Those who have seen the trailer for The Wrestler will probably go into the cinema expecting a mushy feel-good comeback drama. A fighter past his best, launching his one big shot to regain his “big time” status. Despite all the obstacles placed in his way, the unavoidable tearjerker moments, and a mandatory romance, he inevitably makes it, and everything ends happily ever after. However The Wrestler is a marked departure from this predictable formula. This is certainly no Rocky.
As you would expect from Darren Aronofsky, the director who brought us Requiem For A Dream, this is far darker and less simplistic. Those looking for Hollywood escapism will be disappointed.
Though the setting of professional wrestling would seem to be a departure from Aronofsky's usual fare of junkies and paranoid maths geniuses, The Wrestler too revels in the world of America's forgotten underclass. The film's characters inhabit an environment of urban nightmare and lead sad, lonely lives, given hope only by their ever-elusive dreams.
Aronofsky's portrayal of modern American life is bleak. The film’s run-down New Jersey locations will look familiar to anyone who has ever watched either The Sopranos or The Wire, and the decaying urban landscape makes you thankful not to be American.
Randy's life is utterly unenviable. The film starts on a relative high with a victory in the ring, but he returns to his trailer park home to find he's been locked out for not paying the rent. After a lot of mournful groans and a handful of prescription pills, Randy is forced to bed down in the back of his van.
Mickey Rourke puts in a stunning performance as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, and really manages to convey his pain in being a man whose best days are long since gone.
Rourke’s casting in this role is spot on, as his experience was strikingly similar to Randy’s which may explain why Rourke connected with the character so strongly, allowing him to deliver such a spectacular performance. Rourke showed great promise during his boxing career, but like Randy had to deal with the frustration of being constantly dismissed as too old.
Similarly, before The Wrestler, Rourke had also been considered by many film industry insiders as washed up. Randy's return to the limelight mirrors Rourke's return as a successful actor. Acknowledging the parallels between the two, Randy's entrance music, Sweet Child o' Mine, by Guns N' Roses is the same Rourke used during his boxing career.
The height of "The Ram's" career was a bout with "The Ayatollah", and the film opens with a montage of his press coverage from that period, but then the film cuts to 20 years later. Randy looks back on his days of fame with a deep nostalgia.
Seeing what his life has become, compared to what it once was, fills him with great pain. When a shopper recognises him working in the deli counter at the local ACME supermarket, he loses control, punches his hand into the blade of the meat slicer and storms out.
Randy begins to realise his age when, at a signing session with fans, casting his eye around his fellow aging wrestlers, he sees one in a wheelchair, one with a leg brace and the other with a urine bag strapped to his ankle.
He and Cassidy (played by Marisa Tomei), a stripper who is his only confidant, are drawn together partly because they are each dependent on their bodies for their income, and as they age, their bodies are found increasingly wanting. They both increasingly understand that their bodies will eventually be useless to them, and the knowledge gives them a growing feeling of powerlessness.
Aronofsky highlights the similarities between the male and female characters with a clever cutting shot between the two looking into their mirrors, and it seems, seeing each other in the reflection. Both Randy and Cassidy live double lives, torn between their stage personas and their real identities. Reconciling the two proves to be difficult for both of them.
While attempting to win Cassidy's heart, Randy is at the same time trying to reconnect with a daughter, whose childhood he largely missed because of his career. Rourke's performance in scenes with Evan Rachel Wood who plays his daughter Stephanie are moving, and well-deserving of his Oscar nomination.
The Wrestler is such a well-constructed film that despite often depressing subject matter, it will leave you with a sense of having experienced something exceptional. Even in the darkest moments there are touches of humour, and the tone of the film is spot on throughout. The Wrestler is a must-see and deserves all the praise lavished on it by critics.