The Wrestler tells a story about an aging professional wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), who knows absolutely nothing else. That’s all he’s ever done in life, and it’s all that he believes he can do. Well, that’s not quite true, he also has a job at a local supermarket moving crates around, and has presumably had the job, or jobs like it, for quite some time. But the only success he’s ever had is in the wrestling business. His life outside the ring isn’t very good, and this is one of the reasons he continues wrestling for so long.
The other main reason to continue wrestling is necessity. His job at the supermarket doesn’t pay well, and it’s implied that he is often late with his rent. About 30 minutes into the film, he decides to have a “No Holds Barred” match against another wrestler. This match almost kills him.
We worried about “The Ram’s” body earlier in the film after we watch him limp around after what seems to be a safe match. This “No Holds Barred” match is shown through “The Ram’s” recollection, as he is having his injuries fixed up. When a doctor is pulling staples out of his body, we witness how they got there. When his face is getting patched up, we become aware of how the injuries occurred, whether they be from barbed wire, broken glass or a fork. We witness these things not like how they are portrayed on TV, but how they presumably occur.
This is what director Darren Aronofsky does incredibly well. His depiction of what it’s like to be a professional wrestler is heartbreaking, but likely not untrue. I’m sure some things are over-dramatized, but judging from the reaction from real professional wrestlers, it appears to be a realistic account of what it’s like. Randy has a lot of suffering to go through, both physically and emotionally, neither seemingly taking a bigger hit than the other.
His life outside the ring is suffering; his friends consist of a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and a few of the neighborhood children. He’s got a daughter, one that doesn’t want to speak with him. He wants to begin rekindling this relationship, or maybe sparking it for the first time, I’m not sure. He doesn’t know much about her, having not seen her in years, but hopes that he’ll be able to, at the very least, get on speaking terms with her.
I used the word “heartbreaking” earlier to describe the life of a professional wrestler, but you could use it to describe the entire film. Watching Randy’s life improve marginally, only to see it get worse is devastating. Things get better, and then things get worse, and the latter is always far more intense than the former.
What drives The Wrestler forward is Mickey Rourke. His performance is two-fold, one part emotion, the other physique. Here, he has to portray the emotion that comes from being an old, rundown, professional wrestler, but he also has to look and play the part. He is large in this film, and seems to take a lot of bumps in the process. Ask Rourke if wrestling is fake after filming this film, and I’d be willing to bet his answer would be a very firm “no”.
Thanks to his performance, and the way his character is written in general, we begin to really care about “The Ram”. Thanks to this attachment, the film becomes more heartbreaking. Even at the 30 minute mark, during this “No Holds Barred” match, we already have an attachment to Rourke’s character. When he ends up in hospital, we don’t want to see him succumb to his broken body. This is true for every single moment of the film. If something can go wrong, as it often does, we don’t wish it to.
Darren Aronofsky is good at making heartbreaking (there’s that word again) dramas, and The Wrestler is no exception. The majority of the film dwells in the negative territory, with only few moments of relief. One that stands out the most is one in which Randy has to work the deli counter at the supermarket. This scene is the only real humorous moment in the film, which is what makes it stand out even more.
The Wrestler is a really, really good movie. It has drama, tension, while telling an interesting and believable story. Randy Robinson is a character that grows on you quickly, even while completely destructive things happen to his body, mind and life. Mickey Rourke is incredible in the lead role, and the film, most importantly, makes you care. If I could reiterate this word one more time: It’s a heartbreaking film. Or it was for me, and likely will be for you as well.