Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for The Iron Claw. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is The Iron Claw about?
The Iron Claw uses the true, tragic story of the Von Erich family to explore a topic similar to Everything Everywhere All At Once: generational trauma. It uses the lens of toxic parenting and the spirit-poisoning that results when you live your life to satisfy someone else rather than being true to yourself. It can feel like a curse. So how does one live with that? Survive it? Overcome it? The film serves as a memorial for the Von Erichs who are no longer with us, gratitude to those who are, and, for the rest of us, as a blueprint for moving forward.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Kevin Von Erich – Zac Efron
- David Von Erich – Harris Dickinson
- Kerry Von Erich – Jeremy Allen White
- Mike Von Erich – Stanley Simons
- Fritz Von Erich/Jack Adkisson – Holt McCallany
- Doris Von Erich – Maura Tierney
- Pam Adkisson – Lily James
- Bill Mercer – Michael J. Harney
- Ric Flair – Aaron Dean Eisenberg
- Harley Race – Kevin Anton
- Lance Von Erich – Maxwell Jacob Friedman
- Bruiser Body – Cazzey Louis Cereghino
- Gino Hernandez – Ryan Nemeth
- The Sheik – Chavo Guerrero Jr.
- Written by – Sean Durkin
- Directed by – Sean Durkin
The ending of The Iron Claw explained
The end of The Iron Claw begins with Kevin Von Erich in the backyard of his house, sitting in the grass. His wife, Pam, gardens. While his two sons play with a football. It’s peaceful, joyful. Kevin begins to cry. His kids run over, notice the tears, and ask what’s wrong. Kevin says “A man shouldn’t cry.” His sons say that’s ridiculous, that everyone can cry, that they cry all the time. Kevin then explains “I used to be a brother.” Once again, his sons provide comfort. They say “We’ll be your brothers, Dad.” [I’m crying again as I type this].
The ending brings us somewhat full-circle. Iron Claw opened with Kevin as a child, bearing witness to his father’s emotions. Having finished a wrestling match, Jack greats his family with charm and joy. But it quickly devolves. The scene ends with an angry rant that climaxes with that thesis statement that if you are the toughest, the strongest, then nothing can ever hurt you. Underscoring Jack’s volatility is the Cadillac he rented. Even though it’s outside of the family’s budget, he does it because he believes if he lives like a champion then he’ll become champion. Living the gimmick, as it’s known in the world of professional wrestling.
At the end, Kevin’s the parent. His children are about the age he was in that opening scene. And we see how differently he handles his emotions compared to his father. Jack was tyrannical. Closed off. Negative. Overbearing. Kevin is open. Thoughtful. He makes room for his children. Contrasting Jack’s purchase of the Cadillac in order to improve his wrestling career (at the expense of his family) is Kevin’s selling of the WCCW in order to afford a house for his.
The interaction we see between Kevin and the kids contains the film’s ultimate point. Kevin initially says a man shouldn’t cry. That’s something you know his father said. But his kids reject that premise. They encourage him to emote. There’s nothing wrong with it. If Kevin had continued to live under his father’s rules then he would have kept his emotions buried in his heart until they evolved into something far more terrible. Instead, he moves past that and opens up to his sons. He’s sad because he was a brother and now he’s not. Expressing that out loud creates the opportunity for his kids to provide comfort. Which they do.
Jack and Doris never let anyone express themselves. Not truly. Mike wanted to play music. His father made him a wrestler. David was beat down from being on the road so much. He needed a break. But he wouldn’t take one because Jack raised him to be the toughest, the strongest. It’s the same with Kerry. We barely know anything about how he’s feeling, aside from simply wanting to please his dad, no matter what. It seems he’s desperate to wrestle, despite his injury, despite his unhappiness, because it’s what his dad wants.
You have multiple scenes where Kevin tries to get Doris and Jack to talk about emotional tensions within their family. Both deny him. For Doris, we see this in the arc with her painting. She was an artist. Married Jack. Stopped painting. The denial of her own emotional side coincides with her denial of her sons. But after David, Mike, and Kerry pass, she returns to her emotional side, to painting. That return isn’t one-dimensional, either. Jack walks in and asks where dinner is. Doris says she didn’t make anything because she wasn’t hungry. So rediscovering painting becomes a rediscovery of her own independence via a rejection of Jack’s role as patriarch. If only she had been able to do that sooner and been there for her children, maybe things would have been different.
So Jack and Doris would not let their kids help them. Which limited their children. Kevin “breaks the curse” by embracing his family.
To put it in simpler terms, Jack was a closed fist. And he crushed his family. Kevin reaches a point where he too starts to close on himself and those he loves. That’s what generational trauma is. A repetition. But, thankfully, he chooses to open up and it makes all the difference. That’s not to say it’s easy. Just that it’s possible. And worthwhile.
The themes and meaning of The Iron Claw
Being tough and strong can backfire
Multiple times throughout Iron Claw, we’re reminded of Jack’s mantra that if you’re the toughest, the strongest, then nothing can hurt you. But we see how that absolutely isn’t the case. In fact, it can create an environment that leads to self-destruction. The stronger and tougher you pretend to be, the more fragile you become.
The movie doesn’t dive into the death of Jack Junior. It’s just briefly mentioned by Kevin on his first date with Pam. But you can imagine the unspoken grief Jack had. In an episode of Dark Side of the Ring, the real Kevin mentioned how his dad changed following the loss. How angry and volatile he became. Instead of processing his emotions, Jack buried them. And the result was keeping the rest of his children at a distance. Never showing the love they needed. And, as a consequence, never receiving the love he needed in return. Which is exactly why the final scene between Kevin and his sons is so important and powerful.
The Von Erich Curse
The curse comes up throughout Iron Claw. But the origin isn’t given all that much explanation. In reality, the Von Erich name originated when Jack Adkisson started performing as an “evil German” character called Fritz Von Erich. In other words—he was a Nazi. Wrestling had many heel characters like this. So it wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary. But we’re talking the 1950s. World War II had only ended in 1945. So it’s easy to argue that the gimmick was in poor taste and would draw legitimate heat from audiences. Especially with how many people still believed kayfabe (that wrestling was real).
From a Washington Post article: One legend, retold in Shoemaker’s book [The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling], claims that a man appeared at Von Erich’s dressing room after a match in Chicago, chiding him for his offensive act. The man rolled up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo, inked by actual Nazis at a World War II concentration camp, and said that he had lost all seven of his sons in death camps. “He said ominously that he sincerely hoped that nothing like that would ever happen to Friz,” Shoemaker writes. It may be a tall tale, but it followed Adkisson even after he retired from the ring…
The true curse, at least in the movie, was an inability to communicate. Specifically because of Jack’s parenting. He had the entire family in an emotional iron claw.
Why is the movie called The Iron Claw?
It was the name of Jack’s finishing move when he wrestled as Fritz Von Erich. A move that the sons used as well. That’s obvious. But why make it the title?
The move involves clutching the opponent by the skull with one hand and squeezing on the temples and forehead with all your might. It’s a submission hold. Meaning that it causes intensifying pain over time and eventually forces the opponent to tap out.
You can see the metaphor there, right? The title refers to the atmosphere created by Jack. The move he used in the ring was fake but he kept his children in a vice grip that was all too real. The pressure was constant and unrelenting.
And the metaphor extends beyond Jack to grief in general. Grief is a submission hold. One we struggle to break free from. Once Jack Junior passed, Jack had a pretty common grief-response—he kept the rest of his children at a distance. And once David passed, Kevin, Mike, and Kerry struggled to live with their grief. That struggle became impossible after their own injuries changed the fundamentals of who they were. Mike could no longer play music. Kerry was a ghost of his former athletic self. Before his death, he says to Kevin, on that last phone call, “It’s in me now. It’s got a hold of me.” He’s referring to the curse. But actually referring to the intensity of his grief and depression.
So the title frames the movie as more than being about the Von Erichs. It’s about this painful thing we all deal with in some capacity. The griefs. The burdens. That is the iron claw. Thankfully, it’s not all tragedy. The film ends with a hypothesis of how to break the hold and move forward. It starts with not bottling everything up. With realizing that sometimes the toughest and strongest thing to do is be vulnerable.
Important motifs in The Iron Claw
Wrestling is both a blessing and a curse in Iron Claw. It gives the Von Erichs much of what they have in life. Their home. Their name. It’s how Kevin meets Pam. It’s ultimately how Kevin affords a home for his family. But it’s also a burden. Jack forces his kids into the business. Whether they want to wrestle or not. They’re trapped in this sport that wears them away until nothing’s left.
In reality, David, Kerry, and Mike had partners and children. But the movie ignores that? Why? There’s the practical answer—it’s more efficient. But there’s also a thematic answer—it sets up a contrast between Kevin and his brothers. The three who don’t find love and don’t start a family never escape the demands of their father. They have no one else to live for or lean on or go home to. Kevin does. And it makes all the difference.
So we get this dynamic examination of how family can be both the source of damnation and salvation.
Questions & answers about The Iron Claw
How much of The Iron Claw is a true story?
A lot of it. But like with most biopics, it takes a lot of liberties. For example, there was a fifth brother. Chris Von Erich. Who also wrestled. Who also committed suicide. But the movie cut him and used parts of his story for Mike and Kerry. Also, David, Mike, and Kerry all had marriages and kids. So things like that get discarded in order to focus the story.
Also, some small things. Like Kerry won the NWA title in 1984 then lost it soon after in a rematch with Ric Flair. His motorcycle accident wasn’t until 1986. Mike started wrestling in 1983. His shoulder injury was in 1985. He did suffer toxic shock, after surgery, that resulted in brain damage. But he returned to wrestling in 1987. He even went to Japan and wrestled in Tokyo like David.
And it’s never made clear, but when Kerry wrestled in WWE (WWF at the time) as the Texas Tornado, he hid his foot amputation. Meaning the public never knew he was missing a foot. The rumor is he would shower with his boots on so wrestlers in the locker room didn’t find out. He spent nearly half a decade wrestling full-time, with a prosthetic foot, and most people never knew. Obviously some found out. There was even a match in the AWA where the foot came off. So not a total secret. But mostly unknown. That’s pretty incredible. But the film doesn’t really communicate all of that.
It also skims over legal issues that seemed to spur Mike and Kerry to take their own lives. Mike had a DUI less than a week before. Kerry was initially arrested for forging prescriptions, released on probation, then caught with prescription drugs. He would have gone to jail. WWF actually released him because of the first arrest.
What was the vision of Kerry meeting David, Mike, and Jack Junior in the afterlife?
This scene can be a bit strange at first. 99% of The Iron Claw is realistic. Then suddenly we’re in this vision of the afterlife. Which can come off as a pretty big religious statement. One that some might argue glorifies the choices made by Mike and Kery.
But look at what bookends the moment.
Kevin has picked Kerry’s body up from the tree outside the house and brought it into the house. We see him lay Kerry down on the kitchen table. Then the vision happens. Then we return to Kevin looking at Kerry’s body on the table.
That seems to imply it’s Kevin thinking about Kerry going into the afterlife and the reunion between all of the brothers. As opposed to the film objectively stating that Kerry went to the afterlife and reunited with his brothers.
Was Jack stealing money from his kids?
Near the end of the movie, there’s a conversation between Kevin and Jack about selling WCCW. Kevin says he’s been through the books and that they say he, Kevin, made a lot more money than he actually did. Jack then says something about how the housing he and Doris provided wasn’t free.
The implication there is that Jack was essentially stealing from his kids. So maybe Kevin was supposed to make $50,000 in a year. But Jack would take a large amount of that for himself. Instead of being a father providing a home for his son, he treated it as a landlord/tenant situation. The housing. The food. Probably acting as the booking manager for the boys.
There’s an uglier implication here. It’s not just that Jack was stealing from his sons. It’s that you have to wonder if he made David, Kerry, and Mike wrestle in order to steal from them as well. If that were the case, Jack becomes a far more evil figure than he initially seems.
Why wasn’t Kevin going home? Why was he sleeping on the floor?
At a certain point, he starts to believe in the Von Erich curse. So much so that he fears passing it onto his son. So, for a while, Kevin distances himself from Pam. But he also is sick of his mom and dad and doesn’t want to go back to their house. It’s also probably hard to go back there when he has so many memories of his brothers. That’s why he goes and sleeps on the floor of the Sportatorium.
Why did Kevin throw the match against Ric Flair?
During a match with Ric Flair, Kevin clamps on the iron claw move and won’t let go. It’s off-script. It goes on so long and is so intense that the ref finally has to call the match, disqualifying Kevin. The moment is important for two reasons.
It’s symbolic of Kevin rebelling against his father. The match with Flair was a potential stepping stone to something larger. Since Flair was the current NWA champion, there was the hope that Kevin could have a longer feud that would result in a title reign. By throwing the match, Kevin essentially torched his chance at the title. Except Ric Flair was into it and offered to have Kevin feud with him anyway. An offer that Kevin turned down because he was finally realizing that he doesn’t need or want the title. It was his father’s dream. Not his.
It’s also Kevin coming face to face with the idea of the metaphoric “iron claw” that his father has locked on the family. He becomes, for those few minutes, like his dad. And hates it. That’s not who he wants to be. Or is. It’s essentially his rock bottom. And coming out of that he realizes how much he wants to be the kind of husband and father his own dad couldn’t.
What role did MJF play?
Maxwell Jacob Friedman is, at the time of writing this, the AEW World Champion. He was an executive producer on the film and actually appeared briefly as a Von Erich cousin. He has on a pretty ridiculous blonde wig, so it’s hard to tell it’s MJF. But that was MJF.
Did WCCW become WCW?
Despite the similar lettering, the two promotions aren’t connected. World Championship Wrestling was an Australian promotion out of Melbourne. The guy who owned it, Jim Barnett, ended up expanding to America by becoming the owner of Georgia Championship Wrestling. When they got a TV deal in 1982, instead of calling it GCW, they used Barnett’s WCW.
World Class Championship Wrestling is very, very similar. Drop the “Class” and you have World Championship Wrestling. However, when the promotion first started it was Big Time Wrestling. It wasn’t until 1982 that it became World Class. The same year that Barnett brought WCW to Georgia. That is some parallel thinking.
Was Kerry actually going to go to the Olympics?
It’s talked about but I haven’t found a lot of details. Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer wrote an obituary for Kerry in 1993. He mentioned that Kerry “was a high school football star and, like his father, threw the discus. Kerry was both state and junior national champion as a senior in high school, setting a small high school state record that stood for more than a decade. He received a football and track scholarship to the University of Houston. But, like his brothers, he only lasted one year in college before pro wrestling came calling. He red-shirted in football, but starred in track, including winning at the discus in the Texas Relays.”
There are random mentions of him training for the Olympics. But nothing beyond that.
Kerry used the Discus Punch as his finishing move.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about The Iron Claw? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!