From his humble beginnings in a small Austrian town to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, if you lived in the 80s and 90s, no name was bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The levels of stardom, fame, and political success he enjoyed doesn’t come easy. It was his tireless work as a body-builder, an actor, and finally as a politician that got him to the heights of success he found. His new three-part documentary on Netflix takes a look at the life of the Hollywood leading man, largely in his own words.
This overwhelming positive tone that permeates every topic Arnold touches leaves it feeling far worse than it otherwise could. With the vast majority of the events being recounted by Schwarzenegger himself, or someone in his corner, the documentary’s subject is never depicted as the bad guy. Even when the matter of his affair is covered, it feels like the series sells him as someone who made a simple mistake, not committed a horrible breach of trust. This feeling of positivity can’t help but feel disingenuous. We are all guilty of making mistakes at some point in our lives. That someone who interacted with, touched, and impacted as many lives as Schwarzenegger could be depicted without delving into his more negative attributes doesn’t settle well. This is especially true considering he’s a public figure who works in politics.
What Arnold does cover though is a fascinating tale about a young Austrian man that put as much time, work, and effort into achieving the goals he aspired towards. Whether it was spending hours toning his body in the gym or marketing himself on tour before the launch of a movie, he was always willing to do whatever needed to be done for however long it required him to be there. That plus the combination of luck and good connections, Schwarzenegger is shown at each step on his road to stardom. While much of this story is told in his own words, others who accompanied him on his journey provide their voices along the way. From old friends and competitors in the body-building community to Hollywood A-listers like James Cameron and Danny DeVito, the docuseries delivers multiple viewpoints spanning the course of his career, all of which are largely glowing in their assessments.
Despite the many beliefs Schwarzenegger’s values, such as the importance of determination, hard work, and a clear belief in self-set goals, there is a recurring theme that fails to play as well. Repeatedly throughout Arnold, Schwarzenegger makes dismissive comments concerning mental health such as concerning statements about how people who spend time worrying about if they are or why they are depressed are wasting their time. The comments play as if the answer to mental illnesses is to simply ignore the issues, and be more useful. This position comes across as if he is blaming those who are struggling for their problems, or as if the issue isn’t their mental health, but their unwillingness to simply do more work in order to distract themselves. While this approach may have worked for Schwarzenegger, it is a terrible attitude to preach onto others.
The production in this three-part series is excellent. A combination of old clips and modern-day interviews tells the story in a way that flows well, is engaging, and builds up the drama of key moments in the narrative. The series does a great job of laying out when and where individual events of note take place, allowing the viewer a clear chronology to follow along with. There is humor in some of the awkward moments Schwarzenegger recounts, joy in his successes, and some hurt when the story reaches the painful moments that every 70+ year long life experiences and the production conveys these moments seamlessly.
When all is said and done, Arnold delivers what it sets out to do. It tells an entertaining story that guides the viewer through Schwarzenegger’s life while shining the most positive light on as many notable events as possible. Whether or not that is what a documentary should be is up to the viewer to decide.
Arnold is streaming now on Netflix.
When all is said and done, Arnold delivers what it sets out to do. It tells an entertaining story that guides the viewer through Schwarzenegger’s life while shining the most positive light on as many notable events as possible.