Thursday, February 5, 2009

"The only place I get hurt is out there." REVIEW

The Wrestler-2008-Darren Aronofsky


I have always been a person who becomes obsessed about one particular thing, and goes with it for awhile and then grows bored and moves onto something else. In high school I loved to play music and constantly wrote songs and played shows, now as a college student I am deeply involved with learning more about cinema. Between the ages of 10-13 I had a different love though. I have always enjoyed the elaborate, the dramatic, even as a pre-teen. My love was for professional wrestling. My friends and I had our own backyard wrestling association(AWA-Awesome Wrestling Association) and we even had weekly "cable televised" events and monthly "pay per view" events, with a championship belt and all. I watched every pay per view and classic match I could get my hands on, I studied the art of professional wrestling.

I say all of that to say this. Darren Aronofsky's latest film, The Wrestler, is about an entertainer. Someone who lives for the elaborate, the dramatic, the main event. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a down on his luck professional wrestler, who in the 80's was at the top of his game. Now he only wrestles on the weekends to crowds of a couple hundred if he's lucky. Randy is a relic of the 80's, like the original Nintendo, like hair metal, like long hair and leather pants. He is a part of American pop culture history, and he is fighting to stay alive.

Aronofsky does a wonderful job of allowing us to get into how this truly is a passion in these men's lives, and not only a passion, but an art form. From the back stage scenes where we see them preparing for their matches, planning them out, we get a sense of camaraderie. These men are abnormal, and they get it. They don't do this because they want to be famous, they do it for the thrill of it all.

Along the way we meet Cassidy(Marisa Tomei), a stripper with a heart of gold. She is the only person Randy really entrusts anything to. Even when she is giving him a lap dance, the man is pouring his heart out to her, telling her about his day. This is what their lives have devolved to, impersonal sexual activity in place of real physical intimacy. It is an unrequited statement about the nature of how our society has grown so detached from any type of honest emotional connection. In the whole of the film, Cassidy represents something greater than the usual stripper/hooker with a heart of gold, doing said job because she has a kid. She represents what Randy has become.

Americans have this infatuation with their heroes and for awhile, wrestlers were our ultimate hero. There's something so inevitably American about Hulk Hogan telling kids to "say their prayers" while he body slams half naked men through tables in front of millions of people. It was never In God We Trust, it has always been, In Flavor Of The Month We Trust, so long as that flavor mentions some sort of moral activity that we can connect with.

Randy is a simple man really. All he wants is to connect with someone, anyone, and to wrestle. His failed relationship with his daughter is so heartbreaking yet so revealing that you almost have to look away. As a viewer you cannot help but to see Randy as a sort of lost icon. We wish and hope for a comeback. It's excruciating to see what one man will go through for his passion.

Screenwriter Robert Siegal structures this film in a very simplistic, Hollywood style. He reveals every moment at the exact second it should be, and seemingly follows step by step a Robert McKee like screenplay. Generally, this would make such a film come out about as bland as a rock, but with The Wrestler, Siegal and Aronofsky are able to transcend the usual Hollywood archetype and create something that follows the formula while remaining genuine and organic.

Occasionally, this comes back to haunt them. The allusions to Randy being a Christ figure, while generally well handled individually, overall become some sort of amalgamation of all that is wrong with Hollywood's obsession with said Christ figure.

It goes without saying that Rourke's acting is something to behold. He plays the part to utter perfection, with such subtlety and nuance that it couldn't seem anymore real if we were seeing him literally live this out in his life.

The film's final sequence is a masterclass in film making. While things happen, as one would expect, Randy makes a speech, people come back into his life who he thought he lost, the films final few frames show something transcendent on a level that few films reach.

Wrestling with my friends, playing in a band, writing about films; to me these things have offered such tremendously joyous feelings that other simpler pleasures cannot match. I still remember at age 11, holding that championship belt up and pretending there were millions of fans cheering me on, I guess we live with that child inside of us forever.


TinyVessels said...

I probably wouldn't have admitted that whole wrestling bit in your first paragraph... ha!
Anyways, I really want to read this, but I haven't seen it yet and don't want anything spoiled for me. I'm sure it's just as beautifully written as your other posts.

NoirishCity.... said...

Hi! D.P.
This is my second time reading your very well written review before, I plan to check this film (The Wrestler) out next week. I watched "Rev Road" and "Doubt" is next...Oh! BTW, "Congratulation" on receiving
the Premio Dardos Awards from T.S...I think that you deserve it because I think that you are an excellant writer.
DCD ;-)

Dead Pan said...

Thanks Dame---I hope you see The Wrestler soon. Let me know what you think as soon as you do.

Shubhajit said...

Great review. Perhaps the fact that you loved wrestling when you were young, gave this review a kind of personal touch and made it that much more engaging for me.

The Wrestler is indeed a terrific example of intimate and honest filmmaking. By the time the movie ends, the viewers get to know Randy as much as perhaps he himself does - and that, i believe, is the greatest achievement for Aronofsky as a filmmaker and a storyteller.

Dead Pan said...

Shubhajit---I agree totally. Aronofsky's greatest achievement in this film was painting a portrait so intimate that you couldn't not feel for the character.

thanks for reading.

Mattson Tomlin said...

Great review. Wrestler was by far one of the better movies of the year.

Lawrence said...

This can't work in reality, that's what I think.
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