' ' Cinema Romantico: The Wrestler

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Wrestler

If you want to get a capsule of the latest Darren Aronofsky film, possessing a much ballyhooed performance by the weathered Mickey Rourke, I think I can do a pretty darn good job. It is, basically, a Bruce Springsteen song come to life.

Now, this is not simply because a Bruce Springsteen song accompanies the closing credits or because the film's setting is in a perpetually cold, dreary New Jersey. No, this is because....well, how about we break all this down Springsteen-style?

Nothing is forgotten or forgiven
when it's your last time around.
I got stuff running 'round my head
that I just can't live down.
- "Something in the Night"

Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a formerly great professional wrestler who delighted arena-sized crowds with his infamous Ram Jam, who now barely ekes out a living wearily jumping off the top rope before tiny crowds in high school-sized gymnasiums and picking up weekend shifts at a deli counter when he's not getting locked out of the trailer he calls home. Aronofsky does a suberb job establishing the monotony of "The Ram's" current life. The behind-the-scenes goings-on are presented matter-of-factly, often excrutiatingly so. Wrestlers, about to be enemies in front of the audience, cordially discuss what tactics will be employed during a match. Rourke is gentle in the role, never making things difficult backstage with other wrestlers and often offering encouraging words to up-and-comers who seem to idolize The Ram's former self. Yet, as he sets up a card table at an autograph show and watches a few fans trickle in, he is also aware that he is a shell of that same former self. Maybe he doesn't belong in the wrestling ring anymore, but maybe it is the only place he belongs.

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back.
- "Hungry Heart"

His personal life is nearly non-existent, most explicitly in the estranged relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). He clearly left his family a long time ago and clearly was never present in his daughter's world and now wants to be even though she doesn't him want to be and he doesn't know how to do it and whatever steps he does take toward a reconciliation are best described as diminuitive.

I'd ride down to Alvarado Street - where she'd dance to make ends meet
I'd spend the night over my gin - as she'd talk to her men
well, a piss yellow sun - comes bringing up the day
she said, "can't nobody give anybody what they really need anyway"
- "Dry Lightning"

The most important relationship of the film is between The Ram and Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, who has become America's answer to Kate Winslet in so much as she is less scared of contractual nudity than she is of crappy roles), who is employed as a dancer at the strip club which he frequents. They talk often. She is friendlier to him than anyone else. He is a customer and she tells him so more than once and yet there might just be a little more there even if that little more might not do a whole lot to improve each other's situation.

Now with their hands held high
they reached out for the open skies.
And in one last breath
they built the roads they'd ride to their death.
- "The Price You Pay"

They would not improve each other's situation as significantly as they may hope because there is a clear road down which The Ram is headed from the very beginning. I used the term yesterday and wish to employ again today - the inevitability of tragedy. For when The Ram's decisive moment comes - a moment set to a, shall we say, very popular song from the 80's (not by Springsteen) - I think you will find it, as I did, ripe with an exquisite poignancy - a poignancy that would not be present without the inevitability - you never thought possible in a movie about a professional wrestler.

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