Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky have knocked it out of the ballpar…. errr…. landed the top-rope flying headbutt. The Wrestler is both Rourke’s dramatic return to top-notch acting in the Hollywood spotlight, and Aronofsky’s return to masterful direction after the failure of his uneven 2006 film, The Fountain.
The premise of The Wrestler isn’t unfamiliar. Sports films have long had similar premises and themes, and this movie falls in the same lineage as Raging Bull, Rocky and Bull Durham. The main draw, though, is both the film’s accurate portrayal of the professional wrestling circuit, and Rourke’s extremely believable, downtrodden performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson.
Unlike Aronofsky’s previous films, which were deeply layered thematically and stylistically, The Wrestler is straightforward and documentary-esque. The cinematography shies away from flashiness, and instead takes on a hand-held camera feel. This, combined with unusually tight shots during the wrestling action make for a very personal connection with Rourke’s character.
Thematically, the movie deals with the loss and desire of fame, loneliness and regret. Marisa Tomei’s performance as a stripper that is Randy’s only friend, and Evan Rachel Wood’s performance as Randy’s daughter help ground his character emotionally, and present the challenge of balancing a life in the real world, and life as a fictional superhero in the ring.
From the perspective of a former wrestling fan, the film struck a chord with me. We often get caught up in the unbelievable story lines and action in the ring, and completely forget that there is a real person behind the facade. This was most apparent went Randy breaks down and cries after a brutal and hard-to-watch hardcore match. It’s as if Randy asks himself “how far am I willing to go for fame?”
By the time the abrupt blackout ending hits the screen, many will yearn for a more conclusive ending. But the ending was the only appropriate way to end the tale of someone so caught up between real and fake, life and death, and fame and loneliness.