THE WRESTLER (2008)

12

Christopher

I love wrestling. It’s just great to me. Pretty much everything about it. I do wish the storylines today were a little more interesting and that it was a bit more violent than it is, but it’s great and I still watch it now. The Wrestler is truly the perfect wrestling movie. It combines all the elements, good and bad and does such a good job of showing the struggle it takes to be successful.

The worst part about liking wrestling is the need people have to tell you how it’s fake . . . of course it’s fake, you dumb shit. It’s this kind of question that makes me not want to talk to someone cause it’s proof that they are extremely narrow-minded and obviously not observant. The Wrestler lets you truly see how some parts of wrestling work. Of course a whole lot of the fighting is fake, but just because punches might not be landing as they are portrayed; people are still flipping around and performing impressive acrobatic moves all over the place. You can make punching look fake, but you can’t pretend that the sea of thumb tacks you landed on weren’t actually there.

At times I think The Wrestler can be a tad too cheesy. Especially all the stuff with his daughter. But at the same time it makes the climax that much better. I really like that we are rooting for the main character the whole time, yet, we know why people dislike him and how he’s fucked up his relationship with them.

Another aspect of the movie that I’m drawn to is the way that the camera is constantly following him. Mirroring his entrance into the ring. It’s the same kind of feel as in Birdman. You see him walk through so many doors.

I can’t recommend this movie enough! Even if you don’t care about wrestling, check this out. It’s so much more than just that.

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

Before I met Chris, I had never watched wrestling in my life. When I was younger it scared me, when I was older and knew it wasn’t real I didn’t see the point. And the entire time I thought wrestling was super trashy.

At this point, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a fan of wrestling per se, but I’ve watched more professional wrestling in the last few years than I ever did in my entire life. I know some of the characters (though all the men sort of look the same to me) and can sort of follow what’s going on. I don’t think it’s trashy; I see now the insane popularity and reach that professional wrestling has. I see the point despite its fakeness; I would argue that going to watch professional wrestling is basically the same as going to see a professional ballet recital. Do I think ballerinas performing Romeo and Juliet die on stage because they act it out in dance? No, and it doesn’t matter. Do I think professional wrestlers . . . really do/believe all the shit they do/say on stage? No, and it doesn’t matter.

I wanted to see The Wrestler when it first came out, but I was in college and never really got around to it. I’m glad I waited until now, though, because although you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to like or understand The Wrestler, I think I would have been much more skeptical of it 7 years ago.

It follows Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), an aging pro wrestler. We have to talk about Mickey Rourke for a bit here. I’ve talked before at how it’s hard for me to wrap my head around Mickey Rourke’s physical transformation over the years. In 9 1/2 Weeks it was distracting because he looked nothing like I know of him to look like. In The Wrestler, it worked. All of his fucked-up lookingness can easily be attributed to his profession and lifestyle. He looks exactly what I would imagine an aging pro wrestler (who still wants to wrestle) would look like. Though I did find his talon-like fingernails to be particularly horrifying:

And this isn't even from the movie.
And this isn’t even from the movie.

Anyway, Randy is poor and lonely. We wrestles on the weekends and works part-time at a grocery store, unsuccessfully trying to make ends meet. His only real non-wrestling friend is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who’s pretty much past her prime, like Randy. Randy also has a daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), whom he never sees and doesn’t know.

I expected Randy to be a brute; violent and uncaring. But it’s made pretty clear early on that even though he may look like a scary monster, he’s anything but. The Wrestler reminded me of Rocky in that way. He’s sweet with kids and has genuine respect and affection for Cassidy. He’s obviously well-respected in his wrestling circle, but he’s just as gracious to them. They’re his family. In one great scene, before getting ready for a match, a man comes up to Randy and Randy knowingly raises his hand to shake it. The man says he’s a big fan, and “You might not remember me, but . . .” and Randy cuts him off because he does remember him, and remembers his name and where they met. Randy seems to genuinely appreciate this respect and love he gets from wrestling and has no problem returning that love and respect.

Randy agrees to a 20th anniversary match against an old rival and starts training harder (and using more steroids), causing him to have a near-fatal heart attack. Afterward, the doctor tells him that bypass surgery saved his life but wrestling again will kill him. Randy is clearly horrified by this, but uses it as an opportunity to get his life together in a way that doesn’t involve wrestling. He tries to reconnect with Stephanie, which eventually works. He begins a relationship with Cassidy, who is reluctant but wants to help him reconnect with Stephanie. He begins working full-time at the grocery store and seems to actually, maybe enjoy it a little. Then it all starts to fall apart.

Randy finally connects with Stephanie and she seems willing to let him back in her life. He goes to Cassidy to thank her for her help and she completely rejects him, despite his hope (which made sense, considering they sort of made out) that they would have a real romantic relationship. Randy and Cassidy fight, Randy gets drunk and high on cocaine and spends the rest of the next day asleep and hungover, completely standing up Stephanie for a dinner date. Randy goes to Stephanie to apologize, but she wants nothing to do with him. From Stephanie’s eyes, this man swooped in when he needed her (because of his heart attack) and when she softened up a little just to let him in, he let her down again. We know Randy’s a good guy, we know he loves Stephanie and means well. But he just can’t get it together. Randy goes on to dramatically quit his grocery store job after a customer recognizes him as his wrestling persona, intentionally cuts his hand, throwing shit around and yelling at customers before finally leaving. He then makes a phone call that announces that he is out of retirement and the 20th anniversary fight is back on.

After Stephanie rejected him, Randy wasn’t completely lost, but he was getting close. But when the customer (persistently) recognized Randy in the grocery store, we see him completely lose it. This is clearly the breaking point for him, and with the call to put the fight back on, he’s basically going on a suicide mission. He goes into wrestling-preparedness mode as if nothing had ever happened. Eventually Cassidy finds him before the fight, apologizes, and asks him not to fight because of his heart. Before he steps out from behind the curtain to begin the match, he tells Cassidy probably the best line in the entire movie, which at this point in the movie nearly made me burst out into sobs: “The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a shit about me.” Then he opens the curtains and the match is on.

He stumbles some and holds onto his chest in pain but refuses to cut the fight short. He prepares himself for his signature move, which is diving off the corner of the ring onto his opponent below. He has tears in his eyes and he looks around for Cassidy, who has already left. Once he realizes she’s gone, he gets on the ropes and goes through with the dive.

By the end of the movie, you don’t want Randy to die. We see how good of a person he is, albeit flawed. But we’ve also seen his life fall apart before our eyes, despite his best efforts. And we’ve seen that he truly is only happy in the ring, and that world outside really doesn’t seem to give a shit about him. So his suicide-wrestling mission is bittersweet because he doesn’t deserve to die, but as an audience you sort of understand and accept why he wants to die.

What’s great about The Wrestler is the same thing that’s great about any good sports movie: you don’t have to know anything about, like, undestand, or even care about wrestling to enjoy The Wrestler. The movie tells you everything you need to know about it, which is really just that it’s the only happiness Randy will ever find. It’s so moving and really pretty amazing. You may think he’s scary looking, but I dare you to try to watch Mickey Rourke cry multiple times and not feel like you have a knife in your heart.

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