‘The Iron Claw’ Ending Explained & Movie Spoilers: Was The Von Erich Family Curse A Real Thing?

“The Sadness Will Last Forever”: The life of wrestler Kevin Von Erich could probably be described by the iconic final words of Vincent Van Gogh. Sean Darkin’s Von Erich biopic, titled The Iron Claw, is the depiction of that story, which is inarguably one of the saddest possible ones to grace cinema in recent years. My head still hurts thanks to the amount of tears the movie made me shed during its final ten minutes, which only indicates that Darkin has nailed it—and so has the cast, led by an impeccable Zac Efron as Kevin, in his career-best performance. We’re going to dissect, discuss, and attempt to find the answer to the biggest question this movie floats, regarding the existence of a curse in the ill-fated Texas-based family, and hopefully find some solace by the end of the article.


Spoilers Ahead

Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Movie?

It’s ironic that Sean Darkin’s biopic starts with Jack, aka Fritz Von Erich, saying that they’ve been through hell, but good things are waiting just around the corner for the family. Well, he can’t be blamed for being hopeful, especially after winning a wrestling match where he applies his signature “Iron Claw” move. Post-match, Fritz surprises his wife Doris with a newly rented Cadillac and a conversation about moving to a real house, a much-needed upgrade from their current residence, an RV. Fritz sees it as the stepping stone to becoming a wrestling superstar, where the pinnacle is to become the World Heavyweight Champion one day.


What Was The First Von Erich Tragedy?

The first Von Erichdeath took place way back in 1959, when Fritz’s oldest son, Jack Jr., died in a horrific accident at the age of six. That was twenty years before the film’s actual timeline, which begins in 1979, with the second-oldest Kevin at the center. Now a young man in his twenties, Kevin is his father’s greatest hope to bring the World Heavyweight Championship belt home—a dream that Fritz failed to fulfill. Kevin is loving, loyal, and dutiful, and he would do anything to make his father happy. He’s probably the only person in the family who cares about his younger brother Michael’s musical dream. Sadly, though, he remains his father’s second favorite, as Fritz never misses a chance to let everyone know about his favoritism for Kerry, the third-born. Kerry is an upcoming Olympian, a promising discus thrower who can’t wait to win the world and bring his family some international glory.

The fourth-born Von Erich, David, is a confident young man who soon shows his impeccable ability to hold the audience with his performance both inside the ring and with the microphone at his debut wrestling game, a tag-team match that he plays (and wins) with his brother Kevin. After the match, Kevin gets asked out by a woman named Pam, who seems to be very much into him. In fact, we get to know about Jack Jr. and the infamous family curse thanks to Pam, who believes Kevin has the protective older brother syndrome, but he corrects her by mentioning Jack Jr., which makes him the second-oldest. Kevin also jokingly talks about the curse, which apparently started with Fritz taking the “Von Erich” surname, the maiden name of his mother, whose family suffered from a series of tragedies. 


In a fight against current heavyweight champion Harley Race, which would pretty much determine his contention as a challenger, Kevin gets heavily thrashed but still wins due to Race getting disqualified. Fritz seems visibly displeased with Kevin’s effort, but seeing David verbally give it back to Race after the match, he gets delighted.

Why Did Kerry Come Back Home?

Even though we’ve been hearing about him from the very beginning, Jeremy Allen White’s Kerry Von Erich appears much later in the film. Thanks to US President Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the Olympics to protest against the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union, Kerry finds his career in track and field hanging in the balance. He has no other option but to get back to home, where he receives a warm welcome from his family. Fritz soon asks Kerry to join his brothers in the ring, and he seems to be more than happy to oblige. 


How Did David Die?

With Kerry in the fold now, the three brothers soon become one unstoppable team of wrestlers, and we get to witness how great they are when the trio successfully beats the very famous Fabulous Freebirds and wins the tag-team championship title. Even though Kevin was Fritz’s original choice to have a go at the prestigious world championship, it was only a matter of time before David replaced his older brother, which happened right after the tag-team championship. This disappoints Kevin, even though he’s unsure whether he actually wants to have a wrestling career or not. But instead of having any malice, Kevin freely expresses his thoughts to his brother on the day of his wedding with Pam. He also seems to be worried about David pushing himself too hard to fulfill their father’s dream. David reassures him by telling him he has only caught some bugs, but soon it is proven that Kevin was right after all. David Von Erich dies in Japan, succumbing to a burst intestine. The death felt like a gut punch to us, even though we only got to hear about it.

Who Takes Up The Challenge To Compete For The World Championship?

With David gone, Fritz becomes more obsessive about the World Championship title, and seeing their dear father in such pain, both Kevin and Kerry express their desire to take the place of their deceased brother. Fritz picks Kerry through a coin toss, but it turns out to be a great decision as Kerry goes on to win the World Championship by beating defending champion Ric Flair. But, like what always happens to this family, he soon suffers a freak motorcycle accident that takes away his right foot.


What Happens To Michael?

My heart goes out to Michael Von Erich, who probably could have had a very different (and longer) life if only his parents were supportive of his musical dream! But he was doomed the moment he was born as a Von Erich. It’s not that his family didn’t love him, but nobody ever dared to go against Fritz to let Mike pursue his own dream. We do see Mike relatively happy and carefree early on, when he’s still playing the guitar and also cheering for his brothers in the wrestling arena. His pro-wrestler brothers also love Mike so much that they wouldn’t hesitate to help Mike sneak out of the house at night to play at a concert, against their parents’ wishes.

Mike was not allowed to go after what he wanted, but until Kerry’s accident, he could at least live in the shadows. But now that Kerry can’t go in the ring, Fritz puts his younger son in the guillotine. Kevin doesn’t seem to be okay with it, even though he’s training Mike. But he still doesn’t have the courage to go against his father. Mike pays for that dearly by getting heavily injured at a match, which lands him in a coma. He does recover, but Fritz is still hellbent on getting him back in that ring. Seeing there’s no way out for him in this life, Mike chooses to end things on his own.


Why Did Kerry Von Erich Kill Himself?

Talk about Jeremy Allen White finding himself in dysfunctional family dynamics! It’s really sad how Kerry was the only one who actually went out of the sport of wrestling and was succeeding in a whole different field, only to get his dream cut short through no fault of his own. Kerry Von Erich still went on to win accolades, this time with wrestling, but that was not enough for him. The accident not only took away his right foot; it took his will to live as well. Kerry still tried his best, and with the help of many painkillers and his indomitable spirit, he got himself back into the ring, this time with WWF. He finds success here as well, and to please his always-demanding father, Kerry presents Fritz with a new gun. But he takes it to heart when Fritz decides not to fire it right away. To my understanding, this was a dealbreaker for Kerry because it kind of meant his father didn’t really appreciate him anymore. That and the unbearable weight of life could only lead to taking his own life with the same gun. Kerry Von Erich died believing in the power of their family curse, as he confessed to his brother Kevin on their last phone call. The tragedy led his mom to drop the household chores and spend the rest of her life painting—something that she always used to love doing.

How Much Of The Story Is True?

For those who already knew about the Von Erichs, the omission of Chris Von Erich, the youngest Von Erich brother who also committed suicide, might come as both a surprise and a disappointment. But Sean Darkin has explained in many interviews that it was becoming way too much for the film to bear. It’s a rare example of fiction trying to reverse-sensationalize the facts because the actual story is so unbearably sad. But other than the notable exclusion of Chris Von Erich, The Iron Claw happens to be a very faithful adaptation and shows the events exactly as they happened.


Was The Von Erich Family Curse A Real Thing?

In a very recent interview, Kevin Von Erich has clearly stated that he doesn’t believe in any curse. Yet, the man now mostly uses their original family name, Adkisson. There’s a scene in The Iron Claw where Kevin registers the name of his second child’s as Ross Adkisson. His wife, Pam, does try to reassure him that there’s no curse in that “Von Erich” name, but after losing three of his brothers already, Kevin doesn’t want to take the risk. The thing about curses is that there can’t be any plausible explanation behind them. Not to mention, there’s a severe lack of rationality here, and The Iron Claw never ever tries to hinge on a supernatural angle, which would have been ludicrous anyway.

But that doesn’t mean there was no curse in the family. Just that it was not in the name but was in the patriarch of the family, Fritz Von Erich, and the toxicity he kept spreading. In fact, I would go the distance of saying that Darkin’s film should be used as an example of “terrible parenting 101,”  thanks to both Fritz and Doris. While Fritz never stopped his extremities that essentially took the lives of his three sons (five, if you also consider Jack Jr. and Chris), Doris made herself unavailable by concentrating way too much on Christianity. Very early on in the film, Kevin tries to have a conversation with his mother regarding Fritz bullying Mike way too much, but all he gets is her dismissal in return.


If anyone could have saved the fallen brothers, then it was Kevin. Throughout the film, we see the compassionate side of the man. Considering how he was brought up, his undying love for his parents, especially the father, is understandable. But as the story progresses to the harrowing climax, Kevin does start to see the problem. I do believe his wife played an instrumental role here, although we don’t get to see much of Lily James’ Pam in the movie. All Kevin had ever tried was to protect his brothers, his wife, and his kids, but what he failed to accept was that the enemy was his own father, Fritz. His attempt to distance himself from his wife and kids was also motivated by the fear of losing them due to the curse. The deaths took a huge toll on him. Wrestling lost all its importance to Kevin as we see him going berserk on Ric Flair in what should be considered his final shot at the World Championship title. Kevin was drawing his “iron claw” on Ric, but we know for a fact that his opponent was not his real target. 

But the Ric Flair incident also sort of led Kevin to find the courage to let pro wrestling go and focus on his family. The final nail in the coffin was Kerry’s death, the only one we actually got to witness. And the very physical showdown between Kevin and Fritz Von Erich was both heartbreaking and cathartic at the same time. After that, The Iron Claw was all about embracing the sadness. The dream sequence, where Kevin envisions all his dead brothers, including Jack Jr., meeting in the afterlife, all smiling and happy, is particularly impressive because this is where we realize what Kevin has lost. And that only gets further intense when The Iron Claw leaves us with a weeping Kevin, apologizing to his sons for not being able to hold back his tears and his sons telling him that there is no harm in crying. This only proves that Kevin Von Erich was not lucky enough to have a good father, but he made sure that he became one.


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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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