The Wrestler (2008)

Director:  Darren Aronofsky 
Cast:  Mickey RourkeMarisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Plot:  A drama centered on retired professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson as he makes his way through the independent circuit.

Genre:  Drama / Sport
Awards:  Won Golden Lion (Venice).  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress. 

Runtime:  115min
Rating:  R21 for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use. 


“Witness the resurrection of Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s deeply affecting film” reads a huge marketing poster of the Golden Lion winner at Venice.  I would say exactly the same.  And if you think The Dark Knight was snubbed at the Oscars, this was daylight robbery.  The Academy owes Aronofsky a Best Picture and Director nomination here.

The Wrestler stars Rourke in a comeback performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson.  It chronicles the ups-and-downs of the life of the Ram Jam wrestler twenty years after he first ruled the wrestling ring.  He meets a stripper, Cassidy (played by Marisa Tomei), whom he forms a friendly bond with.  And when things seem to look bright for Randy, he suffers a heart attack and is forced to retire from wrestling. 

For someone whose life is devoted to a passion and in which he now is unable to pursue, the sudden emptiness can be shocking and it can beget an emotional breakdown even for a grown, rugged man. Aronofsky makes this the cornerstone of his film rather than assembling a picture with an unnecessary series of lengthy wrestling fights.  

He wants to tell the story of Randy the Common Man.  For a fighter like he is, Randy is subjected to emotional hurt and suffering as well.  While he takes it well under the circumstances, Rourke portrays him as somewhat fragile and vulnerable.  In the ring, he is a hero.  Outside it, he is zero.  Rourke is nominated here, and he very well deserves that Oscar as much as Sean Penn does for his portrayal as the gay politician Harvey Milk in Milk (2008). 

Wrestling is a fake sport made real by the documentary-styled filmmaking.  Aronofsky opts for the ‘fly on the wall’ approach to scenes of Rourke in the trailer or restroom prior to a match, giving a sense of immediacy to what is going to happen.  The Wrestler is an eye-opening film too because it allows viewers an intimate glimpse to how wrestlers work with one another and how they employ ‘cheating’ tactics to entertain their audience.  

Yet no matter how rehearsed the fight sequences are in real life or in this film, they are still physically punishing.  When these wrestlers tumble down hard, we can feel their pain.  And the violence and gore can be unsettling to viewers as well. 

The final few minutes of The Wrestler are probably the most heart-wrenching moments in all of 2008’s films.  Because Rourke has so successfully delivered a complex screen protagonist, viewers not only sympathize for his character, but also understand why he makes the decision to continue wrestling despite his age and ailing health.  

The Wrestler is hardcore, gritty and vulgar, a reminiscent of Arononsky’s drug masterpiece, Requiem for a Dream (2000).  Yet at its heart, it remains an enlightening and humanizing cinematic experience.  A must-watch!


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