Challengers Unravels Love on the Court

3 mins read

Grade: A

Zendaya, tennis, and a dramatic love triangle—it can’t get much better than this. Challengers, a movie directed by Luca Guadagnino, tells the story of three tennis players working around a never-ending love triangle on the tennis court. While following the timeline of a tennis match between the two main characters, Art and Patrick, their backstories and motivations unfold as the game progresses, allowing the audience to slowly assemble pieces of the puzzle until they reach the match point. 

Grand-slam champion Art Donaldson, played by Mike Faist, and his former teammate Patrick Zweig, played by Josh O’Connor, start off as inseparable friends both on and off the court. Although they may have been goofy and awkward as college students, they prove to be very different in personality as adults, when the movie is set.

On the other hand, Tashi Duncan, a stern tennis player-turned-coach, proves that the boys’ bond is not unbreakable. Even calling herself a “homewrecker,” Zendaya plays Tashi’s role as manipulative, controlling, and obsessive over her tennis career. Further, Tashi’s fixation and obsession over tennis doesn’t just manifest itself on the court but also in her relationship with both Patrick and Art. 

One of the most significant components of Challengers is the relationship between Art and Tashi as a married couple. Despite their similar callings as tennis players, Tashi’s injury during college leaves her unable to follow through with going pro, leading her to set her sights on coaching Art. This leads to an uneven power dynamic in their relationship due to Art’s dependence on Tashi to coach him. When Tashi reveals her true feelings about their bond at the ultimatum of their relationship, the last few scenes of the movie depict the collapse of their unconventional connection

Tashi’s inability to play meant she transferred her obsession with tennis into seeing Art succeed, as she attempted to leave herself with a sense of accomplishment in the sport that she would never otherwise achieve due to her injury. Zendaya perfectly depicts Tashi’s sense of authority over Art and emphasizes the film’s central themes of obsession with tennis and deception towards others.

Tashi’s relationship with Patrick is messy, uncalled for, and secretive. Despite their brief disconnection (for the most part…) throughout Tashi and Art’s marriage, Tashi’s irresponsible decisions when she is with Patrick highlight her search for craze. In a crucial moment of decision-making, Tashi’s request to Patrick to purposefully lose their Challenger’s Champion match for Art’s sake creates a sense of disillusionment, heightening tensions within the trio. 

Much of the dialogue throughout the movie is masked by a loud and searing score of Berlin-style techno and electronica. The impeding and harsh music is effective in adding a dramatic effect to many profound scenes, while also contrasting the solidarity and calm element of tennis; intense electronica beats often match the sound of a ball hitting a racket, chaotically contrasting rave music with a tennis game. 

From the combined beats of tennis and techno to the slow-motion view of each character’s serve, the ending scene is by far the most intriguing and enthralling part of the movie. By the end of the movie, tensions heighten as Art and Patrick battle in the final round of the Challenger’s match. 

Although the focus on the men’s profound sweating is a little excessive, the various camera angles in the last scene are disillusioning and dynamic. From using slow motion to feature Art’s intricate serve to viewing the transparent tennis court from below, the construction of the camera’s perspective is chaotic yet captivating. 

The ongoing tennis match adds to the storyline that gets pieced together as the audience questions the tension and uncertainty of Patrick’s decision to throw the game away to Art. However, much of the crucial decision placed in Patrick’s hands is left unknown to the audience—would Patrick follow through with Tashi’s request to throw away the game to Art? 

While Tashi’s character is featured as the focal point of the story and a token of desire between the two players, this is ultimately overturned in the last few minutes of the match when Art and Patrick embrace over the net, revealing how their connection goes beyond merits of affection for a woman. Unexpectedly, Tashi’s encouraging reaction adds to the scene’s irony, as her wish to see the men play tennis at their full potential is achieved, undermining Art and Patrick’s goal of personal fulfillment.

The deceiving and satisfying ending is dramatized and well-written. Despite the barrier between Art and Patrick created by Tashi, one small move made all the difference in restoring a sense of unity and friendship between the two in the unconventional environment of a tennis court. Art and Patrick’s final embrace was shocking to the audiences both inside and outside of the movie as it marked a turning point in their relationship, emphasizing the overall theme of friendship and reconnection in a strong and sweet way. 

From the cinematography and quaint camera angles to the captivatingly peculiar depictions of loving and deceptive relationships, Challengers has proven to be an intriguing and eventful movie full of swindling stories and misguided relations. 

Isabel is a sophomore at M-A beginning her first year of journalism. She is excited to write about exciting events and subjects. Outside of school, some of her hobbies include playing tennis, water polo and swimming for M-A, and reading, drawing, and writing.

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