The Wrestler

wrestlerposterstarring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood
written by Robert D. Siefel & directed by Darren Aronofsky
Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.

Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke) was a giant of professional wrestling in the ’80s, with an arch-nemesis (“The Ayatollah”), an action figure, and even a role in a Nintendo game. Those glory days are long-gone now, and Randy is a washed-up shadow of his former self. He still performs on the independent wrestling circuit on weekends, and maintains a strict regimen of pumping iron and injecting himself with a battery of buff-up drugs. In-between shifts unloading trucks at a grocery store during the week, he burns cash on “Cassidy” (Tomei) in a nearby strip club and tries to keep his landlord from locking him out of his trashy trailer house. Years of wrestling and drugs are finally catching up with him, and Randy must face the possibility that he may have to give up wrestling just weeks before the rematch with his old revival can give him a second shot at the spotlight. Meanwhile, his deteriorating health drives him to try to reconnect with Stephanie (Wood), the daughter he abandoned years ago.

The Wrestler opens up the reality, good and bad, of a world that I was only vaguely aware of before watching it. I’ve never really understood the appeal of professional wrestling, for either the spectators or the participants, but I believe I have an inkling now. With that understanding, though, comes a bit of revulsion towards the fans. The matches may be “fake,” but it’s still about people beating the life out of each other for the amusement of a rowdy, bloodthirsty mob. That said, if you have a weak stomach, you’re likely to spend some time with your eyes scrunched shut during the more gruesome scenes.

In fact, it is no surprise to hear Cassidy referencing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ after Randy has described the beatings he takes in the ring. Randy is an odd sort of Christ figure, but he is certainly set up as one, even in the film’s poster. Perhaps we are expected to observe the way Randy hobnobs with outcasts and sacrifices himself for the fans who scream for his blood. Then again, maybe this is just a sly dig at the audiences who flocked to see Gibson’s ultra-violent Jesus film.

If there is a symbolic layer to The Wrestler, it can at least be ignored. The movie works best at the level of the hard reality it reveals so strikingly. The best scenes are those that simply follow Randy through his week, as he moves from the barbaric insanity of the wrestling ring to serving old ladies in the deli. This is a character that audiences can cheer for, but he also disappoints us. Rourke makes us genuinely care about his character and hope that he will make good decisions, but often he does not. Wood gives a heartbreaking performance as a girl who wants a father, but is unwilling to give him another chance to hurt her.

The movie follows a fairly predictable pattern, but not in the manner of watching a story unfold so much as watching people act precisely as you would expect them to once you have gotten to know them well. By the end, I still felt that my lack of familiarity with, or appreciation of, the “sport” of professional wrestling (or whatever you choose to call it) left me distanced from the situation. However, The Wrestler is a very good, frequently-moving portrait of its subject, and (I think) worth revisiting down the road.

~ by Jared on February 13, 2009.

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