Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Wrestler (Aronofsky. 2008)

"The only ones gonna tell me when I'm through doing my thing, is you people here. You're my family."

I have been a major fan of professional wrestling ever since I can remember. I have witnessed the glory days of the WWF, WCW, ECW and even other national promotions. I have formed parasocial relationships with the many men and women who risk their lives for my entertainment. As a child, wrestlers were my idols. They taught me lessons. They gave me heroes to cheer for and villains to despise. I could even argue that professional wrestling taught me the difference between good and evil.

It seems fitting that one of my favorite all time films would be about a wrestler who loves his sport, or at least the pop he still receives from the crowd. The Wrestler is a deeply emotional and intensely sad telling of the life of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Once a huge star, Randy is now wrestling out of necessity. He lives in a trailer and spends his free time playing as himself on outdated video game machines. He has burnt the bridges out from under every significant relationship in his life. His daughter hates him. His one love is a stripper who wants nothing romantic to happen between them.

Randy is given the opportunity to wrestle on the anniversary of his most famous and popular match. In bad health and financially dry, he realizes this may be his last chance at glory. Against the advice of his doctor, The Ram accepts the fight. The story follows what leads up to the epic rematch.

The emotion of the The Wrestler rests on the muscular shoulders of its star, Mickey Rourke. There is a palpable reality to his performance that makes the story believable. Like Randy, Rourke was once making the big dollars, but as a legitimate Hollywood leading man. He left acting to become a boxer. Literally beaten, bruised and forgotten about - this is his chance to recapture stardom. Rourke looks and acts the part perfectly. One is forced to wonder if he himself used steroids in role preparation - but would it matter? I have a feeling that The Ram has seen and taken some crazy things.

The story told in The Wrestler is not in the least bit original, but this is not a film that needs tricks and whistles to entertain the audience. Rourke is emotionally draining. Aronofsky's direction is unlike anything that he had ever done before. This is far more focused on the human interaction and the desire to be loved and accepted. He tastefully takes the audience backstage and into the unseen world of the pro wrestler. We are exposed to their secret camaraderie and allowed to see how they plan matches and prepare for what they are about to put their bodies through. It is a human element that has not been done by Aronofsky before or since.

The Wrestler is an unoriginal film, but with originally brilliant performances and a heart-wrenching final moment. The emotional devastation is unrelenting. The audience is given a hero that they may not feel bad for, but The Ram is not looking for your sympathy. Rather, he is begging for your understanding. Performing is his life. And though the events may be scripted, the pain is not. The fans are the only people who seem to realize that.

The Wrestler: A

*NOTE* The Wrestler also features and incredible original song by Bruce Springsteen. Make sure to stay tuned during the ending credits for your chance to hear it in proper context.

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