The Wrestler is a “tour de force” of a movie that grips you at the beginning and does not let you go. Mickey Rourke plays an aged professional wrestler, with a body as broken as a ’57 VW Bug in a junk yard, half cannibalized and weeds growing in the engine compartment. And along with his battered body, he has a mind that is almost frantic, faced with the realization that regardless of his age, he has arrived at the end of the road.
The entire movie really only portrays three characters, Randy “the Ram” Robinson, who takes up most of the movie, and the two women in his life, if you can call them that.
One is his twenty-something daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), whom he has not seen in years. Randy visits her unannounced and she rebukes him violently. He persists and on another day they have an afternoon of closeness and an understanding. Stephanie, we see, actually wants a father in her life, and she is willing to give him another chance. I won’t tell you what happens then.
The other woman in Pam, a stripper who goes by the name of Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who seems to like Randy enough to listen to him about his troubles, but keeps her distance since she is working and he is a customer. During lap dances they talk and share an understanding. After all, they are both in show business. She is a sex performer and he is a fighter. They both see the world from the stage.
Marisa Tomei is mostly naked in this movie, save a G-string. Mickey Rourke is battered, bleeding, aching and numb.
I am not into watching professional wrestling. You don’t have to be interested in the sport to want to watch this movie. It opens your eyes.
Yes, there are some wrestlers that get to fight on cable TV or in huge arenas in Las Vegas. But like in most sports, for every superstar, there are 10,000 others that didn’t quite get there and who should have given it up long ago. Randy is such a hapless character. He tries to work 8 to 5 in a grocery store, but can’t quite do it. He is only good at wrestling, and even though he is over 20 years past his prime, there really isn’t anything else he can do, so he keeps going. We witness the scores other aging wrestlers who put on performances in high school gyms, industrial halls, the VFW or the Elk’s Lodge, wherever they can. Their dressing rooms are shabby storage rooms or class rooms, whatever works. They coordinate their matches ahead of time, talk over the scripts, plan the battering and finally go into the ring and work the program. They throw each other around, slam each other on the ground, hit and punch each other, drive barbed wire into each other and cut themselves with razor blades. It may be fake, but man, it’s got to hurt. After the performance, back in the makeshift dressing room, they give each other hugs, make sure they are ok, check on each other, and then sit in corners licking their wounds. It pays the rent, almost.
All the stage arch enemies are actually old friends, and an appealing cameraderie overshadows all their interactions. They give each other strength and courage to go back out there and do it again, and again.
The wrestler is trapped, his broken body and his tortured mind driven forward relentlessly for another dollar, another high, another fight, because there really is nothing else to do.