The Wrestler (2008)
This film is as poignant and emotionally stirring as it is formulaic. We’re all familiar with Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s story. He’s an aging professional wrestler: his failing health inhibiting him from living the only life he has really known. He tries to repair, or rather establish, a relationship with his estranged daughter to save himself from solitude in his retirement. He’s a broken man with nothing to lose, and we watch as Randy learns that life outside the ring is even more painful than getting a window smashed into your face.
The Wrestler is a testament to formula film origins. Though the formula is often overused and ripped apart into cliches, it has the potential to churn your stomach into emotional butter. Besides the basic overall plot, each scene is a story of its own. Take the scene where Randy begins his full-time employ at a deli counter. Though first nervous and restrained, he warms into a hard-working, positive, flirtatious employee. He’s this lug of a guy with a heart of gold and every interaction with customers is genuine and always with a toothy smile (not to mention ad-libbed).
Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, Randy’s regular entertainment. Rourke may be the root and heart of the movie, but Tomei cannot be ignored in this deep, conflicted performance as a lap dancer. She acts with her eyes, which never agree with her suggestive body movements. Oftentimes we learn more about Randy through her eyes, as customer turns to friend. She gives him confidence, she gives him purpose.
It’s also a very interesting insight into the life of a pro-wrestler. I have never once enjoyed watching wrestling, let’s just say that it attracted a crowd that I didn’t really run with. However, being a martial artist myself, their life fascinates me. I’d still rather watch boxing, because the theatrics of wrestling never appealed to me. We’re placed under the illusion that they’re never really hurt… but they’re still hurt. Many scenes portray the detailed planning that goes into each “show” and all the little tricks that these dudes pull to please their audience. The tanning, the steroids, the hidden razor blades, the waxing, the massaging. You can’t help but wonder how someone could put so much effort into something fake?
Randy’s daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) is adamantly against Randy’s desire to reconnect. This introduces another emotional arc that is also familiar to the audience. When she finally agrees to go out with him for a day, another poignant, individual scene ensues. For those ten minutes, as voyeur, I escaped even further from reality, and from the world of wrestling. Their timing and emotional play off each other’s acting is without flaw. Ad-libbed to boot, that short scene is so different from the rest of the movie, yet also a complementary capstone to Randy’s character development.
This movie is full of those little scenes. That’s what makes this movie different. Sure, it’s a cookie-cutter sports story. But it’s more about the man than the wrestler. It is sad. The end, though I won’t give away any details, is heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. I never thought I’d see the day where I would shed a tear over the steroid-infested sport.
Coming from the man who gave us Requiem for a Dream, and later haunted the world with the Academy Award winning Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky can do no wrong. He’s the master behind the work. But this film is nothing without Mickey Rourke and Randy Robinson – the broken man with a heart. 9/10