May 25, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 12 March 2009 12:44
The lead character of Darren Aronofsky’s powerful film, The Wrestler, could be working in any profession. He could be, in fact, anyone who formerly enjoyed a spotlight, commanded a crowd, attracted fans, and suddenly finds himself forgotten. That he steps into a wrestling ring to do his work is incidental; the event is simply a metaphor for how a world can treat anyone it considers a has-been. And the lessons the film offers can be meaningful to any of our older children.
The film has attracted a lot of attention, for good reason, for the striking work of Mickey Rourke in the title role. But the nutritional value of The Wrestler reaches far beyond any one performer. This is a beautifully written and directed character study of a man who tries to reinvent his life when he is no longer able to do the work for which he has trained all of his life.
That he has better days behind him gives him history, but does not make him pitiful. When this man steps into his ring, he knows who is, and what his work involves. He’s just not prepared for it to be taken away from him.
The Wrestler opens with “Randy Ram” as he does a good night’s work on the professional wrestling/intense performing circuit. Nothing seems off-limits in the effort to excite an audience and, in two brutal sequences, we are shown just how far these performers will go to entertain. But Randy forgets his age, and the damage he has done to his body over the years, and suffers a heart attack. The film focuses on his efforts of rehabilitation, physical and emotional, as he strives to carve a life that can thrive outside the rink.
Unfortunately, for Randy, as for many professionals who have focused on their careers, the relationships closest to them have given way to other priorities. So when he tries to reconnect with his long-lost daughter, beautifully played by Evan Rachel Wood, he experiences the pain of many a parent trying to reach out. And when he tries to establish a relationship with a dancer in a club, perfectly portrayed by Oscar nominee Marisa Tomei, he learns that the charm he conveys when he works doesn’t always work when he lives.
At the center of the film is Rourke, who is pitch perfect in a performance that, in many other years, would have been honored with the Oscar. Rarely do we get to see an actor, a role and a director so creatively aligned. Rourke doesn’t perform the part; he is the part; and he is heartbreaking. While much attention has gone to the brutality of the wrestling sequences, the finest moments in the film are the quiet ones, when Rourke’s face and eyes register a despair that reaches off the screen. Hopefully this performance will reignite the actor’s career and we can see what else is in his performing range.
The Wrestler is a film that is so good, so lasting, and in other hands could have been so wrong. It turns out Nicolas Cage was originally cast in the lead role. That would have made it a star turn. What adds to the drama on screen is how we know, as an audience, that Rourke is fighting for his professional life, too.
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