Welcome back to my year-long movie-watching adventure, 52 Pick-Up, where I, Guzman 2011, will be your movie tour-guide throughout the 2011 year, bringing you a review a week from my list of unseen and oft-avoided movies. Don’t forget to check out the 52 Pick-Up thread on the PanelsOnPages.com forums, where you can comment on the articles, give some input on movies that you dig, and throw out any suggestions of movies that you, the readers, feel are must-sees.
After reviewing Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan last week, it is only fitting that I round out my gut-wrenching movie-going experience by clotheslining Aronofsky’s 2008 film, The Wrestler, off of my must-see list. All of the stars in the wrestling universe aligned this week, bringing not only myself, but fellow PoP!-Stars K-and C-Pain, to the couch, only to have my heart ripped out while watching the sympathetic-yet-tragic life of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, played perfectly by Mickey Rourke (nominated for an Academy Award for his performance), unfold before me on Blu-Ray (actual Blu-Ray this time).
If you have listened to any of the recent PanelsOnPages.com PoP!-Casts, or the PCN newcomer, PCW, then you are fully aware of the resurgence of wrestling within the hearts and minds of the PoP!ulation, making no better time then now to sit down for 109 minutes of hardcore wrestling action. Instead, all I ended up doing was crying. If you haven’t checked out our PoP!-Cast Network, then stop reading, open your iTunes, search for PanelsOnPages in the iTunes store, download Last Week In PoP! and get hooked. Then, come back and finish this article. Go now. Seriously… go!
The Wrestler deals with the harsh reality that far-too-many wrestlers find themselves in, due to a mix of bad decision-making, injuries, addiction, inner-demons, or simply misfortune, that inevitably leaves them in a horrible place after their time in the limelight has faded away, broken down, alone, and uninsured. Yes, we all know that wrestling is “fake”, or scripted, but there is nothing fake about the abuse, both physically and mentally, that these athletes put themselves through at every event, all in the name of entertainment, the love of the fans, and ultimately, for the chance to one day make it in the bigs. Aside from the physical toll endured, there’s the demanding road schedule of the business, and the life style that comes along with the road, that has served as the breaking point of many wrestling marriages, causing families to tear apart. Again, another part of wrestling that is in no way fake or part of a well-crafted storyline of a “Face” turning “Heel”.
The opening credit sequence, set to Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang your head)”, is a fun trip down Randy “The Rams” famed past, shown through a montage of magazine clippings, photos, posters and event fliers documenting his matches and the height of his success during “The Rams” Hulk Hogan-esque time atop the wrestling world. Sadly, that’s where most of the fun ends. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is great and does give you some happy moments, like when Randy and a fellow wrestler are shopping at a dollar store for anything that could be used as a weapon for an upcoming match, and the wrestling matches are as real as watching any old school ECW event live, even to the point where Mickey Rourke actually bladed himself during one of the scenes. But, it’s the storyline that puts your heart in a Full Nelson and refuses to let go, even after your heart taps out within the first 30 minutes of the film. Here’s a fun fact for all of you old school wrestling fans; all of the doctored photos used during the opening credits were actually of “The Total Package”, Lex Luger.
Right out of the credits, Aronofsky suplexes you into this fictional, yet very accurate, wrestling universe, so accurate in fact that wrestling legend Jake “The Snake” Roberts claimed that “The Rams” storyline was a mirrored image of his own troubled life and strained relationship with his daughter. The film follows Randy “The Ram” Robinson, giving us a glimpse into the life of a fallen wrestling superstar now dealing with the reality of his own mortality, life choices and the hard grind of being at the bottom of the wrestling food chain in the undashingly low-budget scene of independent wrestling . Even though “The Ram” is still considered a title card attraction in the independent circuit, with crowds that number, at best, in the hundreds, it is far cry from his heyday, and in turn, the paycheck reflects the reality. Aronofsky tackled the film’s subject matter with such a brutal honesty that the film’s realism even brought wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Pipper to tears during an early screening.
Randy’s want for a better life, love, and the need to make amends with his estranged daughter is brought to the forefront when “The Ram” suffers a heart attack after a violent hardcore match, in which “The Ram” pushes his body, notonly to its limit, but also through a barbed-wire wrapped table and a sheet of plate glass, leaving Randy collapsed in the locker room, sadly, in a puddle of his own vomit. After Randys successful heart surgery, he is hit with the news that if he wrestles again, there is a good chance that his body wont be able to handle the abuse of the match, or of the substances that he has been pumping through his body, shifting his mind set from “do or die” to “do and die”. It’s heart-breaking to see someone stripped of the only thing that they were ever good at doing. Take the one thing in life you most love to do, and now imagine that you were just told you could never do it again. It’s a crushing feeling.
Throughout the film, the only single constant good thing in Randys life is the friendship, and wanted relationship, with Cassidy, an “out of her prime” stripper , played superbly and very nudely by a finely-aged Marisa Tomei, who was also nominated by The Academy for her role in the film. Cassidy’s struggles parallel with that of “The Ram”, and these parallels were brilliantly shown in a scene where Cassidy makes her rounds through the club, being turned down by men who are more focused on the younger dancers of the night. She runs into Randy, the one man who would never turn her down, and he turns him down, because he doesn’t think that his heart is well enough to handle a dance. Cassidy is left to make a choice between continuing her rounds, only to face rejection, or head back to Randy, the only person that she can actually relate to.
As Randy faces his new life as a “retired” wrestler, he finds himself forcefully hanging up his tights for a hair net at the supermarket he has been working at. Aronofsky sets up an a amazingly heartbreaking scene, where we follow Randy as he walks through the employee area out to the deli floor, which plays out as if “The Ram” was making his entrance from the backstage-area of an arena, out to a crowd of millions of screaming fans. Randy, who is demoralized by his name tag that has his real name, Robin, starts off belittled to the fact that he is now serving people slices of cheese and meat, but by the end of the scene, Randy becomes comfortable with his new position in life and runs the deli counter with the same fire and vigor that he once used to rule the squared-circle.
his life as “The Ram” behind him, Randy, along with the help and support of Cassidy, refocuses his life to reconnect with his daughter Stephanie, played by Evan Rachel Wood. I wont lie, the scene in which Randy owns up to his shortcomings as a father, hit me like a flying elbow delivered by “Macho Man” Randy Savage. During the scene, Randy goes on about how shitty of father he was, why he left her, and pretty much begs for another chance to fix the mistakes that he’s made in the past. The two finish off a great day together, leaving “The Ram” feeling like he is back on top. But this isn’t a tale of rising back to the top, and soon after all of his breakthroughs, Randy’s happiness becomes short-lived, due to his natural ability to be, what his daughter calls him, “a fuck up”. “The Ram” spirals out of , finding himself more alone than he ever thought possible, which triggers his return to the only love that he still has, wrestling.
The bottom line on Darren Aronofsky’s brutally honest film, The Wrestler, is that its a heartbreaking must-see, and whether you are a fan of professional wrestling or not, you will be moved by this film. Mickey Rourke is so great in this film, and very deserving of the Best Actor nomination, to the point where you become hypnotized with sympathy for “The Ram”, helplessly rooting for him in hopes that by the end of the film, he’s able to get his life back together. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that this is the first film in which Aronofsky leaves the ending open for you own interpretation.