Sunday, January 18, 2009

"The Wrestler": Living on the edge (according to Aronofsky)


Darren Aronofsky has give us another look at living on the edge, this time in fill CinemaScope, but in a grainy looking indie film from Fox Searchlight, "The Wrestler", bringing back Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. (I guess the nickname means “Aries”). I know some of his other work (“The Fountain”, the inter-era concept which I loved; “Requiem for a Dream”, and “Pi” – a little black and white film with Rosenfels-like content.

The film “treats” us to all the dirty tricks, including razor wire and stapling guns (and razor blades hidden in wrist tape). Randy is trying to “come back” after 20 years in the New Jersey circuit, but one day, he vomits, gasps again and collapses “like a brick” in the locker room. (That’s one of the most realistic scenes of this nature ever in film; Rourke must have taken ipecac for this; forget the barf-fest of “Another Gay Sequel”). He wakes up in intensive care, doped up, and soon learns that, like David Letterman, he has joined the zipper club. (I didn't know that surgeons would do coronary bypass on an unconscious patient without consent.) The film later makes a spectacle of the chest scar, but that’s anti-climatic after all the indignities done to the wrestler’s bods. There’s no male body hair in a world where the external trappings of manhood are sacrificed to tattoos and sports tape (he’s shown shaving his underarms on camera).

His personal life is a mess, too. Out of money and living in a Trenton trailer park (remember, “Trenton makes, the world takes”) he works odd hours in a convenience store deli; the film makes mincemeat of that kind of a job, making us all hope we don’t wind up in the proletariat. He wants his daughter to assume “filial responsibility” to care for him, and she refuses. He want a bar queen to do a lap dance and date him, and he gets tossed out. He has his problems. He finally has to go back to being "the wrestler" (against "The Ayatollah"), and risk his heart failure. We wonder what the last moments of life will be like, if they just turn to nothing.

I kept wondering what Clint Eastwood would have done with this story (after “Million Dollar Baby”), but Eastwood had two big films of his own this year. I even recalled “Raging Bull” from the 80s, and even "Cinderella Man" from a couple years ago. Okay, I can mix up wrestling and boxing if I want. But this movie shows slapstick wrestling, not the kind they do in high school and college varsity.

As technical filmmaking, the film is masterful. I just don’t personally relate too much to the sort of characters that populate this world.

A great line from Randy is "I'm a broken down piece of meat, and I'm alone, and I deserve to be alone." That line seems to summarize Rourke's resurgence. Bruce Springsteen (a favorite of conservative George Gilder in the 80s) has a song.

The AMC Shirlington theater in Arlington VA, in a large auditorium, was about 20% full for the Sunday night 7:25 PM performance. This is the first weekend of widespread release after a platform opening.

There was an unrelated indie film called “The Wrestler” about “professional wrestling” back in 1974.

There is a news item today on imdb about a professional wrestler in the film being found dead, here which is some odd karma.

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