REVIEW: Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler

Keep this in mind first: the former passion of movie-watching, and giving out an opinion about each experience, comes rarely to me now. The UP Film Center was my second home back in college (it also happens to be just across the street from my dorm), I surprised my film professor that I wasn’t a film major after taking two subjects already from him, and the first topics I blogged about early 2000 were movie reviews.

Having stumbled upon the new Darren Aronofsky release, The Wrestler, a few weeks back, I knew, instantly, this will be a treat. I’ve seen all this director’s previous films: Pi (its now a blur to me now, though), the frantic and just-alright Requiem for a Dream, and a critically-panned flop, The Fountain, which I actually liked.

Let it be said that there is nothing new, plot-wise, with The Wrestler. In sum, we really just see an aging professional wrestler struggling with real world facts: that he’s old and damaged, that he’s past his career prime, that his neglected daughter hates him, and that the stripper he gets lap-dances from is ultimately hesitant in starting a relationship with him. He wants to correct each mistake, make everything as happy and content, like his beloved hair-metal songs, the soundtrack of his life, his once-celebrated career.

A look of wonder will creep into your face when you see a tanned, bodybuilder-heavy Mickey Rourke in tights, with his behind to the audience, in what looks like a nursery school room. We only get to see his face minutes after, in the wrestling ring. A few minutes more, after a coordinated victory, we see what its like behind the show, the faces behind the characters of any larger-than-life persona you can think of: mayhem, hate, and of course, the contrasting all-American hero. Mickey Rourke plays Ram Robinson, and yes, he is that hero.

Not a hero to the daughter he left behind and never got back to, though. Same at his thankless day-job at the supermarket. Maybe a little to Marisa Tomei’s Cassidy, but not that much. To his fellow wrestler-kindred he is, since he still is the main draw at the final matches, though if we are to make that quick assessment, he’s only a seasoned elder to this circus-show brotherhood, nothing more.

The movie’s main strength relies solely on Rourke’s Ram, and each scene he is in resonates so favorably onscreen, and which such tenderness, that we can easily forgive where the movie is weak. Everyone else’s supporting roles stay as they are: as suitable character pegs to mark how Ram more than stumbled with his real-life, non-stage dealings. The wrestling matches are non-highlights, unlike the Rocky Balboa and clones spectacles we’re all familiar with by now, as they do exist to make one main point: that behind this brutal-looking ballet, there is real blood shed, there is crushed muscle and bone, and that Ram endures this because it what makes him significant.

When you notice yourself predicting, correctly, what will be the eventual outcome of one predicament to the next, you will not find yourself whispering I-thought-so to your movie-date. You will shut up and finish the damn movie.

Trailer for The Wrestler

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