I have a confession to make...I used to be a huge fan of professional wrestling. Growing up as a child in the 80's my heroes were all speedo clad gladiators with names like Hercules or Macho Man, and every week in front of nationally televised audiences....they would enter the squared circle and battle their most despised foes. Some were good guys...some were villains...all were "characters" with larger than life personalities and bodies to match (I'm sure the steroids helped). They played out the most manly of soap operas for the screaming fans who cheered them to legendary heights. Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" is the tale of a warrior whose greatest match will not be with some guy in silly tights...but with the very legend that he created.
Mickey Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson...and during his career as a professional wrestler....he has been to the top of the mountain. His physical exploits would sell out arenas all over America and his mug adorned action figures, t-shirts, and video games. He had it all...fame...fortune...and groupies to boot. But nothing lasts forever...and over the years Randy's stock has fallen to the bottom of the wrestling barrel.
Fighting for chump change at local gymnasiums and VFW halls, he barely makes enough to rent a shit hole trailer where he lives in Jersey. Randy works out every day...keeps his hair bleached blonde...and has his fake tan applied all in the name of keeping the legend of "The Ram" alive for the few fans that still care. We never really find out what happened to his fortune, but an addiction to pain killers and other illegal substances required to sustain the body of a man who still wrestles in his fifties probably had something to do with it. Ram doesn't have many friends other than a few local kids and an aging stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) that he visits regularly as a paying customer. He also has a daughter that he abandoned years ago who wants nothing to do with him. Randy basically carves out a lonely brutal existence from day to day...and I do mean brutal!
You can say wrestling is fake...and if by fake you mean that the choreography and outcome of the matches are all pre-determined....then you are correct. But realize that from the most elite pro-wrestling organizations on down to the lesser known ones...these guys beat the hell out one another for the sport they love. Randy participates in an extreme match that involves bitch slapping, barbed wire, ladders, and staple guns...yes you heard that last one correctly! It's bloody as hell and will have you squirming in your chair. After this match....he suffers a massive heart attack that nearly kills him. The aftermath of his bout with death suddenly takes the center stage.
The legend is over...but the man remains standing. The doctors tell him his wrestling days are done and continuing would be suicide. Can Randy live out his days as a normal person? You wonder if he has a chance at a real intimate relationship. Cassidy typically views him only as a customer, but she knows they also have a lot in common. As a stripper...she is getting too old to play her "character" of seductress to younger men. What does a man whose only skill is pounding other men senselessly do to earn a living? Cassidy suggests a reconciliation with his daughter might help ease the burden, but will she welcome him back into her life? From this point, Randy needs to make a choice....be the man....or be "The Ram." The choice isn't easy. A reunion match with an old nemesis presents an opportunity to regain lost glory and a hefty payday. The legend is over.....but not dead.
This is now my favorite Mickey Rourke role. He kind of has a strange real life parallel with "The Ram." Once considered one of the most attractive talents in Hollywood....his career took a downturn after a flirtation with professional boxing and a bad facelift. It's great to see him give a heartfelt performance that will be sure to send him back to A-list status. If you are a fan of Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" but disappointed by "The Fountain".....fear not....because "The Wrestler" will give you plenty of reasons to....BE EXCITED.....BE....BE....EXCITED!