The Wrestler

This film is not for everyone. It’s edgy, violent, sad, and full of clichés. It also has a brilliant, raw, unforgettable performance by one of America’s greatest – and most self-destructive and thus underused – actors. I loved the film because of Mickey Rourke. But it’s too disturbing for me to want to see again and I don’t recommend it unless you, too, appreciate films that go to the far side and don’t apologize.

Over the hill wrestler Randy, “The Ram,” Robinson (Mickey Rourke, Domino) is a man who can’t handle ordinary life. He’s kicked out of his trailer, again, for non-payment of his rent, he hasn’t got a decent relationship with anyone, and his glory posters were faded and ragged long ago. The only place Randy ever feels like a full human being is in the wrestling ring. He has no problem with the sport’s essential phoniness–the fake bravura of it is what addicts him. He loves the costumes, the strutting, the dyed hair, the spandex and the sparkles, the pre-arranged fight maneuvers, the rehearsed grunts and bellowing. He’s an entertainer on steroids–that’s who he was when he was a somebody and who he always wants to be.

But to keep the crowds happy, wrestlers have to keep raising the ante and do more absurdly violent routines. It’s not enough anymore to bang one another with chairs, secretly nick yourself so the torrents of blood flow faster, or throw one another over the ropes and stomp on someone’s face. After allowing himself to get shot in the chest with a staple gun, Randy has a heart attack. It’s a wake-up call that anybody with a brain would have heard coming years ago, but sometimes it takes nearly dying alone in a hospital room to slap you in the face with the realization that your life is empty.

Terrified of dying alone, Randy reaches out for human contact. Having no experience with this, he’s pretty inept and makes a lot of mistakes. Being the kind of guy he is, true deep lasting friendships with men are beyond his ken. Warmth means women. He seeks a personal relationship with his favorite pole dancer, a single mom named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). Cassidy is not exactly the hooker with a heart of gold, but she, like Randy, is in the business of creating faux fantasies. They’re simpatico, if nothing else.

Randy also tries to repair the damage he’s done to his only child, a grown daughter named Stephanie (Rachel Evan Wood, Across the Universe.) Stephanie has spent her entire life being disappointed by her father, who always preferred the wrestling ring to fatherhood, and she’s none too keen on getting hurt again. Randy has to work very hard to break down her resistance, a process that is both pathetic and heart-breaking. They have long walks and talk a bit. Oddly, Randy never once asks Stephanie how her mother is. Nevertheless after a while, Randy manages to get Stephanie to tolerate him without spitting at him first.

In the meantime, Randy, told by his doctors that his heart cannot stand the rigors of the ring, tries to make a living with a “real” job. He works in a deli, slicing meat and making sandwiches. These pathetic scenes, for me, were the most meaningful in the film. Rourke, through Randy’s character, inarticulate in words, speaks for millions of people stuck in dead end jobs in the only way he can — in gestures of pent-up frustration and rage. If your heart doesn’t break for Randy, and for all the Randy Robinsons in the world that Mickey Rourke symbolizes, then you haven’t got a heart.

Randy knows that he must get back in the ring even if it means he will die in the process.

Mickey Rourke has found in Randy Robinson the role of a lifetime. Rourke left acting for a few years and actually became a wrestler. He’s been up and down in Hollywood his entire career, mostly down, and his bouts with self-destruction are notorious. A peachy guy he’s not. It was a confluence of good fortune that combined Rourke with Darren Aronofsky, a quirky director (The Fountain) who welcomed not only the challenges of newcomer Robert D. Siegel’s imperfect script, but also Rourke’s bad-boy reputation. It seems Rourke found a soul brother in character Randy “The Ram” Robinson and a much-needed male friend in director Aronofsky.

Rourke has already been lauded by most film critic groups for his performance and is a likely nominee for an Oscar. But The Wrestler is not a happy audience-pleaser film, so if you want to see it on the big screen, see it right away.

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