Mickey Rourke (“Sin City,” “Domino”) stars in “The Wrestler” as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a lumpy, trailer-dwelling professional wrestler who performs in church halls and recreation centers to augment the meager income he earns working in a grocery store stockroom.
Randy’s body is a 50-something mass of scars and torn soft-tissue injuries, but he doggedly hangs onto his wrestling persona, despite the physical and emotional wear and tear it obviously causes him.
It’s difficult for Randy to let wrestling go because his attachment is really to his past. During the 1980s, he was on the very top of the wrestling scene, and had his own Nintendo game and action figure to prove it. He drives around in his old van, listening to Ratt and Quiet Riot, pining for the days when his long, bleached, product-filled hair and fake-bake tan were actually as cool as he still thinks they are.
But those days are long gone, and Randy inhabits the bottom of the sporting barrel, consoling himself with the fact that there’s no place to go but up. In the meantime, he has to debase himself quite a bit just to stay in the barrel at all. What he doesn’t realize is that even if he still thinks of himself as a 25-year-old wrestling star, his body knows how old it really is, and won’t hold out forever.
UNPLEASANT RUN OF PSYCHOTIC THEATER
One night, after an especially unpleasant run of psychotic theater involving barbed wire and a staple gun, Randy’s body sends him a clear message that it’s time to hang up the tights. He toys with retirement, and tries to establish a normal human romance with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), a stripper to whom he has given a significant portion of his cash for lap dances over the years. But it isn’t long before his crappy job and the pull of the ring “ strengthened by the prospect of a rematch with his old nemesis, The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller, aka real-life pro wrestler The Cat) “ keeps “The Ram” from going quietly into his good night.
What makes “The Wrestler” really work is its sharp understanding and portrayal of human nature. While Randy himself isn’t the most likable character in the world, and is actually a bit infuriating in his insistence to self-implode, his actions are a true portrayal of a washed-up, emotionally crippled narcissist. And it’s made clear that he is not only unable to let go of his identity as a wrestler, he can’t let go of his old selfishness, either.
His attempts at reestablishing a relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood, “Across the Universe”) illustrate that Randy doesn’t live alone in a dingy trailer without good reason. In pursuing the fame and glory of the wrestling ring, He has alienated everyone he ever loved or ever loved him. What’s saddest is that he knows and regrets it, but can’t stop himself from perpetuating the dysfunction.
A large part of “The Wrestler”‘s larger narrative appeal comes from the downward spiral of Rourke’s career path since the 1980s. While it’s debatable that there’s a neat arc at play here about an up-and-coming actor who falls on hard times, only to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of failure, the idea certainly adds a dimension of color that gives “The Wrestler” a level of significance it wouldn’t have had otherwise.