Wednesday, January 14, 2009

THE WRESTLER

"Witness the Resurrection of Mickey Rourke!" says the prize-like banner of a quote in the upper right corner of the poster for The Wrestler. Underneath is the image of a blond-locked Rourke, leaning for life-support on the ropes of a wrestling ring. Just above his head are the bleached-bright lights of the ring, forming somewhat of a half-circle, and creating a symbolic image of a crown.

Nope, I'm not being very subtle about the direction I'm heading in here, and I don't think director Darren Aronofsky intended to be either. Because, indeed, the final shot of The Wrestler is as close to a spiritual sports metaphor for human resurrection that you'll ever see. As Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) climbs those corner ropes one last time in order to lay down his signature "Ram Jam" pin move on rival nemesis The Ayatollah, we're uncomfortably aware that he's "burning it at both ends" with a ticker that's about to explode. Ram takes flight anyway, arms extending Christ-like, soaring above the camera and our eyes in a moment that cuts to black with cathartic punctuation.

This Jesus stuff ain't no coincidence. Earlier in the film, in a moment feeling so much like a left-field non sequitir you can feel the alarms going off in your head signaling PAY ATTENTION NOW!, Ram's hip-pocket stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tome) quotes him some dialogue from The Passion of the Christ and says, "they just beat him up for two hours straight, and he takes it... just like you." Yep, pretty much, and that's not a bad summation of what The Wrestler is either. But unlike the knives-out masochism of Lars Von Trier and his always dead heroines, Aronofsky doesn't want you going home a misanthrope. Sad, yes, but not resentful. (The Wrestler kinda plays like an indie-cool weepie for hipsters.)


If ever there was a movie that could scare our future young adults into choosing the option of college after high school, The Wrestler might just be the one. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, and I got nothing but great respect for the people who grind out long hours on the shittiest of jobs, but you can't get much more humiliating than being over the age of thirty-five and having to strip or wear neon green tights for a living. Add to that the onset of "bitch tits", being turned down by college kids for a lap dance, playing video games on an 8-bit Nintendo, working at a deli counter, liking Ratt, etc., and you're beyond a mid-life crisis, you're at the wrong end of a life lived at the limbs of decadence and hedonism. And what that looks like, what it exactly looks like, is fried-out suicide blond hair tips and a can of spray-on tan.

Some critics have argued that The Wrestler is overly-dreary and hopeless, and since we're considering the work of a director who made one of the dreariest (and worst) films of the last ten years in Requiem for a Dream, giving somebody the benefit of the doubt on an opinion like that would not be unfair. It's hard to argue with that viewpoint after watching a scene from The Wrestler like the one of a fan club gathering for ex-wrestlers to sign autographs and meet fans. The sequence is a pure depressive slide down a slope of concrete bumps. Old, worn-out men in a run-down rec center, sitting at card tables with stacks of VHS tapes for sale and nobody around with an inch of curiousity left to care. When Aronofsky's camera follows Ram's line of sight to a urine bag hanging out of a fellow wrestler's pants, flashbacks of a pasty Ellen Burstyn and a sweaty Marlon Wayans tease your gag reflex.

But Aronofsky's grown up, and with the underrated The Fountain and, now, The Wrestler under his belt, I've gone from passionately disliking the guy (I really f*cking hate Pi and Requiem for a Dream) to wanting to keep a heartfelt curious eye on his career. It may sound odd, but while watching The Wrestler, I felt a bit of a genuine Norma Rae-style working class hardship coming from both Rourke's performance and Aronofky's direction. The pair collaborated to achieve a unique blend of bittersweet pleasantness that truly hangs around once you've left the theater.

Much has been made of Mickey Rourke's autobiographical-channeling performance, but it's the kind of award-season hype that finally feels validated. Perhaps it's true that there isn't much "acting" going on here, but I was fully seduced by Rourke's body, voice, face, walk, grunts. I won't deny that that may just be the signs of a healthy crush because I still have the sound of The Ram's slamming elbow pads ringing in my ears. And to me, right now, that's the sound of "awesome".

16 comments:

Rick Olson said...

I have absolutely no desire to see this one. I'm even less of a fan of Aronovsky than you, having seen only "The Fountain" and finding it self-indulgent, which I usually kind of respect, but not in a good way.

Fox said...

I agree with self-indulgence of The Fountain but it also felt like a very personal film, so I guess that made me forgive it.

I was very much expecting not to like The Fountain based on my reactions to Aronofsky's previous films, so I was really surprised that it impressed me like it did. I should probably see it again soon so I can articulate why it did.

Still, I do remember thinking it had quite a few things wrong with it as well.

PIPER said...

Fox,

Is "bitch tits" you? Is that you?

Or did you used to beat up "bitch tits" and say "why are you so fat? Why are you so fat?"

And that my friend is a veiled One Crazy Summer Homage.

Soiled Sinema said...

I adore this film. So so much.
Ending gets me teary-eyed

bill r. said...

I kinda like Aronofsky. To one degree or another, I've liked all three of his previous movies (I have serious issues with each one, though), and I appreciate the complete disregard for commercial considerations. That doesn't mean he's any good, of course, but I think he has talent that could be used in the service of shitty Hollywood poop, and he hasn't gone that route yet.

And I am dying to see The Wrestler. But it's not open here yet. Alas.

Fox said...

Piper-

Very nice! I've been trying to get my wife to watch that movie with me... I forgot about it, and now you've made me write it my notepad again.

Having "bitch tits" must be one of the worst things imaginable. Recently there was a story that Nitro from American Gladiators suffers from them b/c he took so many 'Roids.

Soiled-

The Wrestler grew on me, it's still growing on me. I left with it all over me, but I didn't think I cared for it too much. But then I did. And I wanna see it again to know what it's like a second time around.

What I really liked was the comradarie bewteen the wrestlers, these huge big scarred men being genial and gracious with each other. There was a sweet humanity there. Contrasted with the loud colorful title sequence, these moments felt like an honest behind-the-curtain peak at a subculture we don't hear much about.

Fox said...

"shitty Hollywood poop"

Now that is as clear and direct a description of Hollywood waste product that you're gonna hear! :)

I hope you get to see The Wrestler soon Bill, b/c I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. Especially on Rourke, b/c you seem to always have interesting opinions on performances that are hyped one way or the other.

And I could probably tolerate another viewing of Pi, but if Requiem came on again, my head would pull a Scanners. (No, that's not an invitation for TRACTOR FACTS/Fox haters to send me copies of Requiem for a Dream!!)

bill r. said...

Thank you for the compliment, Fox. I should say that I'm maybe predisposed to like, if not love, Rourke in this, because a) I've really liked what I've seen so far, and b) I think he is a sensational actor (his one scene in The Pledge is the single best and most memorable scene in that whole film, just as a for instance) so I hope I can be objective. But I've been rooting for him to wise up so we could get a comeback.

Fletch said...

Overrated (but still entirely justified, if that makes sense): Rourke's performance.

Underrated: the cinematography.

The wrestling scenes are incredibly awesome. I don't say that from the perspective of a wrestling geek (I'm not one) or even a cinematography (or editing) geek, but they took the film to another level. Much has been said about the acting, but to overlook those three scenes is to cause a great injustice on the film.

Fox said...

Fletch-

Even though I think his performance does justify the hype, I kinda agree with on on the "overrated performance". You're right that it seems to be taking the spotlight away from other things.

I especially like the tight cinematography in the locker/dressing rooms of the wrestlers, or the over-the-sholder shots at the deli counter, etc. They were executed in a way that made it feel very intimate without being irritating in that up-your-nose hand held type of way that we often get in those kind of scenarios.

This might seem like quite a leap of a comparison, but I think the camera works in the way it works in the Dardennes Bros' movies Rosetta and The Son. It's close by, ALL THE TIME, but you never wanna swat it away. I really don't know how they pull that off, and in The Wrestler's best moments I feel the same.

aunt john said...

Being the man that burned the phrase "ass-to-ass" into my brain, I have some major love for the Aronovsky for Requiem for a Dream. The Fountain did create a stumbling block for my love, but The Wrestler brought me back into his arms. The scene where Rourke is getting all pumped up at the Acme to go and work behind the deli counter is genius. And that ending... sweet Jesus... bring a hanky if you have yet to see it.

Fox said...

Aunt John-

You know, I actually can't see Jennifer Connelly anymore without thinking of her going "ass-to-ass" in front of the dude that plays Cameron Diaz's dad in There's Something About Mary.

Now, I'd never discriminate on anyone who wanted to get down with some DSD action, but did Aronofsky really have to let it happen to the cutie from Career Opportunities!?! I was scarred!

As far as hanky-action in The Wrestler, the nintendo scene really broke my heart. It also cracked me up a little when Rourke had to ask the kid four times what he was saying.

Fletch said...

"Call it duty?"

Fox said...

Ha! Yes, Fletch! Thanks. It was bugging me trying to remember the name... Call of Duty 4!

The look he gives the kid, I think, is real. I think Rourke is seriously like, "(what in the hell is this kid saying!?!?)"

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