Friday, April 24, 2009

The Wrestler

I saw the movie The Wrestler last night. A few thoughts:

  • It is a commonplace that professional wrestling isn't real. But the stunts that pro wrestlers do are real stunts, stunts that carry significant risk of serious injury and are physically taxing even when performed as intended. The movie, poignant in all its respects, is particularly vivid in its depiction of the bodily wreckage a 20+ year career in the sport leaves behind.

  • Fifty-seven-year-old Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, the man inhabiting that bodily wreckage. He develops genuine feeling for Marisa Tomei's Cassidy, a career-downside stripper who's services he patronizes. She develops genuine feelings for him as well; unfortunately, she is unable to successfully transition him from her mental basket labeled "customer", a basket around which she creates a fantasy-world of make-believe sexual desire, to the mental basket labeled "real life". As a consequence, she drops him in the middle, where she accepts him neither as a customer nor as a friend. She poignantly (again) displays discomfort at meeting him for a shopping trip to help him find a present for his estranged daughter. Afterward, she becomes painfully embarrassed when he once again shows up at the club where she works. By so doing, Randy has intolerably bridged the carefully compartmentalized aspects of her life. Much as pro-wrestling takes its physical toll on Randy, sex-work has taken its emotional toll on Cassidy. (NB: At 44, Marisa Tomei continues to keep a gravity-defying body, but in this movie she allows her age to show around the face and perhaps in the elasticity of her skin.) (God, I'm starting to sound like the WKSB!)

  • Another aspect that rings true: pro-wrestlers are not exceptionally aggressive men. Wrestling isn't boxing: the contest isn't real; the "competitors" collaborate in a pre-arranged outcome. Hence, although they work hard (and take steroids) to build their muscles, Randy and the other wrestlers are in their personal lives as gentle as lambs (almost), and Randy humbles himself before all manner of indignities. Even in his one angry outburst (wherein he quits his job at a supermarket deli), Randy hurts nobody but himself, and the damage he causes (knocking products off their shelves) is obviously more for show than a real attempt at destruction.

  • Pro-wrestling is a low-class, low-IQ activity. Unsurprisingly, Randy mismanages his life in virtually every respect, falling behind on the rent, missing a dinner date with his daughter, etc. But he displays another aspect of the class divide: emotionalism. In particular, Randy on a couple of occasions weeps openly. While these episodes were not without reason -- The Wrestler contains enough heartbreak for several movies -- it occurred to me how the same emotional control that keeps upper-class adults from bursting into tears in public is the same control that keeps them from engaging in other self-destructive behaviors.

  • I have to give the filmmakers points for linking, even obliquely, the estranged daughter's apparent lesbianism to the trauma of paternal abandonment. In an age where sexual-preference-is-a-valid-lifestyle-choice, surely this was controversial.

  • Someone should really call an end to the shaky-camera documentary style of film making for anything other than actual documentaries. The technique comes across as lazy in The Wrestler. I'm pretty sure I've seen this point made elsewhere.

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