The Wrestler - An Hard-hitting Tale of Human Suffering And Redemption

                  Wrestling, as everyone other  than children knows, is fake. The sport has no genuine competitive drive , the participants, who are grunting giants pretend to hit each other.  Some people call it a ‘sports entertainment.’  But, in this sport of fakery, the professional wrestlers are always a sad seekers of truth. When they are past their prime, they struggle to make money by selling Polaroids, autographs and videos attesting to their faded glory. Apart from this, they also want to know that their lives have meaning, long after the cheers have stilled. 

                  Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson  soberly reflects in a moment that, “'I'm an old, broken-down piece of meat." In Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,”  we see a rough and crumbling portrait of a washed-up pro wrestling star struggling to keep going 20 years past his prime.  The movie also marks the terrific return to form for Mickey Rourke. His performance serves as both a reminder of his talent and his wasting of it.

                 Mickey Rourke got his big part as a actor in the 1980s, with his scene-stealing supporting turn as the arsonist in “Body Heat.” Many critics and audiences made the inevitable comparisons to Marlon Brando, mentioning his smoldering good looks, on-screen charisma and evident acting chops, and suggested that he was on track to become one of the biggest and most challenging movie stars of the decade to come. But, his lack of box-office successes, combined with his bad-boy reputation, caused his career to slide. He appeared in many nonsensical pay-check movies, and made a bizarre decision to walk away from Hollywood in order to pursue a career as an amateur boxer. That decision reduced his formerly beautiful face into a virtual pulp. 

               When he later stepped back in front of cameras, it seemed as if the only people who were now willing to hire him were people who were either friends of his or fans of his earlier work.  With the exception of Coppola’s “The Rainmaker”, Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66" and Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City” he had starred in many straight to video movies. So, the casting of Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”, whose own falling star in Hollywood has more than a few associations with the fictional story on-screen, make it seem all the more intimate and poignant.

        Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is pro wrestler, who is well into his 50s, works in a supermarket in New Jersey, and sleeps in his van when he can't make the rent on his battered trailer-home. Randy seems to feel any comfort only in a small strip club, where the attention paid to him by Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who is also in danger of being past her prime, has more depth. They both live by exploiting their bodies and their only bonding moment is when they were drinking beer, and reminiscing about the good times they had in the 80s. 

                In the weekends, Randy still shoots up the steroids, still suffers the bruises and cuts (some self-inflicted for effect) in low-level bouts. When a heart-attack fells over Randy, his doctor's instructions are simple. The doctor asks him to stop wrestling, just as he's preparing for a relatively big match with his old foe, the Ayatollah (Ernest Miller). The heart-attack also compels Randy to re-assess things in his life. He seeks to re-connect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). With the need to make amends, Randy keeps plugging away, without complaint, trying to make the most of his messy life.

                Darren Aronofsky's directorial style (Pi, Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan) has no flourishes or attempts to convince us that he is a master of his craft. The straightforward, documentary like approach brings to mind the gritty films of ’70s auteurs like William Friedkin and Martin Scorsese. Arfonosky also spends a great deal of time in showing the details of Randy’s profession. Wrestling might be often mocked for being "fake" but it is shown here as a complex kind of performance art that relies on scripted conflict and preset maneuvers that nevertheless exact a physical toll that is all too real.

                In an interview regarding the falseness of these fights, Aronofsky stated that, "I think people basically roll [wrestling] off saying, 'Oh, it's fake,' and they forget all about it. But what was interesting to me was that whole line between real and fake. What is real? What is fake? The film is very clear that wrestling is staged, but is it fake when you're a 260-pound guy jumping 10 feet onto a concrete floor? Even if you're trying to protect yourself and your opponent, damage is happening to you. Then, you meet these guys who've been wrestling 10 or 20 years ago, and they're just riddled with injury. They are true athletes. It's just they're almost more like stunt men, so there's that line of real and fake. The other line of real and fake is 'The Ram' doesn't know what's real and what's fake. When he's in the ring, for him that's real life, and so that kind of real and fake comments on the whole wrestling thing."

               Robert Siegel's screenplay is meticulous in the ways it delves into Randy's life, and it does so with a appearance of truth and a lack of melodrama. Mickey Rourke, present in each and every scene and frame gives a tremendously physical performance that The Wrestler essentially exists to document. His astonishing performance of grace, heart and hard-won insights have got him a Golden Globe and a Academy Award nomination. Mickey Rourke does not show Randy as someone who craves pity; he holds his head high and rolls with the punches, even when they leave him broken and bleeding. Marisa Tomei and Rachel Wood, in the supporting roles, register the mixed emotions of women who have been hurt by men, but who love them regardless.

                Story-wise, The Wrestler is a conventional drama and it isn't desperately original. The plot is as easily applicable as to the tale of an ex-con or a retired soldier. The last shots of redemption are not the original themes. But, Aronofsky is unconventional enough to avoid predictability, and accomplished enough to tame the notoriously difficult Mickey Rourke, directing him to the performance of his career. There are so many great sequences in the film that it is impossible to pick out just one as a standout. There is the distressing and scarifying image of him suffering his backstage heart attack, apparently the one thing in the world capable of dropping him against his will. The painful scenes, where Randy tries to establish his relationship with Tomei and Rachel Wood are also great. 

               "The Wrestler" is no more a movie that is solely about wrestling than “Raging Bull” was solely about boxing. To say it in wrestling terms, 'it's an emotional smackdown.'



1 comment:

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Was easily one of my favorite movies of the year and I desperately wanted Rourke to win the Oscar but the Academy just never fails to disappoint. But, I am really glad to read your review, for it does a great justice to the movie... gr8 work!!!