The Wrestler (2008)

July 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

American writer Charles Bukowski said he preferred spending time with broken people — he found them much more interesting. So far, director Darren Aronofsky has demonstrated his own fascination with broken people, though I admit Requiem for a Dream (2000) left me cold. The film had some great performances, but felt heavy-handed and overly simplistic, so that the final statement doesn’t amount to much more than the title, little more than “Well, no point in having a dream.” It’s an artistic statement that isn’t to be found in a lot of more commercial films, but still a sentiment that can probably be found in a lot of high school poetry.  

The Wrestler is a very different film. It avoids telling the story of a broken man in quite so direct and heavy-handed a fashion, with a great central performance from Mickey Rourke. He appears to have been somehow destined for this part, given that he acted, left acting to test himself (as he puts it), in the ring for a period of time, and appears to have gone through some immensely difficult experiences, requiring reconstructive surgery for his face at one point. In other words, as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, he’s both an actor and someone that can invest the role with personal experience, for the performance of a lifetime. The film borrows a documentary feel for some scenes, as we follow Randy down corridors, through the staff room and into the deli where he works for a little extra cash, in a scene that parallels his odd birth (and rebirth) over and over again down aisles into the stadiums that provide the only real love he receives in the  form of audience screams, cheers and chants. There may be something false about it, but at least it feels to him it’s the only unadulterated appreciation he gets. Marisa Tomei is also excellent as a potential love interest for Randy. A scene in a bar demonstrates these characters are getting on  a little, given that they declare their love for eighties rock, and that the nineties sucked (and of course, it’s nearly ten years since the nineties). But though it’s believable, the relationship doesn’t peak in interest until near the end, when Randy needs to start making some choices.  

Just as important as the performances, director Aronofsky takes more time with one character (unlike Requiem, which covers multiple characters), and fleshes out Robinson as a character with limited means, but still in search of a happier life and the dignity he knows he deserves. The wrestling scenes can be hard to watch for all the blood, but I think it’s actually the scenes at the deli that flesh out the character a lot more, showing how happy and even playful he is in the right set of circumstances, and how miserable when life seems to conspire against him, or when he knows he has tripped himself up. By the time he jams a thumb in the meat-cutter, he’s a fully fleshed out character who prefers a sharp  dose of real pain to the dull ache he knows his life has become. I hope Aronofsky continues to do a thorough job of establishing the dignity his characters could have before he takes it away — it makes all the difference in terms of involving the viewer. The final shot of The Wrestler is one that stayed in my head for days, as did the rest of the film.

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