The Wrestler * * * * *
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky / 2008
You know the advertisements that quote and claim their motion picture as “Special”, a “Triumph”, a “Mini Masterpiece” or even a “Resurrection in Acting Talent”? Well, “The Wrestler” stands-up to these statements and some. It’s on the top rope of the year’s best films for me and demands to be seen, multiple times. It demands to be cherished and followed like the living, breathing champions of the sport that it showcases. Director Darren Aronofsky has created a darling little gem of motion picture and it’s his best and makes me even more excited to see what his next move will be. And I can’t recommend his latest move enough as he has matured from an already mature filmmaking state. For the past two weeks I can’t stop thinking about Randy "Ram" Robinson’s bitter-sweet climb to the top rope.
This time last year I was boiling over with anxiety and anticipation to see P.T. Anderson’s genius on the big screen with “There Will Be Blood”. It seemed that everybody in the world had seen it six months prior to it finally opening in Kansas City, MO. After all the worry and all the emails by my fellow crazed P.T. fan Chad and I to Paramount and area theater chains, we finally got to plop down in plush cushions in the dark on a cold day just 11 months ago to finally witness the hype. After hearing about “The Wrestler” hitting the 2008 crop earlier this year, and picking up just as many arresting accolades and awards and feedback as “There Will Be Blood”, I felt that I had another one of my own private movie wrestles in waiting. The anticipation swelled even more when I heard that not only was visionary director Darren Aronofsky (“Pi”, “Requiem For A Dream”, “The Fountain”) behind the camera, but it was also about pro wrestling and then capped with a brand new track from Bruce Springsteen!
Now, I’m thankful to even have the resources and technology and freedom to even SEE film and it’s even more silly to curse and complain the Hollywood stone ponies and marketing gurus and all of those things beyond my reach, but I honestly just can’t wait sometimes on certain films. And “The Wrestler” is one of those films for me. But, the film giants must have been looking out for me two weeks ago, allowing me to cash in on last year’s P.T. Anxiety. I was in Dallas, TX for an extended Thanksgiving holiday and my friend Christian exclaimed one morning that if we wanted to get in line at 5pm or so that night, there would be a free advanced screening of the new film by Darren Aronofsky starting at 8pm…and with director in attendance for a Q & A! You can’t believe how fast my eyebrows perked up-and-out of my weary and stressed, travel-beaten brow. I was already there…and sitting on a firm spot in line with book in hands and BossPod in ears.
Without sounding silly to most people, it’s hard to say that “The Wrestler” saved me from the dumps on the stressful start of my Texas trip, but it honestly did. And I was about to tell Darren Aronofsky that right before a pack of much more enhanced than I geeks camera flashed their way past and usurped my chance at the moment’s hard simplicity of “THANK YOU” . Since the very second the hand-held cameras followed Mickey Rourke’s molded-to-perfection Randy "Ram" Robinson out of the local town hall locker room and out the opened doors and arms of his world, I’ve had the bitter-sweet taste of life’s goose bumps inside and out. In fact, I’ve carried them many times before but, this is a different feeling that sunk into me and it has affected me pretty deep. There is so much life in this picture and in Rourke’s performance that I felt I was watching a real story on screen and I still see that life living on, beyond the screen. It will be unfortunate if he doesn’t come home with a statue come Oscar night or if Aronofsky doesn’t at least get a nomination, it’s that breathtaking. All power-house acting aside, “The Wrestler” tells a real and relatable story, one that probably many former and current wrestlers as well as many every day people can tell.
Ram once recognized a gift, and that gift was wrestling superstardom. He was the go-to guy for selling out noisy arenas bursting at the seams with fist-clinched fans waiting and responding with glee to his signature moves and championship matches. Twenty years later finds him struggling and scraping life’s pot to make ends meet working week days on a loading dock and reliving his glory days on the weekends in town halls and small-time venues, wrestling for a few dollars for the few remaining fans caring enough to come watch younger wrestlers take it easy on Ram’s aging body. He wakes up every morning in either his trailer or van, pending on when rent is due. He wakes up either sore or hung-over, pending on the day of the week or outcome of occupational hazard.
The rest of the story? Well, I won’t spoil anymore for you, as it breathes far better life than I can type and is something that has to be experienced. I’ll end on…life hasn’t been good on Ram and neither has Ram on occasion. And you can see that in his beaten teary eyes and weathered face. But, there is a spirit to Ram that surpasses many heaps and piles of even the most spiritually powered of humans. He has both perspective from the top and bottom ropes and that makes the sometimes painful search and climb to redemption, life, family, gifts and hope all the more bitter-sweet, powerful and enduring. As the screen goes black and Bruce starts strumming and singing Ram’s theme, well let’s just say that you’ll be pretty darn pinned and hard to get out of that plush cushion. You’ll have just witnessed something truly “Special”…and some. Thank you Darren Aronofsky. THANK YOU.