The Real Reason Chris Von Erich Isn't In Iron Claw

Contains spoilers for the 2023 film "The Iron Claw."

There's an old quote from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" about the nature of truth and legend: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

The story of the Von Erich family is well-tread ground with wrestling fans, so much so that the facts of the untimely deaths of David, Mike, Chris, and Kerry Von Erich have become the stuff of legend in everything from official WWE DVDs to the documentary series "Dark Side of The Ring." Now, the Von Erich story is coming to the silver screen in Sean Durkin's "The Iron Claw," set to be released by A24 on December 22.

"The Iron Claw" has stirred up a bit of controversy. While the last surviving Von Erich brother, Kevin, has given his approval and blessing to the film, it has completely excised his brother, Chris Von Erich, from the story. Durkin had a hard time cutting Chris's tragic death from the screenplay, especially with the understanding that he would have to approach Kevin with a script that could only feel incomplete to someone who lived it.

'I've never had a more difficult decision to make as a writer'

Durkin says the decision to cut the youngest and smallest Von Erich from the film was born out of narrative necessity, as the unyielding tragedy of the Von Erich story proved to be too heavy for the traditional screenplay structure.

"I've never had a more difficult decision to make as a writer," Durkin told Uproxx. "I care so deeply, so it was painful ... You have to separate and say, 'Okay, well, this is a movie, these are characters, and the movie just cannot withstand another death at that point.'"

The director also noted that the deaths of Chris and Mike were so similar that it made more sense to combine the two characters, meaning Stanley Simons's portrayal of Mike Von Erich has become a composite of the two ill-fated brothers. Durkin believes that the similarities between the two don't end at their suicides, as both of them were rushed into the wrestling industry following a death in the family, with Mike joining the business following the death of David and Chris joining the business following the death of Mike.

"[They] were both the younger brothers of these three huge, larger-than-life characters," Durkin told Entertainment Weekly. As the film is mainly focused on David, Kerry, and Kevin, Durkin felt that having Mike and Chris play such similar foils to the three main characters could muddle the family dynamics that he meant to highlight. 

"You can see it in the videos you watch of [Mike]: He's obviously super supportive, and wrestling was such a big part of his life," Durkin continued. "But he also took the brunt of David's passing and was shoehorned into [wrestling] by his father, a little bit."

While Durkin felt that the story required Chris to stay on the cutting room floor, he still needed to pitch the story to Chris's brother, Kevin.

'I didn't reach out to him until I knew what film I was making'

With the full nature of the story clear to him, Durkin was finally ready to approach the last living member of the Von Erich brothers to get his approval. As a massive wrestling fan, Durkin felt he should pitch Kevin as late into the process as possible so that the approval of his childhood idol wouldn't sway him to make a film in which he didn't believe.

"I didn't reach out to him until I knew what film I was making," Durkin explained. "At that point, I had made the decision about Chris, and there was other stuff, too. David had a daughter that died. Kerry had a family. There's a lot of things that we had to take out to fit it into telling a story in a film." According to the director, he had a Zoom meeting with the Von Erich family to explain the decisions that went into forming the script.

"I wanted to tell them, 'Okay, these are some of the hardest decisions I made, and this is why,'" Durkin explained. "I told him about Chris. And just immediately, Kevin was like, 'That makes sense.'"

According to Durkin, Kevin was understanding of the complicated nature of writing a two-hour movie about the immense tragedies that his family suffered. Durkin also admitted that Kevin would've had very little power to stop the film if he had objections, making the need for communication that much more important.

"I think how Kevin feels is, Kevin survived, and he hoped that this movie was going to be about the love of brothers and survival," Durkin said. "The message that he lives by is that no matter what, even on your darkest day, you keep fighting. Life is worth it."