Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The only place I get hurt is out there."

The Wrestler

People who know me generally express a bit of surprise to learn that when I was in middle school, I faithfully followed WWF professional wrestling.  Long before this most stalwart of professional wrestling empires had to change it's name to WWE, my brother (and my mom, if truth be known) and I watched wrestling on a regular basis.  WWF had many, many shows on the air, and we watched everything, from the typical Saturday afternoon matches to an actual wrestling talk show.

These were the days of Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Andre the Giant, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Tito Santana, Brett "The Hitman" Hart, The British Bulldogs, the Iron Sheik, George "The Animal" Steele, etc.  

We really loved the entertainment aspect of the WWF, and we never thought the matches were anything but fake.  We also recognized the athleticism of the wrestlers.  But most importantly, the characters these people created were just pure fun. 

My mom even took us to a few WWF events in Indianapolis, including seeing Hulk Hogan live and having the Iron Sheik fling sweat on us.

I had all the WWF action figures (not dolls!).  Yes. I did.

And I know that many of the wrestlers I watched have now become washed up, or crippled, or drug-addicted, or dead.

Darren Aronofsky's brilliant new film The Wrestler tells the fictional tale of a wrestler who would have been performing in his prime at the exact same time that I was into the whole thing.  References to fictionalized versions of Wrestlemania and the Iron Sheik place the film in the context of my youth.  Randy "The Ram" Robinson, now hollow shell of what he once was, wrestles on the local armory circuit and attends autograph signing sessions.  His face and body ravaged by years of fighting, steroid use, and self-abuse, The Ram hopes to mount a comeback, while trying to keep his trailer home, find love, and reconnect with his daughter.

Mickey Rourke  performs magic in this film.  His anguished, nuanced, deeply moving portrayal of this washed-up has-been really blew me away.  This is one of the great performances.  And Marissa Tomei, as a stripper with a parallel story line, is also a wonder to watch.

Aronofsky has made some strange and wild films, but The Wrestler is profoundly human and deeply sad.  Aronofsky chooses many rear tracking shots, following the characters around as they go about their lives, mimicking a wrestler's walk to the ring.  The camera work, script, acting--everything really works beautifully.

The Wrestler contains some scenes that are incredibly hard to watch (scenes with staples and glass), but in one scene, Randy looks around at his fellow washed-up wrestlers and takes note of their various physical problems and illnesses, and in this moment I became very sad.  It is a subtle but touching scene.

Mickey Rourke deserves whatever awards he gets this year, and The Wrestler deserves more recognition, like a Best Picture nomination.  It is absolutely one of the best films of 2008.


At 10:13 PM, Anonymous your mom posited...

I should have seen this post coming given our last lunch conversation. However, I have NO regrets about our ventures to Indy to catch the sweat!

At 7:49 AM, Blogger undulatingorb posited...

I also enjoyed WWF in its heyday (though an aunt had to tell me that it was fake). The Wrestler was really good, although it was really depressing. The hardest part for me to watch was the incident with the slicer (perhaps because I sliced a small chunk of my finger out when I was putting away my food processor last year). I should be in Chicago for a couple of hours on Sunday, are you free for lunch?


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