There is a lot of hype surrounding The Wrestler. It first premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion Award. This year at the Golden Globe Awards, Mickey Rourke was nominated for Best Actor (which he won), and Marisa Tomei was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Wrestler” was nominated for Best Original Song. Rourke and Tomei have also both been nominated for Academy Awards for their performances in The Wrestler.
The Wrestler was directed by Darren Aronofsky. Darren Aronofsky’s previous work includes Pi, Requiem For a Dream, and The Fountain (my favorite film of all time). However, Aronofsky also wrote and produced his previous films, while The Wrestler was written by Robert D. Siegel.
My full (spoiler-filled) review can be found after the jump.
Before seeing The Wrestler, I had been looking forward to it for months. The Fountain is my favorite film and Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors. Early reviews of the film were overwhelmingly positive and only served to further my excitement. Needless to say, my expectations were high.
Mickey Rourke gives a masterful performance as Randy the Ram. Rourke perfectly captures the desperation, despair, and hope of Randy. Marissa Tomei’s performance is equally stellar. The cinematography is engaging and poignant. Close moving shots following Randy from behind invoke the intriguing parallel between Randy’s walk through life and the classic walk of a wrestler through the entrance tunnel. Aronofsky’s brilliant direction is evident in every breathtaking shot from this beautiful, beautiful film.
But the story is atrocious. The film starts off well enough. We see establishing shots of Rourke’s character Randy the Ram in his glory years, and then see how age has broken him down and time has robbed him of his most valuable posession (his body). He befriends a stripper named Cassidy (Tomei) who seems to empathize with his plight. After all, her body is no less important to her profession as Randy’s is to his.
Randy suffers a heart attack, and Cassidy urges him to make ammends with his estranged daughter Samantha (played by Evan Rachel Wood). Randy takes a job in a deli, and seems to be finally figuring out how to make his life work now that he can’t be a wrestler.
This is the point where the movie digressed from my expectations. I was told to expect a tale of tragedy, courage, heroism, and redemption. Dan Trachtenberg of The Totally Rad Show said that, “in some movies, a heroic act is winning the All-Valley Tournament or finding the Arc of the Covenant, but in this movie, it’s working in a deli.”
That certainly is a beautiful sentiment, and the movie certainly seemed to want Randy to heroically accept that his time as a wrestler had ended, but Randy the Ram’s time spent working in a deli was anything but heroic. He took the job begrudgingly, and only after he had exhausted every possible alternative. If he had had any way out he would have taken it. Eventually he harasses customers, deliberately injures himself, and quits.
Randy’s relationship with his daughter should have been a beautiful story of apology and redemption. But I had already seen all of their sentimental scenes in the trailer (all 2 of them). After convincing his hesitant daughter that he was giving up wrestling and wanted to be her father again, he promptly got drunk, snorted some coke, banged some random girl in a bar bathroom, and left his daughter high and dry.
The story is similar with Tomei’s character. Randy shares a couple of sentimental moments with her (the action figure and the ‘one beer’), and then immediately throws away any chance he had with her in order to go back to wrestling.
This is not a story of redemption. This is a story of failure. Randy had a heart attack, which opened the door to him reuniting with his daughter and developing a relationship with Cassidy. He knew if he went back to wrestling it would kill him. He knew if he went back, he would lose any chance he had with the people he cared about. But he did it anyway.
The ending is possibly ambiguous, but I think the outcome of Randy’s actions are pretty clear. He died in the ring. He had another heart attack and died. He was alone and in pain and a total failure. He gave up any meaningful relationships he had any chance at in order to please himself.
In the end, the best part of seeing this movie was hearing Bruce Springsteen’s original song playing over the credits. Not only is the song pretty sweet, but hearing it signaled the end of 115 minutes of disappointment.