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“The Wrestler”

Movies, Pro Wrestling - by - January 28, 2009 - 04:42 UTC - Be first to Comment!

If we are lucky enough in life, our jobs will be something that we enjoy doing. It’ll be something that is beneficial to us financially, emotionally and personally. It will be something that doesn’t feel like work, but at the same time, the hard work and energy that is put into that job would make us feel good about what we’ve done. That basic premise is the thing that distinguishes a man who loves going to work and the man who’s doing what he can to get by.

But what happens when your job is essentially both?

As a professional wrestling fan for 20 years, I have been an avid follower of an athletic exhibition whose competitors willingly destroy their bodies for the love of the business, but for the most part, they are doing it for very little money, or in some cases, none at all. When you ask a professional wrestler why he does what he does, the answer is usually the same every time you ask it: They do it because to them, there is nothing better than hearing the crowd react to whatever they do. The high they get from the energy of the crowds they perform in front of is the balancing positive act that supposedly cancels out the negative aspects of a business that has destroyed countless lives, and has sadly ended others.

When the horrible acts committed by Chris Benoit occurred in 2007, those of us who were “smart” to the business knew that for all accounts and purposes, Benoit had basically done this to himself. Over a 25 year period, Benoit had injected himself with so many steroids, pills, painkillers, and other body debilitating substances that when he looked at his life on that fateful day before killing his wife and son before eventually killing himself, that he saw nothing right in his world. That even by destroying his body for the sake of a business that consumes and spits out even its biggest stars as it struggles to thrive, in the end, it didn’t matter for him. It was the idea that the positives of being in the ring and hearing the pop from the crowd was simply a self-fulfilling prophecy: In the end, they could cheer for you as much as they wanted to and as loud as they wanted to, but in your head, it was never enough. You always wanted more.

That is the pitfall of a business that is construed by many of its most avid followers (such as myself) as a piece of art. It’s an intricate soap opera, sure, but when you pick it apart and look at it piece by piece, you realize exactly what goes into it that allows us to view it as art. “The Wrestler” is not only the film that allows us superfans a chance to view wrestling as art within a different medium, but it reminds people that for the fleeting moment that you feel at peace in the world, that something around you is crumbling.

To me, Mickey Rourke’s performance goes beyond the normal boundaries of what acting is all about. For all the talk that Heath Ledger has gotten for his role as The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” it is Rourke whose life-mirroring role should get not only more press and more notice, but should GUARANTEE him an Oscar for Best Actor.

There is something about somebody who is committed to his art. Remember that Rourke’s major downfall in HIS career was that he got sidetracked by a bunch of side projects that derailed a life that was supposedly on the fast track to stardom. It would take him almost 20 years to find a role in a movie that would get him noticed again, in Frank Miller’s “Sin City.” It wasn’t the performance that brought him all the way back, but what it did was get him on the right track towards being what he might have been in his prime.

This role was something that Rourke absolutely embraced. In order to act like a professional wrestler, you literally have to be one, because to be a professional wrestler in real life, you have to know how to act. Rourke did everything in this movie basically to a “T” when it came to depicting an aging, broken down professional wrestler. Psychologically, he was somebody who absolutely loved being out there in front of the fans and soaking in their adoration. Physically, he knew that even at his advanced age, he had to look the part. He took numerous painkillers, he injected steroids, and he bleached his hair so that he resembled what he was at his peak: A man on top of the professional wrestling world, making tens of thousands of dollars and selling out arenas everywhere.

That’s where the happiness stops, and that’s where the brilliance begins.

Rourke took every bump in this movie, including a graphic hardcore match with cult favorite Necro Butcher. Everything in that locker room after the match, where doctors basically traced out a road map on his body full of scars, scratches and puncture wounds, and I’d even bet the throw-up was all real. Rourke understood that in order for people to truly get what he was feeling and what he was trying to portray that he had to go all in for this role. People need to remember that Nic Cage was the guy who was originally supposed to play this role. One viewing of the movie will make you realize he never could have done what Rourke did.

Rourke’s Robin Randinski (Randy “The Ram” Robinson is his stage name) was full of dichotomies that are pretty cut and dry; you can tell them as soon as you watch the movie. His relationships inside the wrestling world are many and good, but he can’t keep up even two outside of it that would be worthwhile to him. Even falling for Marissa Tomei’s Pam (Cassidy is her stage name) shows that he doesn’t want Pam as much as he wants Cassidy. All these relationships that are blurred between stage and the real life…never would the two meet. Randy wanting Cassidy could happen on the most platonic level, but Robin and Pam would never work. Neither of their stage personalities can allow it to happen.

Even the most basic, loving relationship between a father and daughter is the hardest thing ever for Rourke, as his daughter Stephanie, played by Evan Rachel Wood, does what she could to keep even a sliver of love in her heart for him…but when he goes back on a promise as soon as she gets comfortable, it takes away all her will to even fathom being around him. It’s a short, biting performance that is very well done on both ends, especially once Rourke realizes he had messed up what should have been a sure thing.

The end will be talked about because of its ambiguity, but what should be remembered from the end of this movie is that Rourke’s character decided vehemently to love the wrestling world above all else, sacrificing his daughter and the woman he “loved” for the sake of feeling happy. Do we feel happy for him? Do we try and relate with him trying to figure out the different aspects of his life? Do we even respect him as a person?

To me, the answers to those questions don’t matter. What matters is that the movie itself paints the picture of a man striving to relive the times that made him happy, and that everything else around it was simply platonic. It’s a weird, disturbing path that pro wrestlers take. They live for the time they come down that hallway and go through that curtain. In the movie, there are so many shots taken from behind Rourke as he walks through hallways and through doorways that he starts to have flashbacks to his glory days. He always looked for happiness in some way or another. He tried everything he could, but in the end, it was the thing that gave him
those scars and a heart attack that made him happiest. The adoration of 50 fans in a gym, 500 fans in a VFW home, or 20,000 in Madison Square Garden at his peak allowed him to be happy, even if it cost him everything else in his life.

The movie isn’t for everybody, but to me, it represents everything that I know about wrestling presented in the most real possible form outside of viewing it in real life. It shows that you have to be either amazingly strong or amazingly stupid to lead a life of a professional wrestler. There is a scene where Rourke is buying drugs from a steroid-injected, musclebound wrestler and he asks him to show him the big guns. That scene alone shows you enough to make people realize what happens in professional wrestling behind the scenes: Here’s the image we want you to portray, but do you have what it takes to do it? Should you have what it takes to do it? Should you do it at all? For Randy “The Ram” Robinson, it was his decision to let Robin Randinsky’s life go awry that allowed “The Ram’s” life to prosper. In the end, there isn’t a thing he would do the change it, but to us and to the most important people in his life, perhaps he should have.

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