manipulate me into feeling sorry for Billie Jean and sympathetic to her situation—that focused on feelings and desire over truth and/or morality. A bait and switch that, because her husband was so unbelievably kind and supportive of her relationship with Marilyn, makes us think that she had done him no wrong in cheating on him. Not only was it a bait and switch, but it also told a very biased story, one that glorified the LGBTQ agenda.
There were a few positive things however, so let me take a minute to point out the good.
- Billie Jean King did have a great awareness of the spotlight she was in. The Bible says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. She didn’t have a Biblical understanding of this, but she did live with a sense of responsibility towards the people who were watching her.
- Billie Jean said, “I’m going to be the best, that way I can really change things. That way I can have a voice.” She recognized that in excellence there is power. If you want to have a voice, it comes with hard work.
- Bobby Riggs commented, “I’m going to be on the cover of Time magazine. Won Wimbledon three times, never got on the cover of Time.” It is sometimes surprising that the great things we do go unnoticed, and then something we deem far less, trivial even, is the thing which catapults us into recognition. I think of Chewbacca Mom, putting that mask on and laughing—who is to say what God might use in our lives to catapult us into our destiny.
- Bobby Riggs was mouthy and offensive, and yet, he wasn’t. He was a lot of showmanship and silliness but in the end, he was humble and gracious to Billie Jean as she won, telling her, “I underestimated you.” On the other hand, Jack Kramer was far more suave. He may not have made the outlandish statements that Bobby did, but he was much more egotistical and sinister in his desire to keep women in their place. For all their talk, Bobby about women being kept in their place and Jack about honoring women, Bobby was just that—talk, and Jack was just rhetoric. Billie Jean saw that. She saw that Jack was the real danger, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sometimes you have to look past what people say and look at their hearts to know the truth.
- In many ways, I don’t know what to make of Larry, Billie Jean’s husband. While I have great reservations about his support of Billie Jean’s affair with Marilyn, I do have immense respect for his kindness towards them both. Where many would have picked up a stone and commenced to throw it, he was more like Jesus, writing in the sand, patient, forgiving, gentle, kind. The one thing Jesus did, however, that we don’t see Larry do, was to say, “Go and sin no more.” Larry, in contrast, seems to say, “Go and sin some” While it is God’s kindness which leads us to repentance, He also admonishes us away from sin and toward holiness. Nevertheless, Larry’s example of humility, self-control and kindness is impressive.
Questions for Discussion:
- What would you say was the overall focus/point of the movie?
- What made Jack Kramer more dangerous than Bobby Riggs? Did you see them like Billie Jean did?
- Do you think it matters that Billie Jean was married? If she’d been having an affair with another man, would you think differently about her actions?
- What do you think about Larry and his response to his wife’s affair?