Some cultural phenomena are popular for reasons that seem inexplicable. Somehow, though, certain trends in Americana end up surviving – for better or for worse. These trends have the ability to both interpret the cultural psyche or to challenge it. The latest aspect of pop culture to be held at a closer look is the world of pro wrestling, in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, “The Wrestler”.
“The Wrestler” tells the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a wrestler past his prime. A hero in the 1980’s, he now struggles to make a living. Instead of packed arenas, he now competes in community gymnasiums. Meanwhile, Randy sees his own personal life in shambles. A dysfunctional relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and an attempt at romance with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) are just the beginning of his personal issues.
The essential plot of this film has been seen countless times before. “An aging athlete desperately tries to make a comeback confronts his personal demons”. While the story could have been plucked from any number of films, “The Wrestler” distinguishes itself in a number of ways. This, ladies and gentlemen, is cinematic art at its best.
Mickey Rourke’s performance as “The Ram” has been earning him awards left and right, and with good reason. He brings a perfect balance of emotional fragility and physical strength to his portrayal. The actor’s own body has taken a beating over the years, due to a few unsuccessful years in professional boxing and a number of corrective surgeries. His own career is being revived by his painfully personal embodiment of the troubled wrestler – this is one of the most memorable screen portrayals in recent history.
The supporting roles are also top notch. Marisa Tomei brings sincerity and charisma to her character Cassidy, the stripper. She is an alternate version of Randy, a woman past her own prime, continuing a façade for no other reason other than necessity. Evan Rachel Wood puts on her own façade as Randy’s daughter Stephanie. Her love/hate relationship with her father is evident in her expression – she can be both sensitive and guarded within the same scene.
Aronofsky’s tight control over his scenes confirms why he has proven himself to be an auteur for this generation. While his composition and visuals set him apart, Aronofsky is at his best when he applies depth and meaning to the inherent thematic elements of his films. “The Wrestler” is about the mind of a performer, and the illusions that come along as complimentary torments.
There is a thin line between folly and martyrdom here, as “The Ram” (the wrestler) battles to overcome Randy (the man). Randy is a Christ figure without the perfection and virtue, as he is forced to conform to the public’s perception of who he should be. Forced to live without a true identity, the end result can only end in tragedy. Randy’s own Achilles heel is appropriate to his line of work.
“The Wrestler” features a protagonist who knowingly embarks on a road towards redemption. Whether or not he reaches his intended destination is at the heart of this story. The question we are left to ask ourselves at the end of the film, while Bruce Springsteen ushers in the end credits, is whether or not redemption is possible under the circumstances this character is enveloped in.