The Wrestler:’ A Knockout Film
Shane Steinburg | Monday, January 19, 2009
Once in a blue moon, a film comes around that is so profound, so beautiful – yet also so tragic and so close to the heart – that, during the end credits, you sit motionless, entranced, gazing at the dark screen while the rest of the audience shuffles out of the theater.”The Wrestler” is one such film.Acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky’s depicts the arresting story about an over-the-hill wrestler who is trying to mount a comeback both out and inside the ring – the only place he’s ever truly been alive. The film operates in a weirdly poetic way, becoming a sort of beautiful requiem.Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a wrestler who was once on top of the sport. At one time headlining events across the country’s biggest stages, he now remembers those days as nothing more than a distant life.The film begins with Randy panting in the corner of an elementary school classroom after having just fought a match in front of a handful of spectators in the school’s gymnasium. Brilliantly placed right after an opening montage of his past successes, the film’s first few scenes show just how far Randy has fallen from the top. But his struggle isn’t one of an ex-star who had it all, lost it all, and now wants it back. Instead, it’s the struggle of a human being with a dream. He’s a man who once seemingly had it all, a man who had always lived in the ring. He’s without the sort of love and compassion that transcends the cheers of fans and temporary fame. He’s a man who, loved by society while he was on top, is cast aside once his fifteen minutes were up. Ultimately, he was left numb and unable to experience life outside of the ring. It’s the relationships that shape this film; those between Randy; his love interest, an outcast stripper (Marissa Tomei); his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), who he abandoned to pursue a wrestling career; and his diehard fans who follow him into exile. Additionally, the stability that eludes Randy defines the film. Aronofsky’s directing and the cast’s performances, all of which are nomination-worthy, elevate Randy’s story into something worthy of cheers and tears.Mickey Rourke and the role of Randy were made for each other. An actor who was once a headlining star atop the film industry has since become a Hollywood reject who plays supporting roles in straight-to-video films. He was Randy “The Ram” in every sense, and “The Wrestler” is his comeback.Make no mistake; this is the resurrection of a gifted actor. Rourke’s performance is not only award-worthy, but so immaculate, that it is worthy of being placed alongside the great screen performances of all-time. Credit is also due to Aronofsky, who had the gumption to put his career on the line to give Rourke the chance to shine once again. That isn’t his only success though. Aronofsky is praise-worthy in his own right for his brilliantly transparent directing. It is difficult to edit a writer or producer’s vision, but a great deal more difficult for a director, much less one of Aronofsky’s silk, to edit himself. Yet he resists his usual impulse for flair directing and camera trickery, and instead trusts his actors enough to let them anchor the film, which ultimately pays off. By leaving the film to unfold on its own, Aronofsky is put into the position of being a minimalist director at the helm of an equally minimalist, but immensely powerful film. It could be said that “The Wrestler” is one of those rare films that will at once unnerve and sooth you, making you glow with delight for the film’s underdog one second, only to cry the very next as the film treks down its inevitably tragic path. It could be called a life-affirming story that’s so piercing and meaningful, it’s nothing less than a beautifully meditated hymn to life. Or one could simply call it a masterpiece of the highest order, and be done with it. But no way of putting this film into words can ever do it justice. “The Wrestler” can only be described by the feeling you get when the screen cuts to black and Bruce Springsteen’s original song, “The Wrestler,” begins to play in the background. It’s an indelible feeling that what you’ve just witnessed is more than the triumphant comeback of a fine actor, more than the year’s best picture, and a great deal more than a film.