This next post comes from Robb from Red Bezzle Reviews. Here is his review of The Wrestler for you all. Thanks for taking part Robb.
“Wrestling is fake.” Let’s get this out of the way nice and early.
Is wrestling a sport? In the Olympic sense of the word, of course it is. In the professional sense of the word, not so much. But what it is, is a live action movie: an athletic physical altercation with a pre-determined outcome. So, the same as, say…Jason Statham vs Dwayne Johnson in The Fast and the Furious 8? Or Choi Min-sik in a Royal Rumble of sorts against 30 other men in Oldboy?
What makes wrestling fascinating for the millions….and millions of fans around the world, is not just what happens inside the squared circle, but what happens outside it too. And this is what makes Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler such absorbing viewing. Not only does Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) have to grapple with his dwindling career and resulting health issues, but his unrequited love for stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
Opening with a collage of flyers, magazine cuttings and posters, we witness Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s 80’s wrestling legacy, headlining arenas all over the world with marquee matches. Think Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant at Wrestlemania III. This legacy is brought into stark contrast a split-second later as it’s juxtaposed with The Ram, pre-match and 20 years older, sitting in a kindergarten dressing room. Through Aronofsky’s gaze, The Ram’s world is grainy and grubby, although not quite dirty. He gets stiffed by promoters, has to stare at the lights and take a loss to the younger guys. Worst of all, it looks like he’s living in Martin Riggs’ trailer from Lethal Weapon.
Whilst inclusive enough for the initiated, there are some real treats for the wrestling fan. Current WWE wrestlers (not Superstars) Austin Aries, Cesaro and R-Truth can all be seen setting out their match spots beforehand, whilst a Paul E. Normous gag nearly made me spit-take, Triple H style.
Unlike most wrestlers at this stage in their career, Rourke’s The Ram looks like he still belongs in the ring with no signs of rust. Physically pumped but showing signs of sagging, he flies around the ring performing head butts from the top turnbuckle, flying head scissors and daredevil dives to the outside of the ring. The toll on his aged body are starting to show, however and self-medication helps to ease the symptoms. No doubt channelling his own tumultuous career in film and boxing, Rourke has never been better and won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for his efforts.
Self-medication both helps and hinders though and a career-ending heart attack retires The Ram after he’s whipped like a government mule by indie death match legend Necro Butcher. Relived in PTSD-esque flashbacks, The Ram’s match is pieced together injury by injury. Fluorescent light tubes are swung, foreheads are shot with staple guns and barbed wire shreds the skin. As the audience eats it up, it’s torturous to watch and the viewer feels every bump.
For every soaring high, there is a crushing low. Tragic scenes show former wrestlers as if they were forgotten war veterans; down-trodden, limbs amputated and waiting to sign autographs at a queue-less fan event. Ring weapons are selected in a trolley dash around a hardware store whilst The Ram’s ring preparations are equal parts ridiculous and heart-rending: hair-bleaching, self-tanning and ass-cheek steroid injecting. These moments are beautifully scored by Aronofsky favourite Clint Mansell’s simple piano refrain.
That’s not to say that it’s all suplexes and piledrivers. The Ram’s dead-end day job on a supermarket meat counter sees him walk through the refrigerator curtain like it’s the ring curtain and his banter with customers shows off his promo skills, all whilst struggling to make rent and taking wrestling-related ribs from his boss. This is a guy who play-wrestles the neighbourhood kids and video-wrestles them (as himself) on Nintendo. All for his love of wrestling and the love wrestling has for him.
It’s the only reciprocated love in his life. Evan Rachel Wood’s Stephanie only appears in three scenes but provides enough pathos to prove she is also a casualty of the wrestling lifestyle. Randy’s relo with single mom stripper Cassidy (Tomei, on Oscar nommo form), is a poignant parallel that sees her being upstaged by the younger girls. The Ram pays for lap dances but while she’s busy grinding, he’s busy confessing. Struggling to accept her position and how her life has worked out, Cassidy strings Randy along until it’s too late and he’s decided that he needs that last elusive high: One. Last. Match. One that pits him against not only his legendary nemesis The Ayatollah, but against his own mortality.
Although the ending is often considered the most divisive element of the film it keeps you on the edge of your steel chair until the final bell.
What did you think to The Wrestler? Red Bezzle 3:16 says leave your comments below!