Much has already been made about Mickey Rourke’s “comeback” in The Wrestler. But my latest interest in the movies is still subtext. Luckily, there’s a lot for me to like.
R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language drug use
The story is about a fiftysomething professional wrestler named Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke). He was big back in the day, but professional wrestling ain’t what it used to be, and neither is Randy. His drugs of choice are steroids and pain killers, in that order. Randy has cared for his muscles and his hair, but the wear and tear has taken its toll on his face. Now he plays to tiny crowds without TV cameras and waits all day for autograph-seekers who never come. He lives in a mobile home and sometimes sleeps in his van. He seeks friendship in bars and strip clubs.
His best friend is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, looking good in her birthday suit), although Randy still pays her for her company. The pairing of a man who sells his body to pro wrestling with a woman who sells her body stripping is an insightful bits of character development from writer Robert D. Siegel.
Randy is always wondering whether it’s time to get out of wrestling for good. He has a daughter he hasn’t seen in far too long; maybe he should spend time with her. He could find a job that doesn’t physically punish him so much. Maybe Cassidy would consider settling down. And besides, wrestling used to be glamorous and exciting; now it’s just freakish and pathetic.
Purpose in Life
Aronofsky and Siegel offer their bleak, fatalistic view on ambition. Their story tells us that we should probably accept our nature, and not aspire to what we are not. The Wrestler is a sad movie in that regard; it says you can’t necessarily be what you want to be. For those of us who If you have aspirations beyond our means or talent, that’s not just sad, it’s tragic.
And yet the attitude is healthy, too. If you can embrace your true nature, if you can be happy with what you’ve got, you’ll probably do better than if you stretch for something you can’t reach. The two notions balance out, giving audiences a bittersweet story, one with a sad middle and a palatable, happy ending.
Yes, The Wrestler is something of a comeback for Rourke, and the peek backstage behind pro wrestling is entertaining. But if it weren’t for the fragile and flawed characters and the solid story, The Wrestler wouldn’t be as good as it is.