‘Arnold’ Netflix Review: Does The Docuseries Reveal Anything New About Schwarzenegger’s Life?


Arnold is a documentary miniseries on Netflix, released very conveniently only a short time after the release and success of FUBAR, as both works seem to bring Arnold Schwarzenegger back into the spotlight, with the platform now being that of web content. As is evident, Arnold presents the life and story of the Austrian man who moved to the US in search of a better life and eventually ended up playing important roles in three different fields: bodybuilding, acting, and politics. But it is best for viewers, especially those who are not already fans of the man, to not expect much from this three-episode series, for Arnold comes off as just an endorsement for Schwarzenegger and nothing more.

The story of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to leave his homeland, Austria, and come to the US in order to have a different life than the average Austrian is fairly well known by now. As a self-admitted victim of an abusive and unpredictable father, Arnold almost had a strong belief that he was meant to have a better life in the grand country of the USA. It was the route of bodybuilding that he took to initially leave his native town of Thal and then continue on that same field to reach his dream destination. While the first episode covers this journey of bodybuilding, the second episode is about the man’s successes as an actor and subsequent stardom in the world of cinema.

After having a rough start to his acting career, Schwarzenegger started to develop his skills and become better at the job with the later opportunities that he got. From Conan the Barbarian to The Terminator, Arnold became a star and gave rise to a number of catchphrases that remain popular to this day. Although his acting career did not really end, as the man still continues in that regard, Schwarzenegger wanted to move on to something new. His marriage with Maria Shriver, who was the niece of John F. Kennedy, kept Arnold amidst conversations regarding politics, and his own prior interest in the matter led to the next point in his career.

After the 2003 California recall election, in which Republican Gray Davis was essentially taken from the post of Governor of the state, Arnold Schwarzenegger officially started his political career by running for the post. With the support of the voters of the state, which was going through a rough time, Arnold won the elections and became the Governor of California, a post he continued to serve for the next seven years. Although the profession did take a huge toll on his personal and marital lives, the man still states that his involvement in politics is one of the most fulfilling things he has done.

There is a very clear set pattern in the narrative that is followed in Arnold, especially since it is a documentary in the first person. Schwarzenegger himself tells his story sitting at his lavish house in Sun Valley while looking at some photograph albums and smoking cigars as we are shown related snippets and scenes from the past. Each of the three episodes sets up an introduction to the field that Arnold was about to enter and also establishes his interest in the matter. A series of setbacks or troubles that the man had to face are shown next, especially in the second and third episodes, as he was arguably more skilled in bodybuilding. The tone then shifts to absolute triumph and success as Arnold fights through all these obstacles, and he himself talks about the process of doing it. Such a style does get old and repetitive very soon, and short interviews thrown in by Danny DeVito or James Cameron do not help much.

There is a great deal of stress on the mental or psychological preparations that Arnold had to go through in order to reach the heights of success that he did, and the script often focuses on this. Arnold talks about the importance of focus and strong character in life, which gave him the drive to push on through all adversities. But in doing so, the documentary presents moments that may not be perceived well by all viewers, like Schwarzenegger’s claim that focus and direction in life matter more than mental health. Although Arnold is a documentary that exists mostly to praise the actor and politician, it does talk about a major controversy in his life, which was his extramarital affair with his housekeeper, Mildred Baena. Arnold acknowledges both her and their illegitimate son Joseph in the docuseries, and the latter also makes a short appearance in the last episode, as he states that they are very much part of his life’s story.

Other than this small, commendable inclusion, the documentary is mostly very selective about the matters it chooses to present and exactly how it does so too. During Schwarzenegger’s stepping into politics, multiple reports of sexual harassment surfaced against him, and while the series makes mention of it, the matter is treated as one more obstacle that the man had to overcome. With regards to this matter and some other ones as well, the documentary is almost haphazard to mention and does not give enough time to bring any satisfactory resolution or conclusion about it. The conservative ideas that Arnold kept during his time as Governor of California, or the fact that his father was actually associated with the Nazi army, are all kept unmentioned, among many other things.

By the end of the three-part series, it is quite well established that Arnold Schwarzenegger knows how to sell himself and his image. Ultimately, Arnold seems like just another means of selling the same story, kept limited within the confines of what should and should not be mentioned in a public series. Arnold really does not reveal anything new about Schwarzenegger’s life and personality that the man had not earlier talked about in his long public career. While it might be an inspiring watch for dedicated fans of the man, Netflix’s “Arnold” is mostly just PR work to bring attention to the celebrated man once again.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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