The Wrestler follows Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a famous professional wrestler whose 80s golden days are well behind him. Inside the ring, he still holds on to the glory of his past, though his audiences have dwindled. Outside the ring, Randy is a mess. He can’t pay his rent, his estranged daughter doesn’t want to know him, and his love interest is a stripper who still considers him a ‘customer’.
Mickey Rourke’s turn in The Wrestler gives me a glimpse of where the wrestlers of my childhood may be. Not entirely washed up, but certainly struggling to live in the shadow of their former glory. The same can describe Rourke, an actor who never quite faded into obscurity, and like Randy still maintains devoted fans. I am one of those fans, who always hoped Rourke had a comeback performance like this in him. Rourke easily rises to the top turnbuckle in what is undoubtedly the role of his career.
The Wrestler is by far the most straightforward film Darren Aronofsky has made, opting for a pseudo documentary style, rather than the effects and hyper stylistic flurries that defined his previous work. There are still trademarks here, a long sequence of Randy walking to work as though he’s walking to the ring is one of the few stylistic scene breaks that disrupt the film’s realism. Conversely, Aronofsky has a field day with the most excruciating segment, a no holds barred match between The Ram and a staple-gun toting yokel. For a ‘fake’ sport, it is almost too real to watch.
At it’s heart, The Wrestler is about how people choose to escape the disappointment of real life in the excitement of an alternative. Randy can lose in reality but he can never lose in the ring. The only person not escaping in The Wrestler is Rourke himself, we are constantly watching him coming to terms with the reality of his own faded stardom. In the battle royal for the Oscar, my money was on The Ram, yet like wrestling I suspect it was a fixed match in Sean Penn’s favour. Regardless, just as Randy belongs in the ring, Mickey belongs on the screen, and its great to see him back better than ever