All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. For one who lived his known life on the stage, or in this case, the ring, providing mass sporting entertainment to thousands live and through video re-runs, being at the pinnacle of his sport, rigged and staged or perhaps otherwise, nothing would be a fate more worse off, than to be fading into obscurity. For one so used to attention, love and accolades showered, to be cheered and encouraged, to be handing out high-fives, autographs and pose for photographs, it takes a lot to readjust life back to normalcy, if at all. Such is the fickleness of fame.
The Wrestler is deceptively simple, about one man's struggle to repair himself after every bout, who cannot connect back to the real world of disappointments. Being aged, injuries don't seem to shake off easily, and outside of the ring, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is a nobody. His real life is in shambles, and he's still bumming around trying to heal and mend his life outside the fading limelight. His body is broken, with countless of scars, a busted ear and a weakened heart. Relationships are non-existent, and has to rely on spending money to buy time with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) to whom he pours his heart out to, and has affection for. Not only has he to heal his physical self, but on the emotional front he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
It's about age and how cruel time can be to everyone of us. Old stuff fade away, new guys enter the scene, and life just goes on, whether you like it or not.
For those who think that they're watching WWE in The Wrestler, you cannot be more wrong on that count. It does though provide some glimpses on what goes on behind the scenes and flashing lightbulbs, song and spectacle, and for those not in the big leagues, the more independent circuit where fights are arranged and choreographed amongst the lower league players. The documentary-style cinematography adopted by Maryse Alberti also helped in pushing this aspect of the story telling, and at times blurred fact with fiction, thinking that Rourke was indeed and perhaps a real pro-wrestler whom we're tailing from behind. We do get to witness some interesting no-holds barred fights, as well as time being slowed down, and extreme closeups to reaffirm that these are professional entertainers (surely you don't think it's real, do you?) who have to look out for personal safety too.
But what Darren Aronofsky really packed it in, was some excellent dramatic moments for the characters. For starters, you sympathize and empathize with them. I was a wrestling fan in my teens. Was, because I outgrew it. For the curious, I belong to the Randy Savage to the Bret Hart era of WWF (back then when it was known as), having to see champions come and go, and a chord was struck, wondering if my ex-heroes had suffered the same fate as The Ram, having to try and survive hawking wares of their former glories, and reduced to nothing but a pale shadow of their glorious self. Not to say that Aronofsky doesn't have anything for wrestling fans or to artificially craft a sob-story. But instead of the cursory yeah, this is something I've seen before, he strikes right to your heart and makes all of us question how our once heroes would have faded.
Mickey Rourke owns this film, and has a better screen presence than his recent Marv role in Sin City, which was obscured by graphical bells and whistles. He chews up the scenery, and I can't think of any other actor who could pull this off more convincingly than Rourke. He plays The Ram with plenty of conviction and has pain, and fight, written all over his face. If Pulp Fiction was John Travolta's calling card to return to greatness, The Wrestler is Rourke's equivalent.
Marisa Tomei also did an excellent job as Pam Cassidy the stripper whom Randy shares an emotional attachment to. Similarly, her character parallels how age has been unkind to their respective professions. She's constantly struggling to get customers with competition from younger and hotter colleagues, and even when she does, unlike Randy who still gets adulation from appreciative fans, all she has is to suffer derogatory remarks, in order to make a living. If anything, Aronofsky does make you feel compassionate to these walking wounded characters, except probably for Evan Rachel Wood's Stephanie, who given the extremely limited screen time, wasn't given enough room for expression and got crowded out by the two veterans.
So now if you please, I'll go find out what had happened to my past heroes whom I had once spent my teenage years watching on the goggle box. The Wrestler opens 2009 here with a bang, and it's really highly recommended, especially for those unfamiliar with Darren Aronofsky's work.