Toward the end of the three-hour documentary series looking back on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long life of achieved pillars, the superstar briefly ruminates on the affair with a housekeeper and fathering a son out of wedlock that ended his 25-year marriage to Maria Shriver. Schwarzenegger states that he’s almost reluctant to talk about it because it will “reopen the wounds again.” It feels like one of the significant mess-ups in his life that breaks through his charismatic, sometimes stoic demeanor that is exhibited during his interview.
If you look at the totality of Schwarzenegger’s life, it’s going from climbing one mountain to the next – this is precisely the tempo the documentary plays to. He was a bodybuilding champion, then a historic action star, and then two-term governor of California. One could only hope to achieve even one of those accomplishments and be completely satisfied. Director Lesley Chilcott infuses the “American Dream” attitude Schwarzenegger carried throughout the narrative. He invokes former president Ronald Reagan’s “outsider” nature a few times. He draws from his own story growing up in Thal, a village in Austria, as the motivation for him to get to America by any means.
His determination is machine-like (forgive me for The Terminator pun) – forged in an early homelife by an abusive father who served in the Nazi party in the late 1930s and 40s. Schwarzenegger took refuge in weight training, but seeing actor/bodybuilder Reg Park as Hercules is where it all started to click for him. After all, this was a man from Leeds, who became a bodybuilding champion, and then went to acting stardom. Schwarzenegger’s path was set – determined not to be one of the “broken men” he speaks about as men returned to Austria from World War II.
A certain cadence of almost “feel-good” energy permeates throughout Arnold. In the present, we see him drive around in tanks, smoke cigars in a hot tub with a beautiful arctic backdrop, and enjoy the spoils of his life’s achievements. You get hypnotized by Schwarzenegger’s “by any means” attitude in that he almost spoke some of his triumphs into existence. Some of it was just due to great timing. As Schwarzenegger’s climb to become a top action star took hold, the archetype of the Dustin Hoffmans and Al Pacinos of the 1970s changed. The star didn’t have to take bit parts because, due to real estate deals, he was already a millionaire.
Schwarzenegger relished in people telling him he couldn’t do something – a constant motivating factor in every facet of his life. Arnold is full of testimonials from James Cameron, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, and surviving life-long friends who speak to Schwarzenegger’s aura and kindness. There’s even a tiny part with former rival Sylvester Stallone slightly touching on their competitive box-office feud (he would later work with Stallone in The Expendables films).
There are plenty of things to celebrate in Schwarzenegger’s life, and the documentary takes hold of this mantra so much that it quickly moves past the failures. If anything, the stumbles are marked to serve the next monumental goal achieved. Schwarzenegger speaks about Last Action Hero not working, leading him to True Lies. Before this, he talks about moving to America after winning many Mr. Universe competitions and a short time having trouble acclimating to the standards of Venice Beach. During his first governor's campaign, 15 women in total accused Schwarzenegger of groping them – new clips show him at that time saying, at times, he behaved badly, but also attacking the media for tearing him down. In the present day, he plainly says it was wrong – and moves on to the next thing.
Schwarzenegger has not lost any of the competitive fire ignited in his stomach long ago. If anything, he seems to be as fired up as ever. However, the compelling instances of Arnold are in the quiet moments when he’s looking at old pictures of his life – expanding on seeing a lot of his friends pass away and how that’s affected him. Much of that is left towards the end of the documentary and, unfortunately, does not have enough time to take hold. He speaks about his late brother Meinhard‘s passing in a car accident while drunk driving in 1971.
When Schwarzenegger speaks about it, it’s in the view of them dealing with their father’s abuse in different ways – Arnold’s inner determination, whereas Meinhard may not have had the same makeup. Later on, Schwarzenegger speaks about the difficulties in being governor regarding family time – perhaps a symptom of always wanting to go bigger and better. Arnold only slightly touches on the pitfalls of his governorship terms before it goes into the “inspirational” story. While Arnold is an informative and enjoyable highlight reel, it exists only to present pitfalls as a pseudo blueprint to show a “can-do” attitude can move past them all. That’s all fine and well – despite leaving some more compelling offering at the sacrifice of the gaze of enamoring.
All three episodes of Arnold are now streaming on Netflix.