The Wrestler, Dir. Darren Aronofsky (2008)

Mickey Rourke (Randy 'The Ram' Robinson) Photo:20thC.Fox/Everett/Rex Features

Mickey Rourke as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson Photo:20thC.Fox/Everett/Rex Features

 The Wrestler is a low-key film in contrast to Aronofsky’s previous film the convoluted and CGI-laden The Fountain, one could say it was a reaction. The film works through  its exploration of the consequences of dedicating your life to something and finding you can’t do it anymore. 

Randy ‘The Ram’ is the wrestler of the title, a man unwilling to give up his career despite his knackered body, now aggravated by steroids and a cornucopia of pharmecuticals (which also says something about America’s addiction to over-the-counter medicine). Mickey Rourke gives, as you may well have heard already, a brilliant performance which is honest and affecting. Infused as it is by Rourke’s own experience of a diminishing career and dependence on drugs.

Marisa Tomei is also equally engaging as the stripper Cassidy a mother who is also reaching the end of her career which like wrestling relies upon the youthfulness of the body. And herein lies a small problem we are meant to  believe that Tomei due to her age can no longer pull in the punters like she used to.

And Tomei though not in her 20’s anymore is still a very attractive woman who would stir the passions of any normal client with sense and two working eyes. But  aside from this her growing relationship with Randy is touching and shows how much they need each other to recognize each-other’s values.

There are many poignant moments in the film such as when Randy is at a wrestling veteran’s convention signing autographs and point of view shots linger on the wrestler’s signs of ageing: a crutch here, or a weelchair there. The camera then cuts back to Randy at his desk and we see the weariness and sadness in his face as he realises what the ruthless relentlessness of time and the sport they love has done to them.

There is also a darkly comic pathos to Randy’s part-time job at the supermarket which he takes in order to make ends meet. Culminating in a position at the deli counter where he has to serve fussy old women, wear an identity badge which ironically and symobolicallystrips him of his identity listing his real name Robin. While wearing  a hairnet which covers his blonde mane eliminating another part of his wrestler persona (the same sad/comic effect is created when we see him wearing glasses and a hearing aid  which serve as frequent visual reminders of  his age and weakened virilty ). So when a customer recognises him the utter incongruity and humiliation of the circumstances lead him to hurt himself in a masochistic act which recalls what he does for his sport.

And boy do you see the pain involved in the sport, while Aronofsky shows how much of it’s rehearsed there is one particular scene involving a staple gun, barbed wire and a sheet of glass which shows just how much wrestlers are prepared to sacrifice for the sport and the entertaiment of a baying bloodthirsty crowd.

This element of sacrifice is also a running motif in the film , Randy is even compared at times to Jesus as Cassidy quotes The Passion of The Christ at him and Randy sports a tattoo of Jesus on his back. While other religious symbolism is evoked in his scars from a wrestling match involving nails on a plank of wood and the blood that runs down his face from the self-inflicted cut on his forehead.

The amount he sacrifices for his sport is also seen in the problematic relationship with his daughter, who he estranges by attending matches instead of her birthdays. Their brief reconciliation where he gives her an awful green jacket (luckily a joke present) is one of the best scenes in the film and really gives Rourke the opportunity to bring a lot more depth to the character as he realises the price he has paid by neglecting his family as he says to her: “I’m an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone, I just don’t want you to hate me.”

In the end the other wrestlers in the film (all genuine wrestlers) are his family and you see the cammeraderie that he has with them, and the respect that he gets nowhere else (with the exception of Cassidy) from the younger wrestlers. And this is what the film is really about, having a sense of belonging beacuse the world ‘doesn’t give a shit’.

A powerful film that really shows what Rourke and Aronofsky can do.

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