Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Powerful: The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram Robinson
When I first watched The Wrestler ten years ago, I was truly moved. I wanted to write about it, but I just couldn’t find a way to put onto paper the intricate plot and the complex emotions it elicited in me. I’m not sure that I can do such a good job now. After I DVR’d it and watched it again recently, though, I thought I’d have another go.

Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a lonely, aging wrestler and single dad in Darren Aranofsky’s The Wrestler (2008) is haunting.

In his prime, The Ram was on a par with Hulk Hogan or “Nature Boy” Rick Flair, but the opening scene shows Randy in a kindergarten classroom recovering after a match held in an elementary school gym. The promoter gives Randy his meager cut of the gate and, after signing a couple of autographs as he walks back through the gym, Randy returns home to find his trailer locked for delinquent rent. That would have seemed to be the ultimate humiliation. However, when he returns to his day job as a stocker in a grocery store and asks his supervisor for more hours, he hears, “What's the matter, they raise the price of tights?”

The talented Marisa Tomei as Cassidy in The Wrestler.
Other than the cheering weekend crowds on the minor league professional wrestling circuit, Randy takes his only solace from a stripper, Cassidy, portrayed by Marisa Tomei whose career parallels Randy’s.

After another “main-event” match, the promoter reminds Randy that the twentieth anniversary of The Ram’s tussle with “The Ayatollah” at Madison Square Garden is only a few months away. A rematch would bring big money for everyone involved. After Randy suffers a heart attack, the rematch looms over the remainder of the film like a funnel cloud over a mobile home park.

The dozens of small battles Randy fights every day to hold onto the shreds of his self-respect pales in comparison to the battle he must fight to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Stephanie, who is played by Evan Rachel Wood. Stephanie’s response to Randy’s first attempt to reconnect is, “This is so fuckin' you. You only come around when you need something from somebody, when they can do something for you. Selfish fuck. Good. Be alone.”

At the moment it seems Randy is on the verge of pulling his life and priorities together, he makes another poor choice and all the good things that he’d begun to build tumble down again like a house of cards. Yet, Fate gives him another chance. In the end, Randy is faced with two paths to vindication, but only one leads to happiness.

Mickey Rourke’s performance yielded a Best Actor Award from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor’s Guild and an Oscar nomination for a Best Actor and was clearly Rourke’s opus. As far has Rourke’s romantic foil in the film, it seems that every role that Marisa Tomei is just flawless. Her portrayal of Cassidy’s overcompensating vulnerability leaves the viewer no choice but to fall in love with both the performance and the character. Tomei was nominated for just about every Best Supporting Actress award including one from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

All tolled, The Wrestler is an amazing film that will appeal to anyone who appreciates amazing films. There is no question, though, Randy Robinson’s story is an agonizing metaphor with which nearly all men can at relate on some level. For some, it may hit even closer to home.

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