The Wrestler

The Wrestler (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Darren Aronofsky
viewed: 12/29/08 at AMC Loews Metreon 16 with IMAX, SF, CA

Darren Aronofsky, director of Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and the godforsaken The Fountain (2006), delivers, like a metal chair crashing on your skull, a brutal, painful, amazing film, with a tremendous performance by Mickey Rourke as the titular wrestler.  It’s harsh and beautiful, and it really hits you like a ton of bricks.

This film has a viscerality and a naturalism, shot often with hand-held cameras, occasionally grainy, somewhat verite in style.  For Aronofsky, the film is more like his Requiem for a Dream than his other films, though hingeing less on stylized camera-work, and relying heavily on the actors and their performances.  Which works because they are all quite strong.  Rourke is amazing.  Marisa Tomei (who is very beautiful) is good, and Evan Rachel Wood is very strong as his estranged daughter.  The film is about the body, about physicality, and mortality.

Rourke’s body and face are the landscape of the film.  Puffy, over-built, over-tanned, and riddled with scars, he is a pug of sorts, yet also an aging semi-superstar.  He has relied on his body all his life for his survival but has brutalized it in the wrestling ring, with drugs and steroids and hard living.  And it’s all he has, his body is his life, and when his heart goes out on him, he begins to realize how he really has nothing else.

Marisa Tomei is a stripper, who Rourke’s Randy the Ram is quite friendly with.  She is an apt counterpart, as she too has used her body for her sustenance, and she is aging also, with the young men in the strip club shunning her for her age.  She looks terrific, and Randy still appreciates her, but she too is on the brink of the end of the body’s power to bring in money.  Her body has been less brutalized, she has a son, and she, too, keeps other life out at arm’s reach, limiting her friendship.  So when Randy approaches her, sharing his dilemma and feeling her a kindred spirit, she does react, but not enough.

Randy’s daughter is a grown young woman who has been disappointed by her father to the point of excising him completely.  Randy also comes to her, to share his sense of his mortality and to apologize and attempt to rejoin her life.  When he screws it up, she kicks him out, forever.

Rourke’s body is seen throughout the film, shooting steroids into his butt, pulling staples from his back, slitting his forehead with a razor blade.  Even in the fakery of Wrestling, there is an intense level of brutality, which all of the wrestlers submit to.  It is their profession and art and their is a heart-warming comeraderie among them.  The violence wreaks itself upon their huge, muscled, physiques, and it is hard to watch.  The squeamish will not like it.  But it too is the metaphor for Randy’s life.  He’s abused himself and allowed himself to be abused because he had great strength and character, but the whole has beaten him down, he will not last forever, and what else is left is brutalized too.

When I first heard of this movie, it sounded almost like a cliche to an extent, but I’d read a lot about Rourke’s performance, which is truly profound and moving.  But Aronofsky makes it more, much more than a cliche, he imbues an emotional realism that is reflected in the cinematography and the performances.  The movie hits hard.  And yet is also at times very tender.  Really, quite something.  Certainly Aronofsky’s best.  And many will say the same of Mickey Rourke.

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