The Wrestler (2008): ***½
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
The Wrestler is a wonderful, heart-breaking film that
surprisingly raises one of the most important existential questions
ever asked. Hard to believe that a movie about a man who puts on
tights and gets paid to be beat up could be so profound?
There's a philosophy that I like quite a bit (and that I've mentioned
few times on this website) that goes something like this: "Happiness
is an organism efficiently doing its intended function." Lucky
are those people who are able to find their function. Luckier still
are those who have opportunity to do their function at maximum efficiency.
Wretched are those who know their function but are unable to do
it. And that is the question raised by this movie: how can you ever
be happy again when you can't do the one thing in all the world
that makes you happy?
Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, and he
has been fortunate enough to not only find his function but to be
able to do it as much as possible. His happiness is professional
wrestling--strapping on tights and engaging in extreme physical
activity for the purposes of entertainment. Randy was even more
fortunate in that for a while he was at the top of his game: he
was one of the most popular and well-love professional wrestlers
in the world.
Lately he's fallen on hard times. Basically, his life is crap.
He knows it's crap. He wasn't smart about his happiness; he focused
so hard on the wrestling that he neglected everything else. He's
living in a trailer that he can't afford. The only person he can
really talk to is a stripper named Pam (Marisa Tomei), and he has
to pay her for that luxury. He has a crappy job in a supermarket
to try to scrape together enough money for steroids, tanning sessions,
and hair dying sessions. He isn't taking care of himself at all.
But he still wrestles. He still gets into that ring and gives it
his all. And when he does, for those glorious few minutes he is
happy, as happy as any man can ever be.
And then in a horrifying moment he is betrayed by the one thing
that he needs most in order to wrestle: his horribly abused body
revolts against its mistreatment. He has a heart attack. His doctor
tells him that if he ever wrestles again he'll likely die. What
can he do? Everything else in his life makes him miserable. He's
never been any good at anything else. He's concentrated so hard
on his wrestling that indeed it seems like he doesn't even know
how to do anything else at all.
So he starts with painful and awkward steps to try to make some
kind of life for himself. He reaches out to an estranged daughter.
He tries to make an actual relationship with Pam. He doesn't know
how to do either. And always looming over him is the pain of immeasurable
loss. It's like the 6th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you've
been to Heaven but then forcefully ejected, how can the regular
world feel like anything other than unbearable Hell? Can you ever
be happy again?
Make no mistake--the bad stuff that happens to him is basically
all his own fault, but that doesn't lessen his pain. Watching this
broken mountain of a man struggle and stumble about, blindly groping
for something, anything that he can hold onto to give him a little
bit of happiness, while reaping the horrible consequences of his
own decisions is wonderfully heartbreaking. But it is also at times
very funny and surprisingly heartwarming and life-affirming. He's
just such a lovable lunk that you can't help but feel sorry for
him and want the best for him, and then agonize when he does something
stupid and self-destructive. This is an astonishing performance
by Mickey Rourke that justifiably won him a heap of awards.
And the movie is directed unflinchingly by Darren Aronofsky with
an almost documentary style. There are many scenes throughout the
movie where the camera is situated directly behind Randy and follows
him as he walks through areas: from the locker room to the wrestling
arena; from the employee break room at a supermarket to the deli
counter where he tries to scrape together some money; from his old
van to the front door of his daughter's house, etc. It's a wonderful
device to show us the worlds through which this character moves,
and the contrasts between them all, and how all they do is remind
him of what he has lost, of what he should be doing right now.
If anybody sees this movie and thinks that the situation of Randy
"The Ram" Robinson seems a little far-fetched, then I
suggest you watch the documentary Beyond the Mat and see what happened
some of the most popular wrestlers of the 1980s, especially people
like Jake the Snake Roberts and Koko B. Ware.
P.S. The Ram's finishing move is the "Ram Jam," a flying
headbutt off the top corner turnbuckle.