The Wrestler: I’m a Mickey Rourke fan. From way, way back. I consider his two minutes in The Pledge as good as anything ever done on the screen. He was easily the best actor in the ‘80s, turning in great performances in Body Heat, Diner, Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Year of the Dragon, Nine ½ Weeks, Angel Heart, Barfly, even in the lesser films A Prayer for the Dying and his own Homeboy.
During his lost decade of the ‘90s, when he appeared in increasingly smaller roles in mostly terrible films, Rourke was still worth watching (Thursday was probably the Mick’s top ‘90s flick)—like Bela Lugosi in an Ed Wood movie.
They say The Wrestler is Mickey’s *comeback,* but he has already comeback two or three times in the 2000s. . .starting quietly with the small roles in Animal Factory and The Pledge, then the full-fledged *comeback* in Sin City.
The hype for Rourke in The Wrestler began months before its US release, and continued throughout the Awards season. I finally saw it on dvd a few nights ago. . .and Mr. Rourke lives up to the hype.
Rourke is probably a little too rough-around-the-edges for some in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and so was passed-over for Best Actor. I didn’t see the winner, Sean Penn as the queer Milk, but based on other Penn films I have seen, I find it hard to believe he actually turned in a better performance. Penn is a good actor, but it’s all surface, he impersonates retards and spastics, etc. Rourke fully inhabits his characters, and infuses them with seeming genuine emotion. Penn mimics. Rourke personifies.
For me, being of the same condescension as Max von Sydow’s Frederick in Hannah and Her Sisters (Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?), the highest compliment I can pay Rourke is he makes professional wrasslin’ seem heroic. . .
The Wrestler is a fairly conventional character study of an American loser. . .the story of a sorry chump, to take the lingo of I Stand Alone, which is appropriate, since that film’s antihero is forced to take a job as a deli counter man, just as Rourke’s Randy *the Ram* Robinson must do in The Wrestler. But whereas the butcher in I Stand Alone can’t even crack a smile, and doesn’t last five minutes on the job, Rourke’s *the Ram,* as is his character’s wont, tries to make the best of it, until the accumulated circumstance of his downwardly spiraling life drives him to confront the paradox most in the *real world* spend their entire lives avoiding:
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. . .
When *the Ram* sheds his own blood in the deli counter meat slicer and barks at a customer you want some fucking cheese, lady? Get it yourself! he renders his verdict:
He hates his life in this world. . .the world outside the wrestling ring.
For *the Ram,* *eternal life* is the life in the ring. . .but to return to the ring means death in the world outside the ring. Betrayed by his body, he has suffered a heart attack (Judas as cardiac arrest), and has submitted to the judgment of his doctor, that he hang up his wrasslin’ trunks. Thus, for most of the film, we watch Rourke’s character struggle to make a life outside the wrestling arena.
The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.
The filmmakers shade Rourke’s sorry chump of a broken-down wrassler with a touch of the Suffering Servant. Randy *the Ram* Robinson is a trailer park Jesus, suffering the children to play Nintendo, and befriending fallen women.
The filmmakers poke fun at their own hagiographical pretentions in a barroom scene between *the Ram* and the stripper Cassidy (a Mary Magdalene of legend), in which Cassidy (like *the Ram,* an aging performer betrayed by her body—lap dances being harder and harder to sell), looking upon *the Ram’s* battered visage quotes
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
as coming from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and not from Isaiah.
As part of *the Ram’s* attempt to reconcile with the world outside the ring, he tries to connect with Cassidy—but Cassidy, unlike *the Ram,* hasn’t yet hit rock bottom, and she has a double mind about getting involved with him outside the strip club.
The scenes between Cassidy and *the Ram* are credible and nicely done. Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, and though she’s probably older than what her character is supposed to be, she hardly looks like an aging stripper. At 44, she has a better body than most of the skanks you will see in second and third rate strip clubs.
Tomei is particularly effective in the scene in which *the Ram* tells Cassidy he has had a heart attack. She quickly does a *cost benefit analysis* of *the Ram,* and deftly gets rid of him with a cheery-but-icy you’ll be all right.
When Cassidy finally decides to take the leap of faith and commit to a relationship, it’s too late, for *the Ram* has gone past the point of no return—he’s through with the world outside the ring. He’s determined to wrestle again, he no longer wants to keep his life in this world, he’d rather die and enter eternity from the ring.
Less effective are the scenes between *the Ram* and his college age daughter Stephanie, played by the weirdo Evan Rachel Wood. *The Ram,* of course, has been a lousy, mostly absent father, and thus Stephanie has *issues.* The problem is not just that this is one subplot too many to stick into a character study, but also that Wood seems far too chic to be *the Ram’s* daughter. Given what one must assume her upbringing to have been, you would expect *the Ram’s* daughter to be trashier. . .one of those overweight, potty-mouthed white girls who sleeps with scores of thugz and pops out mulatto babies like candy from a Pez dispenser. Instead, Stephanie is a serious, studious lesbian, living with an articulate, well-groomed young black woman. It’s hard to believe she was ever in the same environment as her father.
But bottom line, The Wrestler rides on Mickey Rourke’s shoulders. There’s nothing here you haven’t already seen in a dozen other movies. . .but you haven’t seen it done the way the Mick does it—body and soul. You can feel *the Ram’s* physical and psychic pain—the subtle movements and facial expressions that reveal a worn-out body and soul. The authenticity of the voice—Rourke can deliver a line like here’s your bologna, pal, as *the Ram* says to his first deli customer, and you catch in it just a trace of the resentment he’s trying to bury. The resentment of a soul that’s had a small measure of success, but mostly a long, grueling struggle to get it back, and then the realization it’s gone forever. . .and now it’s time to put on the hair net and slice bologna for lesser men.
Here’s your bologna, pal. . .
That’s the signature line from Mickey’s masterpiece.
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