Provides stunning portrayal of aging professional wrestler on the ropes
By Anne Kirby
In his latest film, "The Wrestler," director Darren Aronofsky teams up with actor Mickey Rourke, providing a well-scripted and powerful portrayal of a 1980s pro wrestling superstar who is aging into the present day.
After years without a film that would do him justice, Mickey Rourke is resurrected through his brilliant comeback role as the wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson.
After years without a film that would do him justice, Rourke is resurrected through his brilliant comeback role as the wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson.
Rourke - whose once matinee idol looks in "Diner" and "9 1/2 Weeks" have been transformed into a bludgeoned, bulky visage - performs the role with such intensity, sensitivity and intuition that it is hard to separate the actor from the role.
And as if this were not enough, there is also Rourke's own formidable experience as a wrestler, characterized in the actor's tightly pumped physique that comes off being an entity in its own right.
For Randy, this is his alter ego and unsung trophy that anchors him in the past, yet locks him into an uncertain present with smaller matches that no longer take place in supersized wrestling arenas, but in smaller veterans halls and school gyms where Randy reestablishes himself on weekends as "The Ram" in dim rooms that double as sweaty dressing rooms.
Unable to adjust to a less fulfilling present, Randy figuratively costumes his aging persona through a ritualistic, bodily adornment that reveals the major role that performance plays in wrestling arenas.
'The Ram' keeps on going
Reinventing the champion performer his fans know as "The Ram," Randy prepares for each performance creating contrived moves that each contender agree to before entering the ring.
Like a professional actor, Randy dresses in colorful psychedelic green and white spandex pants that embody the only identity he knows. He ceremoniously tapes up his arms, hiding bits of chopped razor blades that enhance his performance through self-imposed bloodletting that sets him up as a deified champ as he drives audiences into screaming and laudatory applause.
The film is set in a seedy New Jersey town that looks as if it were once defined through solid middle class values and neighborhoods, where a younger Randy "The Ram" pumped his audiences full of exhilaration, making their lives emotionally real for them.
After years of pounding abuse and regimens of drugs and steroids that slowly take their toll on wrestlers' bodies, Randy has become an aging wrestler with little hope of ever returning to his former image as "The Ram."
As he confronts his present life, he is demeaned by new realities, such as having to take a part-time job in a supermarket.
But wrestling is all he knows and it has become part of his genetic make up.
Randy escapes the lonely existence of his mobile home playing Nintendo and indulging in mock wrestling matches with younger neighborhood boys who look up to him, yet are starting to move out of his life as they too grow older.
Driving into town in an older model van, which sports a haunting play-action figure of "The Ram" on the dashboard and serves as a home when he comes up short on his monthly rent, he routinely checks in with his old wrestling buddies and promoters who continue to book his matches and treat him with the respect of a tribal brother and a champion wrestler.
The one thing that keeps the man and person inside of Randy going is a relationship that he has developed with a beautiful yet aging stripper, Cassidy, who is astonishingly played by Marisa Tomei.
Although the relationship is deferential and built upon a surface-like attraction, the two have one thing in common - their ability to make a living through pleasing others with their bodies - which is the mask they conceals their real identities with which neither of them is in touch.
Randy and Cassidy's relationship is central to the film. Randy, who is one of Cassidy's paying customers and a regular at the striptease joint where she does her acts, wants to be as her amorous friend.
In an early scene, Randy reveals his feelings for Marisa through a semi-protective, aggressive reaction where he reaches out to protect her from the belittling comments of a younger group of guys who taunt her about her age as she cajoles them into a lap dance.
Cassidy responds with a terse tension that lets us know she views Randy as a paying client rather than a potential boyfriend.
Eventually we get subtle glimpses into Cassidy's more vulnerable feelings when she drops her professional guard and agrees to meet Randy outside of her workplace for just one beer only.
In the bar, the two unwind into a sensuous embrace and a lingering kiss that heightens Cassidy's tension. She reacts by gulping down her beer as quickly as possible and running haplessly out of the bar. Signaling her resolve to Randy, he views her feminine wiles and tough exterior with even more attraction.
The relationship evolves through a series of ups and downs where Cassidy retains a stiff upper lip as she resists Randy's blithe romantic approaches.
With unconvincing arguments that support her role as a working woman and a mother with important responsibilities at home, Randy cunningly works his way into her heart, giving up his dashboard toy figure of "The Ram" to her son.
Through his daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, we glimpse Randy's past as a series of bridges that he burned years ago.
It is not until after Randy suffers a serious heart attack and turns to Cassidy for help that she removes herself as a potential intimate, insisting that he reach out to his own family and only kin, his estranged daughter.
Again, he does not hear her deeper message. His false hopes are reinforced when Marisa, in an act of kindness, offers to meet him and help select a gift for his daughter's birthday.
The daughter, Stephanie Robinson, who attends college and lives with her girlfriend, is a striking young woman played by Evan Rachel Wood.
Through her, we glimpse Randy's past as a series of bridges that he burned years ago. She is unwilling at first to accept him back into her life, faulting him with the fact that he was not there for her when she needed him.
With warm brown eyes and elegant charm, he woos her back into his life like a knight in shining armor and a voice as sweet and gentle as a prince who comes bearing gifts.
But with little patience left on her side, Randy is just one poorly timed mistake away from losing his daughter when he gets caught up in a highly sensual escapade with a young blonde and forgets to keep his dinner date with his daughter.
Randy decides to step back into the ring
Frustrated and heartbroken by the rejections of his daughter and Cassidy, the latter of whom he thwarts during a heated argument, Randy lets on no self-pity or no feelings of remorse that might indicate a possible crack in the thick armor of his wrestling mentality. He reverses his decision to retire and decides to enter the ring once more.
Pulling out the stops, Randy defies his doctor's orders never to wrestle again when he agrees to fight his 1980s arch-nemesis, "The Ayatollah" in the larger venue of a wrestling arena that could serve as his ticket back into stardom.
Primed, pumped and prideful, Randy enters the arena like a god in full wrestling regalia. Drama runs strong as Randy is transformed through the sounds of a cheering audience and thunderous applause.
As he nears the ring, he is completely transfixed as if in a daze of past moments that he revisits with each step.
Nothing can stop his headlong rush into destiny, not even the unexpected arrival of Cassidy, who rushes to his side in a show of love and friendship, begging him not to wrestle and reminding him of his ill health.
Even she is too late, though, and nothing can stop Randy now from his final redemption, where he boldly confronts either his resurrection or certain death as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, the only person he will ever be.