The Wrestler is one of those films that say something poignant about its subject matter in addition to being released at the right time to garner attention due to media coverage of professional wrestling. The film came out not that long following the Chris Benoit murders/suicide. It was only a year after the Benoit situation and only about two years following the sudden death of wrestler Eddie Guerrero. Public interest in the behind the scenes of professional wrestling was at a high not experienced since the steroid trials involving Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon a little over a decade earlier. In addition, it was hailed as the comeback of Mickey Rourke and a well constructed film.
Aranofsky’s film follows Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a wrestling star in the 1980s now reduced to working independent wrestling federation’s in order to make ends meet. Years of physical abuse, both from substance abuse and in-ring wear and tear has turned him into a walking disaster. He even says at one point that he’s a “broken down piece of meat,” implying both his physical and mental state in addition to his status in the wrestling business; he was taken in, chewed up and spit out when no longer relevant or profitable. His only connection is with a stripper played by Marissa Tomei, who is entering into a phase in her life when the demands of a very physical profession are doing the same thing. The sex business, just like the wrestling business, relies heavily on youth and appearance in order to sell – something that neither character has to offer anymore.
Additionally, the strained relationship between Randy and his daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood) demonstrates what Randy sacrificed in order to achieve his now defunct notoriety along with his mental state. He is unable to interact with the world in an acceptable fashion; his wrestling persona and his real life are intertwined, shown proficiently through Aranofsky’s direction and story. A telling scene of this is when Randy starts work at a deli counter. By using the sounds of a chanting crowd when Randy is walking through the back of the grocery store tells of how both professions are a performance and the suppression of one personality in lieu of another is a mental strain. Eventually he can’t cope with the demands of the real world, returning to wrestling against all warnings not to. This is commonplace in the wrestling industry. In the documentary Beyond the Mat, a profile of Jake “The Snake” Roberts mirrors Randy’s relationship with his daughter, his drug issues, and his desire to continue performing even though he is unable to wrestle like he did before. Randy is not an exact copy of Roberts but instead an amalgamation of many wrestlers: Roberts, Terry Funk, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and many others who have faded into obscurity and nostalgia, not able to achieve their former glory yet still found working independent wrestling shows from time to time and trying to survive on their past glory. Randy does this every weekend in the film, wrestling for small audiences and putting over young, unknown talents.
The film was produced for only $6 million dollars and made over $26 million domestically. It had a few Oscar nominations including Rourke for best actor and Tomei for best supporting actress. The small budget shows but not in a negative way. The film is raw, almost like a documentary at times and relies on the script, the amazing acting, and Aranofsky’s clever approach to directing and cinematography to tell a somber story. It’s sometimes filled with sadness and sometimes it inspires happiness, yet ultimately it shows how fickle our entertainment truly is. A person, such as Randy, is both a victim and guilty of foolishness and excess. He was compensated for his accomplishments but also trapped in a lifestyle that is grueling, demanding, and takes an incredible toll on those involved. While professional wrestling is fake, falling over and over again, travelling to one town to the next without a break, is damaging to one’s physical health. It’s no wonder many, if not all, of them turn to prescription drugs, alcohol, and heavy street drugs. Many real-life professional wrestlers are addicted to various pharmaceuticals for pain in addition to steroids. A company, such as WWE, has a four day work schedule where there is very little time for performers to recuperate. The drive to perform in front of thousands and because of television in front of millions is another driving force in continued physical and mental punishment for entertainment. Wrestling is also very capricious; one minute you’re on top and the next you’re gone. There are very few wrestlers that enjoy long term success and it relies on multiple factors including fan reaction, merchandise sales, booking decisions, and so forth. Knowing where one stands in the industry is a rarity reserved for only a handful of performers.
However, without these brutal conditions, a film like The Wrestler wouldn’t exist. It’s bittersweet, since the film is so good yet exists because of the hardships experienced by many in this business. It’s like a World War II film – its fun to watch but its existence relies on such a horrific war to have taken place to begin with. Regardless of this, The Wrestler is a good example of film done right. It has all the elements of a great contemporary piece of cinema and a joy to watch. It also has a bunch of awesome hair metal songs throughout and a really depressing song by Bruce Springsteen.
Here is the trailer
Here is my review from Netflix. One out of two people found it helpful.
The Wrestler (2008)
If Mickey Rourke had avoided getting involved in Wrestlemania he might have won the Academy Award for best actor. However, since Rourke seems like a moron, he screwed up and participated and the award went to Sean Penn. What is interesting about The Wrestler is that Rourke seems like he plays an altered version of himself. Aronofsky’s fictional tale of a broken down professional wrestler mirrors the life of Jake “the Snake” Roberts with little pieces of other damaged wrestlers such as Terry Funk, Randy Savage, and others. Rourke’s character, Randy “the Ram” Robinson was once a big draw in the 1980s, but in the present he is working the independent wrestling circuit, putting over young, unknown wrestlers for a meager paycheck. The film follows all of Randy’s demons, including drug use, a critically wounded relationship with his daughter, and his feelings for a stripper whose existence sometimes mirrors the male protagonist. Aronofsky’s film questions the reality of a character and how a pro wrestler’s character is just an extension of their true self. Is it possible for fiction to become a part of reality? What psychological issues are at play in this film? Many questions are asked by The Wrestler, utilizing the script, the actor’s performances, and the visual presentation, which is gritty and mimics a documentary style. I highly recommend The Wrestler, for both those that like and dislike professional wrestling. It goes beyond the stereotypes inherent in pro wrestling and is a character study that pits realistic characters against a decayed environment and an occupation that is very unforgiving, chewing people up and spitting them out as wretched copies of their former selves once they are useless.