Mickey Rourke makes a compelling comeback to seduce the viewer with his portrait of an ageing fighter in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.
The Wrestler is a film that Mickey Rourke has been waiting to star in for most of his acting career. It’s a film about failure, loneliness, knowing that the best years of one’s life have long passed.
The Wrestler is a 2008 film directed by Darren Aronofsky, written by Robert D. Siegel, and starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, and Ernest Miller. Production began in January 2008, and the film premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival in August, winning the Golden Lion Award. Fox Searchlight acquired rights to distribute the film in the U.S.; it was released in a limited capacity on December 17, 2008 and was released nationwide on January 23, 2009.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson, (Mickey Rourke) is a professional wrestler who was a major star in the 1980s but is now years past his prime and wrestling on the weekends for various independent wrestling promotions in the Elizabeth, New Jersey area. After a show, a promoter proposes a 20th anniversary rematch with his most notable opponent, the Ayatollah (Ernest Miller), who now owns a used car dealership in Arizona. Their first match together sold out Madison Square Garden, and Randy agrees to the rematch, wishfully thinking this high-profile match could help him get back to the top.
Randy goes home and is locked out of his trailer for not paying the rent. He takes pain medication and falls asleep in the back of his Dodge Ram. The next day, he goes to work, loading boxes at a supermarket where his boss, Wayne (Todd Barry), does not hold him in high esteem. At night he visits a strip club where he has taken a liking to a stripper named Pam, stage-named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) whose appeal to the other customers has waned due to her age. He continues the training rituals for his wrestling appearance, including steroid use and self-tanning. At his next show, Randy wrestles a brutal hardcore match, in which Randy and his opponent, Necro Butcher (Dylan Summers), use various weapons on each other including thumbtacks, staple guns, barbed wire and glass. Randy suffers numerous gashes, including a deep cut on his chest from the barbed wire. Post-match, Randy is treated for his wounds backstage, but he has a heart attack soon after and collapses.
The heart attack necessitates a bypass operation and Randy is told by the doctor that his weak heart cannot support steroids or even wrestling anymore. Randy cancels all his upcoming matches and takes a job working behind the supermarket’s deli counter which he enjoys at first. Faced with his mortality, he tells Cassidy about his heart attack and tries to woo her. She warms to him at first (going with him when he buys his estranged daughter birthday presents, explaining that she has a son and plans to move to Trenton) but when Randy gets closer to her she reverts back to her rule of not dating customers, leaving him alone in the bar.
At Cassidy’s suggestion, Randy visits his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), but she chides him for being a bad father. On his second visit to Stephanie’s place, Randy brings a thoughtful gift (suggested to him by Cassidy) and blunt words about his poor, absentee parenting and says he just does not want her to hate him, and the two bond over a visit to an abandoned beachfront boardwalk. They agree to meet for dinner on Saturday.
Randy goes to Cassidy’s strip club and presents Cassidy with a Thank You card for her help in repairing his relationship with his daughter. Randy tries to convince Cassidy that his affection for her is sincere but Cassidy rejects his overture. Dejected, Randy attends a wrestling match as a spectator and receives some of the love and attention he was seeking from Cassidy from the adoring wrestling fans and fellow wrestlers.
After watching a wrestling match, Randy gets drunk, snorts cocaine, and has sex with a woman, sleeping the entire next day from exhaustion and misses his dinner date with Stephanie. He goes to her house in the middle of the night, where she angrily tells him he has never been and never will be a father to her, and does not want to see him again.
Randy goes to work at the supermarket deli counter, where a fan recognizes him. Embarrassed by his job, Randy intentionally cuts himself severely in the deli meat slicer, screams at his rude boss, and quits his job.
Randy calls the promoter to reschedule the previously canceled Ayatollah match and sets out for the venue. In Randy’s pre-match discussion with Ayatollah Randy asks Ayatollah what he is planning for the match. Ayatollah responds “You be the face and I’ll be the heel,” which is wrestling jargon for good guy, bad guy, respectively. Before the match, Cassidy unexpectedly arrives (having quit her job to be with him) and apologizes, urging him not to wrestle for the sake of his health. Randy explains that the real world is the only place he gets hurt, and the only place he belongs is in the ring, with the fans being his true family.
Randy gives an emotional speech to the crowd, and the fight begins. During the match, his heart strains, but he continues despite the Ayatollah’s concern and several pleas for Randy to pin him and end the match. Noticing Cassidy is nowhere to be seen, Randy fights through the pain and slowly climbs to the top turnbuckle. Standing atop the turnbuckle, Randy is in the only place he’s ever truly been happy, surrounded by the only people who truly love him, and is in his absolute glory. Now at peace with himself and his life, he prepares to dive from the turnbuckle to deliver his signature finishing move, a flying headbutt called the “Ram Jam.” In the final shot, he salutes the cheering crowd and leaps from the ropes; the screen cuts to black.
Randy is addicted to the ritual of fighting. He prefers its choreographed violence to the messiness of his personal life. Its “family” – of fellow wrestlers, of devoted spectators – is easier to handle than his real one. Unlike Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), his favourite stripper, he’s devoted to performing; he can’t imagine a life in which he can’t enjoy the fix of being “the Ram”.
The fight scenes are handled with a sweaty, bloodied intensity that makes them far less aesthetically appealing or even dramatic than Raging Bull or Rocky.
I cared as deeply about Randy the Ram as any movie character I’ve seen this year. I cared about Mickey Rourke, too. The way this role and this film unfold, that almost amounts to the same thing. Rourke may not win the Oscar for best actor. But it would make me feel good to see him up there. It really would.
Written by Luca Aquilanti