There was a news story that broke this past week announcing the death of a pro wrestler. There was no immediate explanation of his death, no foul play suspected; he just died while sitting in his car.
Pro wrestlers can’t possibly have a long shelf life, not with all the steroids and painkillers they take. It’s such a high-octane profession, it can’t leave too many standing on the way out. When the job goes, what are they left with? A collection of scars, pulled muscles, memories of the screaming fans, the trophies.
But what is it really? It’s not a sport, as the outcomes are fixed and battles staged – rather, it is entertainment for the masses, gladiator style. The public want to see violence, blood, humiliation, and maybe vomit if they’re lucky.
There is a playfulness to Mickey Rourke’s almighty Randy Robinson, the titular character in The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s best film to date. Robinson, like Rourke, is damaged goods, not a lot of the original man left, except the best parts of him. There is something so extraordinarily heartbreaking about this character, especially in the smaller moments, as when he goes to a fan convention and brings out his pile of stuff to be autographed and to sell – wrestler figurines and posters. He is out there hawking his wares because he needs the money.
In another scene, he’s sitting in his trailer and wants to play Nintendo, so he asks a neighborhood kid to join him. It shows how bone-achingly lonely he is, even though he has a grown daughter out there somewhere (played by Evan Rachel Wood). He finds her, but of course, there have been too many years in between, so the relationship that has nowhere to go but down.
He’s so lonely, in fact, that he mistakes the stripper who does his weekly lap dance (Marisa Tomei) for his friend and possible girlfriend. The two lives don’t merge so well in real life, though he does his best. There is something thudding about him, like an elephant in a China shop, a Quasimodo on the streets – not quite of this world of small things.
The Wrestler is rough going at times, like actual staples going roughly into skin. The wrestling scenes are too many, but only because the quieter parts of his life are so much more involving, like when he has to take a job working the deli meat counter at a supermarket. That he makes such an effort to be good at his job is what is most unbearable; hell, if he gave them any attitude whatsoever it would have been a relief. This character, though, is good people.
The film is really a showcase for Rourke, though the supporting players are fine, especially Wood as his daughter. Tomei is adequate, but her nudity always upstages her performance when she chooses to go that route. It’s tough to get a handle on her character.
Rourke has delivered what has to be the best performance of the year. It is no use, really, deciding who is best with so many good ones, but Rourke’s is the stuff of legends.