This was one of the best films of the year. It is also the best film Darren Aronofsky has ever made (to date) and features Mickey Rourke’s best work.
The film has every reason to be. It almost reads as a biography of Rourke (who quit acting to becoming a boxer). The film follows a professional wrestler, Randy (also known as “The Ram”) who was a popular fighter in the 1980s. Time has not been kind to him: he is struggling to find work and only finds joy during his amateur wrestling bouts on his weekends. He is offered to make a comeback but still struggles with his life.
First off, the Wrestler was the greatest character to come out of 2008. He is a man who, after years of phony wrestling, cannot seperate the fact from the fiction. To him, his entire life has become a performance. No matter what he is doing, he is trying to perform. He can no longer relate to people as they do not fit into the drama he has created.
I’ll show you what I mean. Randy tries to get a job at a deli counter. At first, he is excited and feels people finally respect him after years of ridicule. He jokes and plays with the customers. This is the performance. The reality crashes after someone recognizes him from his wrestling days. In order to get back into the drama, he literally (and quite graphically) shoveshis hand into the device they use to slice ham.
It is scenes like that that show why the film works so well. What happens to icons who have never lived a real life? How do they adjust? The last film to treat this with any degree of justice was Raging Bull. But then, Jake LaMotta was not a sympathetic character. He was not meant to be, but the fact that Randy is adds a whole new dimension to the material. This doesn’t just have to be a sports figure. It could be any man reaching the twilight of his life.
The big debate now is whether Mickey Rourke should have won the Oscar over Sean Penn. That is a very difficult call to make. First, because the two were playing roles that were tailored for them. Sean Penn would have been ridiculous in this film, but then again Rourke would have been as ridiculous portraying Harvey Milk. But then, how do they compare? They pretty much stand alongside each other. It was a really difficult decision to make. I cannot now say if they made the right one.
But of course not all the glory belongs to Mickey Rourke. Equally as impressive is Marissa Tomei as a stripper who Randy may very well be in love with. He constantly goes to her for advice and beats up people who disrespect her. Tomei really stretches out her range with this. She appears sympathetic, but is stuck in the same drama as Randy. She even refers to him as a “customer” in public settings and then pauses to wonder why he gets upset. The two characters play off each other wonderfully.
In short, This was one of the best films of 2008. It is my shame that I only got around too seeing it long after the film had been released.