Wrestling with the issue

In the first few moments of The Wrestler, we are thrown into the cloudy mind and broken body of a man looking for personal redemption.

In the first few moments of The Wrestler, we are thrown into the cloudy mind and broken body of a man looking for personal redemption.

We see Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) a long-forgotten professional wrestler, as he sits silently, his aging but still muscular body hunched over in the locker room of a half-empty community event hall waiting to do the only thing that gives him enjoyment—slamming into the ground, getting hit with chairs and other objects, and flying through the ring.

It’s been years since a performance has been so engrossing that every word and subtle eye movement entranced me completely, so much that even scenes showing The Ram working a deli counter take on a mythical quality.

Rourke’s performance will surely kick his peripheral career into stardom once again.
This is a fully realized character built from the ground up, and like Sylvester Stallone’s performance in the original Rocky, it never rings false.

If it only consisted of this performance, The Wrestler would be one of the best films of the year, but Rourke’s mastery is surrounded by a touching and honest screenplay by former Onion writer Robert D. Siegel, exemplary supporting performances by Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood and subtle direction by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream).

The Ram, echoing the early career of Hulk Hogan, was a wrestling star in the 1980s, giving his body for his millions of fans, and licensing his face for action figures and video games. But, like most wrestlers from the superstar-era, his career faded and his fans grew up and abandoned him. Now he is trying to make ends meet with a series of entry-level jobs and weekend wrestling matches.

His daughter, played by Wood, tries to forget he exists, and he only relates to Cassidy (Tomei) a stripper, who he must pay to spend time with, and who is also past her prime. Randy and Cassidy’s relationship starts to grow and they develop a kinship. Both try to escape their bleak lives by adopting fictional personas.

There is a scene in the movie where they sing ’80s hair metal songs to each other over beers, both temporarily dropping their shields long enough for a passionate kiss, before retreating back into the tough wrestler and the distant stripper once again. It’s perfect.

Much of the drama in The Wrestler is based on wondering if The Ram can mount a small-scale comeback, even with a failing heart, both literally and figuratively. But it’s not about the ending; it’s about how we get there.

In long, fluid handheld shots, Aronofsky’s camera follows Randy through his days, playing old Nintendo wrestling games—he chooses to play as himself obviously—with the children in his low-rent neighborhood, shopping for his daughter to try and win her over and getting bloodied and beaten in numerous matches.

The movie shows us low-level professional wrestling as it really is—painful and unglamorous. There are no flashbulbs and stadiums full of fans, only real blood and autograph signings where only a few show up. Still, we get a sense in the movie that these people love what they do. Even if there are 10 people in the audience, the wrestlers will give it their all.

Don’t be fooled about the subject matter. Even if you despise professional wrestling, you should watch this movie. It’s not about what he does, but what it means. The Ram could have any profession (although, he should change his name if he decides to go into sales) and anyone can relate to his plight.

We all have been, or will be, past our prime at some point in our lives, desperately trying to sort out the pieces to make ourselves whole again.