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STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
• Behind The Scenes Featurette: Within The Ring
• Music Video: “The Wrestler” by Bruce Springsteen
“Well, we really wanted to do a movie called Fuck Yourself Vince McMahon, which was just an hour and a half of the remaining members of the Hart family flipping off the camera, but we decided to go the tasteful route.”
Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
An aging professional wrestler on the brink of obscurity is forced to re-evaluate his own life after a brush with death.
I could probably write a nice, long dissertation on how this movie links up with the rest of Darren Aronofsky’s resume, something about his obsession with man vs his own nature, finding beauty in the imperfect, et cetera, et cetera.
Screw that. There’s a tendency to overthink Aronofsky’s movies to the point where people end up missing that the only real special element Aronofsky has ever added to make his films stand out against the tide is honesty. Characters waylaid and stripped by their peril, inside and out, and Darren being right there with a camera, trying to interpret the inner noise just as accurately as the outer, in an infinite spectrum of gray.
What makes The Wrestler different is that Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s reality is professional wrestling, and in its own special, wrapped-in-spandex way it’s far more fucked up than any of his previous subjects, if for no other reason than when Jared Leto loses an arm, or Max Cohen takes a power drill to the temple, there’s no camera there to record it for highlights, or a crowd screaming in awe or chanting “HO-LY SHIT”. Pro wrestling is one of the few, strange places where self-destruction has a script and an audience.
Of course, we can get that story every week on USA. The one we don’t usually get, at least till one of these guys drops dead, is what kind of life a man leads when he’s not being adored for breaking himself in half for an adoring crowd. For a lot of these guys, that’s their only talent, and when there’s no applause and not even a quarter of the paycheck for that sacrifice, they might as well be living their own private hell.
That’s where the Monday night cameras shut off and Darren Aronofsky’s camera takes over. And never for a second does he flinch from this man, who he has become, and what he has to do just to get by when he’s not wearing green tights. The Ram’s a nice guy, grateful to his fans and friends, and genuinely loves what he does. He’s also a shitty father, a drug addict, and notoriously selfish and self-serving when he wants something or someone bad enough. He earns his fate several times over throughout the course of the film. The film does its subject a favor, though, possibly the ultimate favor: It never blames. Probably wouldn’t go as far as to say it sympathizes, but it paints this man as someone who has only ever been able to earn love through his talent, which is very quickly killing him. Pity is one thing, but hating this man for desperately trying to find something, anything else in this life that fills him with the love and appreciation he’s had in his past would be a hypocrisy on a grand scale for any feeling human. Let he without sin swing the first metal folding chair, so to speak.
You might notice the lack of discussion about Mickey Rourke, or Marisa Tomei, or Evan Rachel Wood, or Clint Mansell. That isn’t to denigrate the amazing, subtle work done by all four of them for this flick, but for a drama, for a portrait of a man’s life, everyone in front of the camera bringing their A game is no surprise. Everything in that previous paragraph, however, is harder. Vulnerability and honest portrayal without descending into easy, saccharine bullshit is far harder, and the film’s complete lack of ego in that respect is a genuine achievement, especially for a director whose visual flair, while inventive and often necessary, sometimes overwhelms.
Not bad at all for a film about an old guy in tights.
There’s only two features: Springsteen’s music video for “The Wrestler”, which is absolutely perfect in its simplicity, and a guerrila-style behind-the-scenes documentary called Within The Ring. It’s roughly a half hour long, but shot on the fly, catching cast and crew for interviews or quotes at random moments, and with a special focus on the indie wrestlers and venues used for the film, it serves as an oddly appropriate companion to the film, not so much being upfront with facts and stories about the making of, but definitely giving us a hint as the vibe of being around while the film was made, what’s going on in everyone’s heads. Just like Aronofsky’s other DVDs: slight, but satisfying.
Still want my goddamned Fountain Special Edition, though.
9 out of 10