Movie Review: The Wrestler

By Matthew Huntley

December 31, 2008

This will not end well.

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Randy isn't a man who kids himself into thinking he enjoys anything outside his profession. He'd rather not work his daytime job at the local grocery store, where he carries in boxes of meat; and he definitely doesn't want to work behind the deli counter waiting on old ladies who insist on "more" then "less" potato salad (I've dealt with people like this before; it's not fun).

Wrestling is what drives him and we see how much Randy comes alive during the wrestling scenes, which are incredibly detailed and go on longer than we expect. Director Darren Aronofsky, shooting with a high film speed to infuse the images with a lot of rugged grain (a complement to Randy's body and character), illustrates the passion and happiness Randy feels when he's performing. These scenes will most likely become Randy's greatest memories.

I liked how the film lets us see what goes on in the world of professional wrestling. It's mindful of how wrestlers talk to each other before, during, and after the show, as well as the measures some of the men will take to incite the audience. Randy will go so far as to hide blades in his wrist bands and cut himself during the show. He knows the appearance of blood will enhance his fans' experience.

All this makes The Wrestler a most observant film. Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert D. Siegel take us fully into Randy's world and lifestyle, and we come to empathize and care for this fading athlete. He's not the most responsible of human beings, but he's got a big heart and he's always loyal to those who are loyal to him, with the exception of his daughter.

A brief montage at the beginning, full of old magazine clippings and sound bytes, tells us who Randy "The Ram" used to be - a man at the top of his game with a prosperous future ahead of him, or so it seemed. It's the rest of the film that tells us who he currently is. Twenty years later, he's sad and lonely. Everything he does is in the name of wrestling, probably because there's nothing else. It's easy to tell just by looking at his body and watching him prepare for a match: Randy has a weathered face, he always appears sore and aching, he dyes his hair, he shaves his arm pits, he injects himself with steroids and he frequents the tanning salon. At least one can't say he's not dedicated to his work.


Looking back on the film, Mickey Rourke is the perfect choice to play Randy. In many ways, Rourke is Randy. Think about it: 20 years ago, he too was at the peak of his career, but he left acting to become a boxer. He succumbed to many injuries such as a broken nose and cheekbone.

Appearance aside, Rourke embodies Randy. It wouldn't be enough for an actor to simply share a look and life similar to the character he's playing. Rourke returns to great form here and we're reminded why he was so highly praised in the 1980s. He rekindles his ability to transform himself into a character with utter conviction.

The Wrestler does not have a precise plot. It is a character study of a sad but devoted man. Randy is sad because he's no longer the man he used to be. He tries to deny the fact his body will eventually catch up with him. In one of film's most powerful shots, he looks around the American Legion and reflects on all the injured wrestlers who have resorted to signing autographs. Will it eventually come to this? Has it already come to this?

But the man remains devoted to his fans. For now, and as long as he's living, there will always be a place for him in the world of professional wrestling. And that's all Randy wants - a place to belong. The Wrestler reminds us, with truth and poignancy, that's all most of us want.

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