Slamdance Review: Sympathetic And Unflinching Documentary ‘The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake’

Slamdance Review: Sympathetic And Unflinching Documentary 'The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake'
Slamdance Review: Sympathetic And Unflinching Documentary 'The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake'

In the world of wrestling, there were few figures like Jake “The Snake” Roberts. While the athletes around him tended to have outsized personalities, flashy costumes, and could turn trash talk into a gourmet meal of insults, Jake “The Snake” approached his game from a whole different angle. Where others were outward, he was inward, when others shouted, he almost whispered, and before a fight, if competitors flexed their biceps, Jake “The Snake” used the muscles in his mind to psych out the opposition. He was a champion of distinct charisma, a fearsome opponent who could match any foe in the ring, and if they got in the clutches of his signature DDT finishing move, there was no chance they were getting up off the mat. He still remains one of the sport’s most popular figures, and to any casual observer, not only seeing him on TV, but spun off into countless toys and video games, the 59-year-old wrestler is at an age where he should be comfortably retired. But that’s far from the case, and “The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake Roberts” is a sympathetic, often unflinching look at Jake’s battle overcome his biggest opponent yet: himself.

When the documentary opens, Jake is a shadow of his former self. Disheveled, bloated to over 300 pounds, and living in a run down house that would kindly be called modest, none of the magnetism of his professional days is to be found, nor the physicality. Years of alcohol and drug addiction have ravaged his body, which has already been beaten up by his years in the ring. Isolated from his children and family, and with no prospects or future ahead, Jake has all but given up until someone he once reached out to, reaches back. Diamond Dallas Page, one of wrestling’s biggest stars, found early support in his career from Jake, and since he’s left his regular gig in the ring, he’s taken a surprising new path in life. He’s the founder of DDP Yoga, which combines yoga, traditional fitness, sports therapy, and dynamic resistance into a system that helps people lose weight, regain mobility, and ultimately take back control of their lives. While that sounds like a lot of marketing spin, and it’s understandable why ‘The Resurrection’ could be mistaken for a 90-minute informercial for DDP’s business, the documentary is much more.

Directed by Steve Yu, who also works at DDP Yoga, ‘The Resurrection’ actually tells three stories: it chronicles the personal, physical and professional recovery of Jake “The Snake”; details the wrestler’s rollercoaster battle with addiction; and the strain his friendship with Dallas faces in the process of dealing with first two. When Dallas calls his DDP Yoga retreat (of sorts), that Jake moves into, the “Accountability Crib,” he takes it seriously. Dallas doesn’t judge the behavior of Jake, which includes more than a couple times falling off the wagon, and lapsing back into bad habits, but he does want his mentor to at least take responsibility and own up to his mistakes when they happen. It’s not exactly surprising that an addict might try to rationalize or even deny his behavior, and watching Dallas and Jake try to balance their personal relationship, while the former tries to instill discipline, and the latter aims to treat his pal with the respect he deserves, is fascinating stuff.

While the material might be the substance of a handful of reality shows you could easily watch on television, there is only one Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and his story matches the epic highs and lows of his life. The son of a wrestler, he was sexually and physically abused as a child, but forever carried with him the desire to please his father, who never passed along a kind word. And so he entered the ring, where he vowed to be better than his father (which he accomplished), and be all the things as a parent and man that his dad never was. On that point, Jake failed, fathering several children, but with life on the road, coupled with out-of-the-ring excesses, he pushed everyone away and slowly fell into moral and financial decline, all while his achievements became erased by “TMZ”-worthy behavior. Jake is a broken man when we meet him at the beginning of ‘The Resurrection,’ and the true accomplishment of the documentary is that it doesn’t try to sell a false narrative of complete redemption. Rather, we see the real Jake, who only very late in the documentary, comes to realize that addiction is a problem he will have to wake up and fight every day. It’s an astonishing moment, if only because it’s just then you realize that he perhaps didn’t realize the real depths of his disease.

Concerns over exploitation also linger, and it’s a particularly sensitive issue especially given the mini controversy around the 1999 doc “Beyond the Mat,” with Jake, who didn’t have best light shone on him in the film, claiming he was deceived by the directors about the intent of the film. And while there is a brief flare up here when Jake feels he might be being taken advantage of again, he needn’t be concerned with the finished result. “The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake” is frank and honest, and doesn’t shy away from his bad behavior or make him out to be a saint. It’s ultimately a film about atonement, and unlike in the movies, in real life you have to take whatever victories come your way, no matter how small. It might not always work out the way he plans, but Dallas instills in Jake the message that trying is half the battle, and if he makes the effort, some of the things he didn’t think were possible will come true.

Featuring input and insight from Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, Ted Dibiase, Adam Copeland (aka Edge), Gene Okerlund, Jim Duggan (aka Hacksaw Jim Duggan), Jim Ross, and Jerry Mires (aka J-Rocc), as well as an astonishing appearance by an almost unrecognizable Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon), who enters the DDP Yoga program after Jake, and arguably in even worse shape, “The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake” is a look at the darker side of post-wrestling life. What happens when the spotlight gets turned off, the adrenaline wears off, and these television heroes are left to fight the personal problems they put aside, is often not documented. As Jake says over and over, “My history is not my destiny,” and by the end of the film you believe he’s got a helluva chance to live up to that motto. [B]

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