The Wrestler

Yesterday, the wife and I journeyed to Nashville to see “The Wrestler” on its opening weekend. While my review will be somewhat biased by the fact that I had to sit in the second row and proceeded to get more than a little motion sick (lots of hand-held cameras), I thought I’d provide some attempt at commentary. (I should give a spoiler alert here– don’t read if you don’t want to know).

Mickey Rourke stars as “Randy the Ram” Robinson, a washed-up former big shot pro wrestler. Randy now plays the small town circuit, slamming and bleeding for a modest sized room full of nostalgic fans, who remember who he was, rather than who he is. After one particularly gruesome match (and yes, this IS gruesome), Randy has a heart attack and is told that he can no longer wrestle.

In a search to find some meaning in his life, Randy tries to form a relationship with a stripper, Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei. Cassidy alternates between letting the Ram into her off-stage persona a bit and pushing him back. On her advice, Randy tries to reconnect with his bitter daughter. He also gets a job working in a grocery store deli, dispensing meats, slaws and salads with a good-timing wise-cracking manner which makes Randy a lot more likeable than he otherwise is.

The other side of Randy comes through when, in a bar, a woman asks him if he “wants to party”. We next see him snort speed/coke/something and having sex with this woman in the bar’s bathroom. He blows off a scheduled dinner with his daughter when he oversleeps after his “partying”. Angered when a customer recognizes him, Randy slices up his hand at the deli and rips apart the store in an angry spree. In a last meeting with his daughter, she tearfully tells him, and rightly so, that he is a f*** up.

Randy decides to return for another wrestling match, a rematch from a 1985 bout which helped to make him a wrestling legend. Cassidy has a moment of clarity and leaves her strip club, running to the match, urging Randy not to wrestle because of his heart problems. Randy declines, enters the ring and makes a dramatic speech indicating that “you people [the fans] are my family” and that the only people who will tell him when to quit are the fans. He undertakes his bout. Toward the end, he begins having chest pains. He wheels to look one more time to see if Cassidy is still there and watching, but she is gone. Despite pleas from his opponent to end the match, Randy teeteringly climbs to the top rope, where he prepares to launch his signature move “The Ram Jam”, with tears in his eyes, as he knows that this will likely end his life. He launches the move and the screen goes black.

I can’t say I enjoyed The Wrestler, but I felt that it was a very well-made and worthwhile film. The reviews I read seem to see Randy the Ram as a hero, a man true to his art above all else. I didn’t see it that way. I saw Randy, in his daughter’s words, as a f*** up, a human caution case about the danger of falling in love with a false sense of celebrity. If Randy the Ram had put half the intensity and energy into his relationship with his daughter or his wise-cracking deli work that he did into wrestling, he would have survived, maybe, in a limited sense, even prospered. It is appropriate that Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” was commissioned for and ends this film. In “Devils and Dust”, The Boss asked “What if what you do to survive kills the things you love?” This time around, he seems to be asking “What if you spend all your love on a thing that kills you?”. There is a battered nobility to Randy the Ram, but more than that, there was just an abiding emptiness. The Wrestler is profound. I don’t know if I can recommend it to everyone. There is a lot of blood, there is a lot of bare breast, and there is a large void in this film where meaningful human relationship never fits for Randy the Ram. But that’s the point. And if you need to see it, I hope you do.



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6 Responses to “The Wrestler”

  1. Ricky Says:

    I saw the movie last week and absolutely loved it. Springsteen’s song was perfect for the film, and I hope Rourke wins the Academy Award. I’m a little pissed the song is not currently on iTunes, but I do have on quibble with the lyrics: How the hell does a “one-legged dog” get anywhere? I mean, is he just dragging his body three feet per five minutes? I figure Bruce is really talking about a three-legged dog, but I don’t think a one-legged dog would be making his way much of anywhere, much less down a street. And how much canine bad luck does it take to lose 3/4 of your wheels?

  2. eljoe1235 Says:

    If any human was morphed into a dog and could lose three of his legs, it would’ve been Randy the Ram.

    On a more pragmatic level, I have seen people walking two legged dogs with the aid of a wheelie contraption thingee that sort of substitutes for the missing legs. I SUPPOSE you could do the same thing with a one-legged dog. But, like you, I’ve never seen one.


  3. Amy Hilliard Says:

    And, that would be supposing that anyone would take the effort to take care of a one-legged dog. What a quandary?

    Sounds like a sad movie, but filled with the truth of sadness, lost hope and a fatal and useless “redemption”. Heartbreaking really.

  4. eljoe1235 Says:

    I have a (how to say this politely) ECCENTRIC relative who would probably care for a one-legged dog. Said relative and her brother are known within the family for continued complaints against a neighbor who had the bad fortune to hit one of their approximately 3,274 dogs with a car. For MONTHS thereafter, they would shout “DOG KILLER!!!” at this guy every time he drove past their house.

    I couldn’t help but think of these people when the Michael Vick/dog fighting scandal broke. The government should move them around with Vick for the rest of his life, so that they could shout at him every time he goes past.

    We’re far afield from the movie, but I just wanted to share that story….


  5. Amy Hilliard Says:

    Great fodder for your first novel! Funny!

  6. Ricky Says:

    That “dog killer” story is absolutely priceless.

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