Mickey Rourke appears in almost every frame of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. Rourke looks nothing like he did in Dinners Body Heat, or Barfly. He still manages to fuse toughness and tenderness, conflicting traits that made him an appealing screen presence, even when he was a Baltimore hairdresser, an arsonist, or the drunken Henry Chinaski. Rourke's face is a damaged mask, battered during a bizarre journey from early Hollywood promise to boxer to self-destructive bodybuilder to a career in movies no one sees. In The Wrestler, Rourke portrays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional who regularly performed at the top of the card in places like Madison Square Garden throughout the 1980s. Now "The Ram" works high school gymnasiums and American Legion halls in New Jersey. Hard times are all he knows. His sport transformed, his body breaking down, his fan base reduced, "The Ram" refuses to give up. Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert Siegel, former Editor-in-Chief of The Onion, wanted Rourke to play "The Ram." Once they located financial backing, their producers wanted Nick Cage. Not only was Cage too pretty for this role, he had not inhabited the fringes of society. Rourke brought real world experience to The Wrestler.
Harvard-educated, Aronofsky uses literary references to make The Wrestler more than a Rocky clone. "The Ram's" real name is Robin Ramsinski. Naming him Robinson signifies a connection to a line of haunted literary figures that are all isolated travelers: Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe; Kafka's Robinson, in Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared); Celine's Robinson in Journey to the End of Night; Weldon Kees's poetic Robinson, an enigmatic figure who juggles identities. All of these characters are marginalized, outliers who exist within their own imaginations. Moreover, as J. Hoberman noted in the Village Voice, Aronofsky probably encountered Roland Barthe's essay on the semiotics of wrestling, which describes wrestling as a "spectacle of excess, a dramatic ritual of suffering and humiliation." "The Rain" is the result of excess.
Most of Aronofsky's work displays an infatuation with pain and human suffering. Pi (1998), his breakthrough film, features Max Cohen, a math genius computer geek, who avoids human contact and suffers from debilitating headaches that send him into an eerie dream world. Requiem ]br a Dream (2000), his adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel, is a high-gloss descent into the void of heroin addiction. In 2006, Aronofsky released The Fountain, an incoherent, highly stylized love story. The Wrestler flirts with love, but pain is its passion. "The Ram" is an alienated traveler on a hellish journey who locates his identity inside the squared circle--the wrestling ring is his life-source.
The film's title sequence features posters and ticket stubs from "The Rain's" bouts in the 1980s. Vibrant color saturates the screen, like images from a comic book. When the credits conclude, a different world emerges on screen--grainy, uninviting, a room in a forgotten part of an old high school. Cinematographer Maryse Alberti, has shot a number of documentaries, including Crumb, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, and Taxi to the Dark Side, and has an eye for dirty realism.
Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a veteran stripper who draws the line between the flesh fantasy of her workplace and life at home, serves as anodyne for "The Ram." As a character, Cassidy parallels "The Ram": her name is a stage pseudonym, her job is to create fantasy, her work clothes are right out of a comic book. Together, they share one afternoon away from their performance worlds, and the scene is touching and funny, especially when they celebrate head-banger music from the 1980s, their era. At the end of the closing credits, while Bruce Springsteen's mournful ballad (also titled The Wrestler) closes the film, Aronofsky recalls this singular moment of happiness by thanking Axl Rose, another 1980s relic.
Embedded within the film is a very short history of professional wrestling. Before his first bout with Tommy Rotten (Tommy Farra), "The Ram" and his competition choreograph the moves leading up to "The Rain's" signature move, the Ram Jam, a head-first leap from the top of the corner rope. This set-up conversation is repeated with his next opponent, Necro Butcher (Dylan Summers). Each bout is ferocious and bloody. The Necro Butcher, though, knows no boundaries. A staple gun is a fundamental to his performance. These bouts illustrate what happens when a fake sport become too popular. Excess equals ticket sales.
Aronofsky's work is always hampered by conventional plots and an obvious desire to reach deep meaning. The Wrestler is not free from these flaws. But the film's actors cannot be ignored. Both Rourke and Tomei deliver--"The Ram's" final Ram Jam is a memorable cinematic image: he flies through the air like a cartoon hero, one more Robinson bound for the vast dark.
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|Publication:||Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature|
|Article Type:||Video recording review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
|Next Article:||Jack Ridl. Losing Season.|