The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

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The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby Luhks on Sun Jan 25, 2009 3:21 am

http://sluhks.blogspot.com/2009/01/analysis-of-wrestler-2008-darren.html

Major spoilers. This is not a review but an analysis of the film. Do not read unless you have seen the film.


It would be inaccurate to say that Darren Aronofsky’s film, The Wrestler, tells the story of one man. Instead, the film tells the story of two men living in the same body. Just as the listing of his complete name in the credits suggests, Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke) has another person within him, ripping him apart from within. The Wrestler is my favorite movie released in 2008, and one of my top ten favorite movies of this decade.

Personally, I never expected that a film about professional wrestling could become one of my favorites. The Wrestler might be remembered as one of the greatest sports movies, except for the glaring issue that professional wrestling is not a real sport. The film itself does not make any claims to the contrary, and it embraces the premise that professional wrestlers are performers. From the beginning, the film seeks to explore exactly how real a fake performance can be. During an early fight scene, Randy removes a hidden razor blade from his wrist and slices his forehead while on the mat, to make himself bleed. Legend has it that actor Mickey Rourke actually cut himself to make the scene work. Although the competition is staged, the bodies in the ring are certainly real. The strain of the activity takes a toll on the human body as heavy as any sport, through the physical wounds and also the training and drug regimen that support the performance. Mortality rates for professional wrestlers are through the roof, a harsh truth that confirms the real damage from this phony sport. The Wrestler succeeds as a film, not only because it highlights the physical reality of the performance, but because it emphasizes the consequences below the surface as well.


The opening credit sequence of The Wrestler ranks alongside my all-time favorites. The outdated music (and even the outdated font of the title card) transports the audience into another time period. The camera slowly pans over an endless array of press clippings, which detail the professional wrestling career of The Ram. Thus, The Ram is the first character shown onscreen, but even then it never has any tangible presence. The movie never provides any direct flashbacks of his previous stardom, and instead only provides these fleeting images. The Ram never existed in the first place, but only as a fleeting idea within the minds of Randy himself and of his fans. Immediately after this sequence, the film cuts to its second character, Randy Robinson himself (“Twenty years later”) recovering in the locker room after another match, his back towards the camera. The camera continues to trail him from behind him for several minutes, before his face eventually comes into view. Only after he has packed his bags, signed a few autographs, and arrived at home, does the film offer its first look at Randy’s face. A real man still exists, buried somewhere inside him, even if he requires a long recovery time before he can emerge.

As the story unfolds, Randy suffers a heart attack after another particularly brutal wrestling match, and doctors inform him that he will never be able to wrestle again without risking his life. The Ram, it would seem, has died, and Randy Robinson must make a new life for himself. After a half a lifetime of being The Ram, though, Randy struggles to adapt to the loss of his wrestling persona. Randy has essentially become reborn into the adult life. His story becomes almost a coming-of-age tale, but for a 50-year old man who never needed to become a responsible adult in the past. He finds a new means to support himself, with a full-time position behind the deli counter of a grocery store. His name tag, which lists his name as Robin, perfectly illustrates his feelings toward his new lot in life: not only with a sense of emasculation, but an even more basic crisis of identity.

In his efforts to remake himself, Randy first reaches out to a stripper he has befriended, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). In turn, she encourages him to return to reunite with his family, his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). The second act of the film primarily deals with these two budding relationships, each with its own pitfalls. In her life, Cassidy has accomplished what Randy was never able to do, to disconnect her stage identity successfully from her true self, Pam, the mother of a 9-year old son. Randy cannot even comprehend the idea of such a distinction. By contrast, he had allowed The Ram to run his entire life for him. The biggest consequence of Randy’s failure to separate himself from The Ram was his abandonment of his daughter Stephanie. As he reconnects with her, it becomes apparent that she has become a more mature adult than her own father, but she refuses to take care of him after the way he treated her.

Even as he attempts to make a new life for himself as Randy Robinson, The Ram itself still emerges in different forms. He plays a videogame version of himself on a vintage Nintendo Entertainment System, he gives away a Ram action figure to Pam’s son, and he tries to peddle videocassette tapes and other Ram merchandise. The 8-bit Ram, the plastic Ram, and the VHS Ram are every bit as real as The Ram in the ring, which was always an idea, represented by these mere shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. When Randy buys a birthday present for his daughter, he needs to buy two different presents: a bright and shiny 80s-style bright green jacket, and a more modern and practical pea coat; one gift from The Ram, and a real gift from Randy.

Two turning points in the story, though, cause The Ram to re-emerge inside Randy’s body as well. A woman in a bar entices him into a cocaine-fueled sexual encounter, after she reminds him of a Ram poster once owned by her brother. With the mere mention of what he used to be, he relapses into his old personality, and the Ram’s actions cause Randy to break a promise to his daughter. Later, another destructive incident occurs while he is at work. A customer recognizes him as the famous wrestler, despite his repeated denials. This reminder destroys whatever vestiges of Randy remained within him, and he transforms once again into The Ram, baptizing himself in his own blood. The reborn wrestler returns to the ring one final time, for a rematch with his old nemesis The Ayatollah. (In a pleasant coincidence inspired by real life wrestling, some of the film's imagery lends itself to a possible allegory in which The Ram parallels America itself.) In his final moments, he does not achieve glory, so much as self-actualization. He does not choose to return to the ring because he wants fame. He must return to the ring, because the Wrestler (and not an employee or a husband or a father) is the only thing that he knows how to be. Randy does not play The Ram, but he is The Ram. His fictional self has become even more real to him than his physical self.

Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson finds his own place among a great tradition of movie pugilists, although he moves from boxing to wrestling. This character, however, is driven by forces much different from those of his predecessors. Terry Malloy (On the Waterfront) suffered a crisis of conscience, Rocky Balboa (Rocky) wanted to prove to himself that he was not a loser, and Jake LaMotta (Raging Bull) was driven by a psychosexual need to dominate others. Randy Robinson is propelled by The Ram itself, a persona which consumes his person. I would argue that the overall spirit of his character rests more closely to a very unlikely source, Norma Desmond, the aging movie star of Sunset Boulevard. Right down to their final monologues, the two characters cling to their fading stage identities and watch everything else fall away. As Randy Robinson describes it in his final appearance in the ring: “God damn it I'm still standing here and I'm The Ram. […] You know what? The only one that's going to tell me when I'm through doing my thing is you people here.” Norma Desmond finishes with the declaration, “You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!.”


The Roman philosopher Cicero argued that a person’s acts formed the path to virtue. To become a virtuous person, you should act as if you were already such a person. Over time, as you continue to act like that person, you will become whatever you wanted to be. Your performance will become your identity. The same underlying principle applies to Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, even though his transformation was not the product of conscious effort. Although people customarily draw a distinction between ‘who you are’ and ‘what you do,’ that separation might not be as definite as we imagine. Mickey Rourke put himself through a tremendous amount of pain, both physical and mental, in order to bring The Wrestler onto the screen. His almost autobiographical performance is as authentic as you will find in a movie.

In a tragic coincidence worthy of fiction, The Wrestler was released in the same year as another widely acclaimed film, The Dark Knight. A strong possibility exists that Mickey Rourke will win the Best Oscar statue for The Wrestler, and the late Heath Ledger will be named Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight. Ledger forced his mind into dark territory in order to bring The Joker to life. He put so much energy into his performance that one cannot help but wonder whether it played a factor in his sleeping-pill-induced death. (The movie also includes another ironic comparison to Kurt Cobain, another performer who died before his time.) In The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke’s character undergoes something similar to what Ledger may have literally experienced. In the final frames, the Wrestler pushes his body beyond its capabilities for the sake of his performance. The Ram and the Joker will live on forever, even though Heath and Randy have perished. The final outcome is equally tragic, triumphant, and true.
Last edited by Luhks on Sun Jan 25, 2009 6:16 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby Iceman on Sun Jan 25, 2009 3:25 am

Even though there are spoilers in this [awesome] analysis, the movie is already out so they are not technically considered "spoilers" so I will put this in the Movies General section. Still like Luhks said, if you haven't seen the film don't read it because you will be spoiled ;)
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby drackodelmal on Sun Jan 25, 2009 1:22 pm

That movie rocks, i watched the day of the limited release and was in shock and aww on Aronofsky style. very good watch and totally worth the pprice/time
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby ripzfx on Sun Jan 25, 2009 3:53 pm

This is one of my favorite movies I've seen this year, and I've seen a lot. It really should have been nominated for best picture, the only one I would even consider as being slightly better is Slumdog. Rourke was just excellent and captured the character perfectly and would be a perfect follow up to Daniel Day-Lewis as best actor winner last year with an equally great performance.
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby UNIQUE on Mon Jan 26, 2009 12:00 pm

Its such a fresh movie ! ! :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
HAPPY LOST DAY ALL ! ! ! ! ! !
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby drackodelmal on Mon Jan 26, 2009 3:45 pm

UNIQUE wrote:Its such a fresh movie ! ! :thumbsup: :thumbsup:


you say this watchin other aronfsky movies?
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby wurw on Sat Jan 31, 2009 3:04 am

I have missed out on a few good movies because the topic didn't sound appealing or trailers didn't look very interesting to me. I have just seen a string of movies that I went into blindly and that I probably would have skipped otherwise, but am very happy I didn't pass on them.
This one is at the top of the list. :thumbsup:
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby drackodelmal on Fri Oct 01, 2010 6:17 pm

the other day i was looking for this review ... its a great read after the movie and before a rewatch


of O.T.:
heads up people the new Darren movie is coming 1st december this year on a limited release... and it sound very very good...

its called Black Swan...
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby Luhks on Fri Oct 22, 2010 5:16 am

drackodelmal wrote:the other day i was looking for this review ... its a great read after the movie and before a rewatch


of O.T.:
heads up people the new Darren movie is coming 1st december this year on a limited release... and it sound very very good...

its called Black Swan...
I had the good fortune to land tickets to see Black Swan at the Philadelphia Film Festival last weekend, and I can safely say that it is my favorite film of 2010. Of all directors currently working, I think Darren Aronofsky might have the greatest talent for eliciting the best performances from his actors. Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler would get my vote for the top acting performances from the last decade. Natalie Portman's starring turn in Black Swan achieves the same level of excellence, and of course the supporting work (from Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, and Mila Kunis) is outstanding. Black Swan expands upon the themes of The Wrestler in a different (yet strangely similar) context, and allows Aronofsky to return to the stylized visual flourishes he developed in Requiem for a Dream.
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Re: The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Postby drackodelmal on Fri Oct 22, 2010 2:39 pm

Luhks wrote:
drackodelmal wrote:the other day i was looking for this review ... its a great read after the movie and before a rewatch


of O.T.:
heads up people the new Darren movie is coming 1st december this year on a limited release... and it sound very very good...

its called Black Swan...
I had the good fortune to land tickets to see Black Swan at the Philadelphia Film Festival last weekend, and I can safely say that it is my favorite film of 2010. Of all directors currently working, I think Darren Aronofsky might have the greatest talent for eliciting the best performances from his actors. Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler would get my vote for the top acting performances from the last decade. Natalie Portman's starring turn in Black Swan achieves the same level of excellence, and of course the supporting work (from Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, and Mila Kunis) is outstanding. Black Swan expands upon the themes of The Wrestler in a different (yet strangely similar) context, and allows Aronofsky to return to the stylized visual flourishes he developed in Requiem for a Dream.


now i envy you and now am more excited for this realease.... Wow ... im dumbstroke
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