Review: Kissed By God
If I’m to be completely honest, it took a little while to get around to watching this long-awaited documentary but certainly not for a lack of trying. It’s just that I’d wanted to find the right time and place to truly take in what by all accounts was a riveting view and the last great reveal of a celebrated era.
Alas, with time ticking on the expiration date of the screener, I found myself in the less than ideal situation of watching it on my iPhone, propped up against my legs while lying in bed on what was truly a cold and rainy night. My flatmate was obviously similarly situated in his own bed down the hall, perhaps viewing something bordering on the nefarious and as a result, the WiFi stuggled to get this going, but once it did, the hounds were indeed unleashed.
After a brief dream-like intro in which we hear Andy compare his first surfing experience to “being kissed by god,” a visibly shaken Bruce Irons begins by posing the question, “Who was Andy Irons?”
Indeed, who was Andy Irons?
The documentary, perhaps wisely, almost sidesteps the surfing prowess and drug and alcohol intake, instead taking aim deep into the core of the man and the demons that would ultimately bring him undone. It begins with an open look at a childhood unhinged by the divorce of Andy and Bruce’s parents compounded by the onset of bi-polar disorder and counterbalanced by the love/hate relationship with his brother.
“He had a lot more shit going on in his head than what I ever knew,” Bruce deadpans at one point. “Good and bad.”
Just how bad?
There are appearances of Andy Irons in this documentary that will shock the living daylights out of you, in particular his near psychotic demeanour in the wake of a mysterious bender in Queensland on his first year on tour and the Indonesian near-death experience of 1999.
“I didn’t see a good future coming from all the shit going on in his head and mind,” opines Bruce of the period in his brother’s life in which he came close to losing it all.
“I didn’t think my brother was ever going to come to normal from how insane he was.”
As we all now know, Andy did manage to quiet his mind long enough to win three world titles and rattle the mindset of one Robert Kelly Slater deeply enough to drive him to tears. The rivalry with Slater, while not short-changed, is cut right to the bone, with Kelly recalling the killer blow he landed with victory in their 2005 Jeffreys Bay final.
“He was the one who had everything to lose. I’m bald. I’m over the hill. He’s told me all these things, ‘I’m a fucking kook,” recalls Kelly of his mindset going in to the final.
History shows Slater walked away from the event as the winner while Irons never really recovered from the loss and thus began his second great downward spiral.
The documentary ultimately bills itself as one about “bipolar disorder and opiod addiction as the seen through the life of three-time world champion Andy Irons, the “People’s Champion,” and it will surprise as to level in which those two deficiencies hung over AI’s shoulders like a lead cross. As jarring, is the realisation Andy once came to Australia not only to escape his dependency on prescription opioids but also because, as Lindy Irons puts it, “pills weren’t in, in Australia. Yet”
Today? Opioid deaths have surpassed Australia’s annual road toll and, according to the Penington Institute’s 2017 Australia’s Annual Overdose Report account for up to 70 per cent of drug related deaths in Australia.
If that figure makes you shift uncomfortably, consider the ease in which they are dispensed.
Hypothetically, let’s say you find yourself under the surgeon’s knife for something as innocuous as, jeez, let’s say surfer’s ear, and you too will be gifted a repeat prescription for, if not Oxycodone, then some variation of it.
And, as one who was recently gifted such a golden ticket, once under the spell of those little magic pills, it requires quite the amount of willpower not to front up again to the chemist’s counter, prescription in hand, once the first box is done
But I digress…
As the documentary lurched to its inevitable sad ending my flatmate emerged from his room and lurched on up the hall. His familiar routine of a quick game of darts whilst the kettle boiled did little to distract the devastating final act of Irons’ life: the withdrawal from competition, the hotel room in Dallas, and one final phone call to his wife back home on the warm, tropical island of Kauai.
We all know how this story played out but it doesn’t get any easier re-watching a heavily pregnant Lyndie pouring the ashes of her late husband into the water. And it still stings that a talent like Irons was ultimately allowed to fall on his own sword, but as anyone who’s been in the company of wanton self-destruction, there appears nothing that can be done to stop it.
Will his story serve as a cautionary tale for people on either side of such equation?
If history shows us anything, the answer veers towards no, but it does go a long way to shining a light on the scourge of mental illness and exposing the weight under which those burdened by it must live.
Either way, by all accounts Kissed by God is set for an Australian release in the not too distant future and it is most definitely worth a viewing when it does.
'Kissed By God' will begin playing in Australia late winter - dates still to be released. It'll then be available for digital download in spring.