Movie Review: The Wrestler
By Matthew Huntley
December 31, 2008
Randy "The Ram" Robinson knows exactly where he belongs, although the choice may not always be up to him. He's a professional wrestler, known to a legion of fans as one of the all-time greats, a force and spectacle who refuses to go down. But wrestling seems to be all that Randy knows. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't be anything else or fill any other role. He's come to accept the only time anybody knows or gives a damn about him is when he's inside the ring.
Outside the ring is another story, which is mostly where The Wrestler takes place. When the show is over and the ring is being disassembled, Randy (Mickey Rourke, in a terrific performance) goes through the same motions as any working man. He drives his beat-up van home to his trailer park and discovers his landlord has locked him out because of late rent payments. It's cold, dark and he's alone. Randy must spend the night in his van and he's awakened by screaming kids who want to wrestle him. This is one of the few pleasures he still has - the admiration of fans who still believe professional wrestling is real.
Randy's other pleasure comes from his evenings spent at Cheeks, a night club where he's a regular to a pole and lap dancer named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). Randy is used to Cassidy's exclusive attention and feels the need to protect her against other men. The two share more than just superficial sex acts. Deep down, Randy would like to "be" with Cassidy, but she has a strict policy of not dating customers. She also has a nine-year-old son and plans to move away to provide him a better life. Without directly saying it, she feels a relationship with Randy would get in the way.
If he could, Randy would probably wrestle until the day he dies, and who knows, he just might do that, but his life gets turned upside down when he has a heart attack and requires bypass surgery. The doctor tells him to stop injecting his body with all those "substances" and that he must quit wrestling. He can still exercise, but it must be monitored.
Of course, Randy doesn't let anybody within the wrestling circuit know about this. He quietly cancels his 20th anniversary match against his nemesis, "The Ayatollah" (Ernest Miller). Aside from signing autographs and posing for pictures, there isn't much else for Randy to do. Cassidy encourages him to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), whom he left when she was a kid. At first, Stephanie thinks his return is just a way of asking her to take care of him.
We question Randy's intentions with Stephanie because a scene late in the film would indicate he's obviously not ready for the responsibility of being a father. In the back of his mind, Randy seems to have known this the whole time. Does he visit her because he's bored and has a lot of time on his hands, since he's no longer wrestling? Has his near-death experience opened his eyes to things that are more important? In a heartfelt scene on an abandoned boardwalk, he tells her, "I know I deserve to be alone. I just don't want you to hate me." But even when Stephanie responds to him, it's his life as a wrestler he seems to miss the most, not her. That the film doesn't necessarily answer the questions above or bring closure to their relationship makes it all the more intriguing.