Friday, February 20, 2009

Here I go, singing low.

In that whole consumption post, I forgot to mention Darren Aronofsky's masterful film, The Wrestler, which made me cry a little.

The thing about The Wrestler is the thing about Mickey Rourke, and I've always been a sucker for haunted characters. The ones with the ghosts of their pasts at their shoulders, in their eyes. Randy "The Ram" Robinson is a former pro-wrestling champ, an ex-star. He drives a van with his own action figure sitting on the dash, an effigy on an alter.

Decline inevitably follows peak, and the crest of the Ram's career was two decades ago. We are introduced to a middle aged, scar-faced man in a duct taped winter coat, struggling to make rent on his mobile home. In one early scene, he returns from a match only to find that his landlord has locked him out. Forced to sleep in his van, he swallows a few pain pills, fashions a pillow out of a towel, and balls his large, hurting body up against the winter cold.

For all that his body is breaking down, it is Randy's livelihood. He could have worked construction, it's true, or some other job. But he is an athlete, and an entertainer, and he will not quit until he is too broken to go on. Rourke succeeds in making this desire one I understood for all I found it unreasonable, and this is his great triumph in the role. On the wrestling circuit, no longer a hot commodity, The Ram must try increasingly reckless tricks to keep the audience's attention. That is what makes the film hard to watch. In one scene, after pulling staples and broken glass out of his back, Randy collapses into a pool of his own vomit. Sitting in the comfortable warm of the Midtown Art Cinema, watching him pitch forward, I shed two tears, because he was so bent on suffering, and I understood that his life outside the ring was not worth a damn. Turns out the pony only had one trick.

The Wrestler isn't exclusively about making you ache with pity. There are glorious, poignant little light-hearted moments, featuring the Ram's beauty regimen (tanning beds and peroxide) and fire fighter fetishists. Marissa Tomei does superior work portraying a stripper past her prime, and Evan Rachel Wood gives a fine performance as Randy's daughter. But Mickey Rourke's Ram owns the show, because it is so much his story.

In what is the saddest, truest scene in the movie, the Ram attends a small convention of former wrestlers, hocking his own merchandise behind a folding table. He has some VHS tapes and a few posters. As he surveys the room he becomes aware of his peers, with their canes, wheel chairs, and colostomy bags. His face shows recognition, but in a subtle move, Randy curls his fists, defiant, unwilling to surrender.

The Wrestler is an incredible, wrenching, and heartbroken piledriver of a movie. Rourke deserves to win the Oscar, and I hope he does.

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