The Wrestler (2008)

Posted: August 15, 2013 in Favorite Films
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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Beginning with the early 1990’s, I have been a fan of professional wrestling. Even though the quality of this male soap opera has been in decline since about 2004 and I no longer regularly watch the TV shows, I still like to keep tabs on the goings-on. So when I heard about the production of the movie “The Wrestler,” I was ready for it, and went with a friend to see it theatrically. The only thing that had me worried was the director. I had seen only two Darren Aronofsky films up to that point. Unlike pretty much everyone else I’ve ever talked to about it, I was unimpressed by the bleak world of drug addiction presented in 2000’s “Requiem for a Dream” and, quite frankly, confused by what I interpreted as a rather pretentious centuries-spanning tale in 2006’s “The Fountain.” Sitting down to watch “The Wrestler” changed all of my concerns forever.

When we first meet Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), he is living in a rented trailer that he frequently is locked out of due to being late on his payments to his landlord. Randy has reached an age when most in his line of work, professional wrestling, either retire or take on a managerial role. But Randy is determined to hang on to his glory days when he was main-eventing at Madison Square Garden. If that means performing in a Hardcore match (i.e. a match in which tables, ladders, chairs, thumbtacks, staple guns, and other blunt and/or breakable instruments are all legal), then so be it. But, because the wrestling gigs are only part-time and he needs the money, Randy is forced to take a second job behind a supermarket deli counter.

While all this is going on, Randy is also trying to start a relationship with his stripper friend Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). Like Randy, she is also is considered old for her job (even if she doesn’t look it). Randy signs up for a rematch to take place some weeks down the road against his old rival from 20 years ago, The Ayatollah (played by real-life wrestler Ernest Miller). But he suffers a major setback when he has a heart attack after another match, and this is where the real heart of the story begins. His doctor informs him that he can’t wrestle anymore, and so Randy must now work full-time at the supermarket. Reflecting on his life, the one regret he always had when his career was at its peak was that he missed out on the formative years of his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Cassidy suggests that he should try to repair his relationship with Stephanie, and he takes her advice. Mickey Rourke plays his scenes with Evan Rachel Wood with such feeling and intensity that my heart breaks for the guy, especially when Randy lets Stephanie down again, she says, for the last time.

Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the 81st Academy Awards. Though I believe both were quite deserving, neither took home the Oscar that night. The soundtrack for “The Wrestler,” like  Randy “The Ram”, is nostalgic of the 1980’s. “Metal Health” by Quiet Riot sets the mood during the opening credits, and I’ll leave you to guess the significance when Scorpions’ “Animal Magnetism” is playing. Even Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a welcome addition, as it was Mickey Rourke’s entrance music during his boxing career.

The character of Randy “The Ram” Robinson is compiled from more than one real-life wrestler. Chief among them are Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Terry Funk, but the life of Scott Hall has since taken a disturbingly familiar turn, including but not limited to his on again/off again relationship with his son. For Randy’s in-ring rivalry with The Ayatollah, you need only look toward the early 80’s Hulk Hogan/Iron Sheik rivalry to draw your comparisons.

If ever there was an anti-Rocky Balboa, it can be found here in Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Whereas Rocky, in 2006’s “Rocky Balboa,” went looking for one last fight only to put to rest his inner demons, Randy is as addicted to his career as he is to the drugs he pollutes his body with to maintain his physique. Even the endings to “The Wrestler” and 1976’s “Rocky” are complete polar opposites. It doesn’t matter if the doctors are right and Randy will die in the ring. Wrestling has already claimed his life.


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