The Scoop: 2008 R, directed by Darren Aranofsky and starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood
Tagline: Love. Pain. Glory.
Summary Capsule: An once-great pro wrestler tries to come to terms with the end of his career after he is made to leave the sport he loves.
Al’s Rating: Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?
Al’s Review: In The Wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson is an aging superstar who finds that years of punishment and abuse have left his body a wreck. The doctors tell him he now risks death if he steps back into the ring, so he must try to pick up the pieces and adjust to the life he left outside the business thirty years ago.
That, in small form, is the plot of The Wrestler, though it’s not what the movie is really about. The Wrestler asks what kind of person chooses this life and what that life does to the person that chooses it. We all had fantasies of growing up to be a pro wrestler or a starting quarterback or rock star, but Randy “The Ram” is someone who actually did it. He lived the dream. Except now that he’s out, he finds that he has only a destroyed body, a polluted brain, and a ruined relationship with his daughter to come home to.
Mickey Rourke has always known how to play the beat-up, broke-down blue-collar hero, and he doesn’t disappoint here in the slightest. It would be easy to demand the audience’s sympathy in this sort of role, but Mikey won’t play that card. Randy likes who he is and what he does. He offers no apologies and makes no excuses for his lifestyle. Does he have regrets? Plenty. But I don’t think he’d take any of it back, either.
The real surprise here, though, is Marisa Tomei. As Pam, Randy’s favorite girl at the local strip club, she is living a parallel story of a performer who is past her prime and not in the same demand she used to be, but who keeps on working because it’s simply what she knows how to do. It’s a brave role both physically (she’s 44!) and emotionally, and one of the best of her career. Strong supporting performances by everyone from Evan Rachel Wood as Randy’s estranged daughter to several real-life Ring of Honor wrestlers who play Randy’s friends and brothers-in-arms really make the movie an amazing experience from start to finish.
But you know all that already. Mickey and Marisa both got Oscar nods and the movie has been bagging awards all over Hollywood. What I really wanted to talk about is why I connected so strongly to The Wrestler. I am a wrestling fan. I have been since 1991. My exact interest in it has shifted as my tastes and knowledge of the industry broadened, but I call myself a fan and I always will.
Pro wrestling has become a more melancholy place in the last ten years. The curtain has been pulled back on the business and we are now exposed to stories from all of those dark corners that used to just be the dirty secret no one ever talked about. We hear of deaths from substance abuse, like “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and Hawk of the Road Warriors, and suicide, like Mike Awesome and Chris Benoit. Guys like Mick Foley and Terry Funk, whose bodies are scarred, scary messes, continue to step between the ropes despite serious health concerns. And we have far too many moments of silence, because of guys like Eddie Guerrero, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, “Hercules” Hernandez, and “Flyin’” Brian Pillman, who pushed themselves and punished themselves and finally injected themselves all the way to the top, only for their hearts to stop when they turned forty.
These are all specters that float around The Wrestler. Not that you need to be a wrestling fan for this film to move you; the academy certainly didn’t. But watching it as a fan, it brought back all those memories for me: all the love and the hate I felt when I watched them on Superstars of Wrestling, and all the shock and sadness when I learned of their passing. It made me feel a little more connected to the heroes I watched endlessly on Saturday nights. It’s a rare movie that can be about a fictional person yet make you feel closer to a real one.
Despite it’s recent popularity, I don’t expect The Wrestler will be considered one of the great movies of the decade when people look back and make their lists. Mickey Rourke will do a movie that’s more popular and be a star all over again or he’ll fade away back into obscurity. Darren Aranofsky will one day become a ridiculously famous director, but this isn’t the movie that will get him there. For both of them, The Wrestler will be just a footnote.
What they have created, however, is a film that I think will become extremely important to a small group of people. Not the wrestling fans who watch Monday Night Raw because they like seeing guys wail on each other, but the wrestling fans who watch Monday Night Raw for the art. The art of working the crowd or doing a promo or selling a move just right. And it is art. Black and blue and bloody all over, but art all the same. And exploring the pain behind that art can make us appreciate it that much more. Maybe we can even see some beauty in a man with a busted nose, a bloody face, and the stubbornness to do it and do it and do it until he’s done.
- The razor blade Randy uses to cut himself? Repeat after me, everyone: There’s no such thing as blood capsules.
- Randy has a “Randy the Ram” action figure on his dashboard?
- Randy’s match against the Ayatollah is based on Hulk Hogan’s famous bout against the Iron Sheik in 1984.
- The relationship between Randy and Stephanie is reportedly taken from the strained real-life relationship of Jake “the Snake” Roberts and his daughter.
- The scene where Randy uses a fan’s prosthetic leg as a weapon is based on a real incident in ECW where Tommy Dreamer was handed a similar prosthetic from the crowd during a match.
- Vince McMahon, owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, reportedly disliked the movie very strongly.
- Randy plays NES?
- Randy and Pam’s conversation about eighties music? Loved it.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson: I’m an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone, I just don’t want you to hate me.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson: In this life you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you. A lot of people told me that I’d never wrestle again, the only one that’s gonna tell me when I’m through doing my thing, is you people here.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson: I don’t hear as good as I used to, and I ain’t as pretty as I used to be. But I’m still here – I’m the Ram.
Ayatollah: I forgot how much fun this was, Ram!
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- Raging Bull
- Beyond the Mat