The Wrestler (2008)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 7; L-5 ; S/N -6 Running time: 1 hour 55 min.

“Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a laborer?
Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
and like laborers who look for their wages,
so I am allotted months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
When I lie down I say, “When shall I rise?”
But the night is long,
and I am full of tossing until dawn.
Job 7:7-4

Mickey Rourke as Randy The Ram.
Photos
Fox Searchlight

I can remember many decades ago watching wrestling with my father during the early days of television.

The witty sports commentator Dennis James let us in on the nature of the matches even then, long be fore the rise of the World Wrestling Federation, that wrestling was a mixture of entertainment and sport. We always looked forward to his taunting and insulting one or more of the costumed muscle men, some of them leaping over the topes of the ring and making like they were going to tear him apart. But now, in director Darren Aronofsky and writer Robert D. Siegelg’s ripping film, although the matches are still staged, the pain experienced by the men in tights is very real, taking its toll on their aging bodies. Randy Robinson is one of those wrestlers, toiling at the fringe of the profession, where matches are staged in veteran’s and union halls, school gyms, and community centers, rather than the sports palaces of his career thirty years earlier when he was known to thousands of fans as “Randy the Ram.”

Mickey Rourke captures the pathos and the desperate search for recognition, and even, as he puts it late in the film, for “love.” Whatever money he had received in his prize winning days is long gone, spent on medical bills and booze and drugs. He is barely holding onto a part-time job in between his matches, and thus must live in a shabby trailer park. Lonely, he seeks to become more involved with his favorite dancer at the club where he hangs out during his free time. Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) also labors in the fringe zone of her profession, that of lap dancer. Like Randy, she also must put on an act, pretending that whomever she is performing for is special to her. Thus when Randy tries to date her, she quickly shakes him off. However, seeming to sense that his wounded spirit needs a lift, she begins to open her heart to him.

The pre-match locker room scenes are fascinating, with Randy and his various opponents treating each other with courtesy and respect as they discuss their moves leading up to the climax of their ring encounter. Like super hero comic stories, each match is a miniature clash of Good vs. Evil, with the wrestler playing the villain seeming to triumph for a while (and thus receive boos from the crowd), but in the end succumbing to the hero. There is one scene in which we see Randy concealing a razor blade in the bandage around his wrist and hand, leading us to think that he must be getting ready to injure his opponent. However, it turns out that the blade is for his own forehead, his flowing blood causing the crowd to root all the more for him. Another match, carefully set up by Randy and his opponent, involves barbed wire, cut glass, and a staple gun: the action is fake, but the cuts and scratches and blood are real, along with the pain.

But the pain that Randy feels in the ring cannot equal the pain he feels in his heart, especially when a possible reconciliation with his grown, long estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) is side-tracked by his irresponsible drinking and sexual tryst. Then he receives bad news about his heart from his doctor. He calls off what could be a big match, one that might restore some of his former glory, but is he the kind of man who can settle for a job behind a deli counter?

The language, dance nudity, sexual scenes, and especially the ring violence will keep most church groups from tackling this film, but for those who can endure such a hard-R film, the payoff could be great. Randy’s suffering might not be as great as Job’s, but the two share the fate of “a hard service on earth,” and I am sure that Randy also might think, “… the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn.”

For Reflection/Discussion

Spoilers follow.

1. What do you think is the attraction of wrestling? Similar to what drew the Roman crowds to watch the gladiators? Or the Spanish to bull fights?

2. Were you surprised by the affectionate camaraderie among the wrestlers? At the structure of the matches, built upon the age-old conflict of Good vs. Evil? How does the comment of an opponent show that each accepts his place in the scheme of things, “I’m the heel, and you’re the face” ?

3. What do you like about Randy? Dislike? Do you think that he is a fee man, or is he trapped by circumstances? How or why?

4. How are both Randy and Cassidy outsiders? Also the spectators at the matches—and at her club?

5. How does Randy’s appeal to his daughter show both his need and his honesty: “I’m an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone, I just don’t want you to hate me” ? Judging by what followed the next day, who is Randy’s greatest enemy?

6. Randy says to Cassidy, “The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a s—t about me.” If the two had met earlier, do you think Randy might have made a different decision?

7. What does the following speech by Randy to the crowd reveal about Randy? Do you think his vision is too small? And yet what does it show about his courage or fortitude? Do you think his is a wasted life, or a fulfilled one? What do you believe a stronger faith in God might have meant for his life?

“I just want to say to you all tonight I’m very grateful to be here. A lot of people told me that I’d never wrestle again and that’s all I do. You know, if you live hard and play hard and you burn the candle at both ends, you pay the price for it. You know in this life you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you. Now I don’t hear as good as I used to and I forget stuff and I aint as pretty as I used to be but god damn it I’m still standing here and I’m The Ram. As times goes by, as times goes by, they say “he’s washed up” , “he’s finished” , “he’s a loser” , “he’s all through” . You know what? The only one that’s going to tell me when I’m through doing my thing is you people here. “