Bigger, Stronger, Faster: a documentary on steroids
You could say Chris Bell‘s Bigger, Stronger, Faster is like a documentary on steroids. Not only is it full of information, but performance enhancements are the subject matter.
The doc follows Bell and his two brothers Mike and Mark, who always looked up to larger-than-life celebrities like Hulk Hogan or Arnold Schwarzenegger and now strive to become the biggest, strongest, fastest guys in the world. Mike and Mark enhance their performances by using steroids, while Chris opts to go au naturale.
Through out the film, the concept of steroids as a means of cheating is examined in depth and the moral dilemma is one of the running themes. Bell talks to many prominent athletes who have been accused of using anabolic steroids or other banned performance enhancements to achieve the coveted number one spot in their chosen sport.
His interview with Olympian Carl Lewis was one of the most fascinating because Bell manages to seemingly catch Lewis in a lie about his own steroid use. Lewis famously got the gold medal by default when Canadian Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. It turns out that Lewis’ test result also showed evidence of banned substances, however Bell asserts that this was covered up to protect America’s victory. Even Lewis himself seems fuzzy on the details of what actually went down.
Bell also takes on the health aspect, interviewing a number of physicians and experts on the effect of steroids on the body. While their opinions vary, they all seem to agree that there is no long-term research into the effect of steroids.
Aside from medical experts, Bell interviews steroid users to ask them about the effects. One of the most compelling interviews is with a man living with AIDS who uses steroids to put on weight and boost his T cell count. This man is not using steroids to “cheat” at sports, but to stay alive. Unfortunately, as Bell states, banning all steroids means that even those who need them to live are forced into illegal means of attaining them.
The central theme that runs through the doc is the concept of the “American Dream” of being the best. Bell talks about his childhood, growing up overweight and not wanting to be average, and this is a metaphor for everyone in the country who strives to be famous, or rich, or strong.
Bell’s mother Rosemary seems to hit the nail on the head when he argues that, without steroids, he’ll never be Schwarzenegger. She responds by telling him that, even with steroids, he will never be Schwarzenegger because that’s just not who he is. Then she tells him that he should stop trying to be someone else and focus on being happy with himself. This message resonates through the film more than almost any other theme because it gets to the root of steroid use.
While Bigger, Stronger, Faster is about steroids, it’s subtitle, “The Side Effects of Being American”, says a lot about our competitive culture. This insightful, sometimes downright funny doc, is an entertaining way to open up a dialogue about why Americans strive to be the very best, even at things they can’t physically achieve.