There is a sad admission that I need to make at the start of my review for The Wrestler (2008). I have watched the film twice while it was in an initial run at the movie theaters and my review for it had not been written and published until a good year later. Do not worry and do not fret! The film has made quite a strong impression on me. How would I forget the amount of enjoyment that I have experienced in watching the film? The movie is entertaining, compelling, and highly memorable.
The foremost topic of discussion about the film has been the outstanding performance given by Mickey Rourke. He is prominently displayed in the lead role portraying a character that has often been referred to as a fictional counterpart to his real life persona. The name of the lead character is Randy. He prefers to use the name in fear of being ridiculed for his birth name of Robin Ramsinski. On stage as a professional wrestler who would make numerous rounds through the wrestling circuit, he would be introduced as Randy the Ram. During the heyday of his career in the 1980s, Randy was a skilled wrestler who knew how to put on a great show for the fans. However, as time passes by his age begins to show. At the start of the film, the audience is introduced to his story very late in his professional career as a wrestler. It is apparent that his age is showing, and he is barely earning a decent income from the money that is given to him at the local wrestling matches in addition to the minor pay that he earns working at a grocery store.
The best way that I could explain the film would be to place it in comparison with the Rocky franchise. The similarities have been observed by other people just the same as I have pointed it out. To say the least this common observation is not surprising to me. The Wrestler holds the oomph power of an underdog story as witnessed in Rocky (1976). Randy is a person who is run down and trodden; left behind to waste the remainder of his life struggling just to make financial ends meet. He lives alone in a mobile home park. Sometime before the start of the movie, his wife may have either passed away or left him for good, because there is no reference to her existence within the film. However, his daughter, Stephanie, has moved on to live her own life. Their relationship is estranged and not exactly on good terms.
In going back to the topic of his career as a professional wrestler, he would be one of the last people that would come to mind in terms of winning a championship title. It is not his skill as a wrestler, but his age has worn him out and he has traveled past the peak of his career. His athletic performance was at its peak during the 1980s, but twenty-five years later he is nothing more than a washed up has been athlete. Despite the physical limitations of growing older, Randy still manages to participate in weekly matches, because he enjoys the sport of wrestling. At one point in the film, it is proposed that he attempts a career comeback by competing against an old rival that he has not sparred with since the 1980s.
The story of an aging wrestler who attempts to prove that he still has a chance in his career reminds me of the career comeback story of an aging boxer as told by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa (2006). The differences between the two films are as follows. The first difference would be that Rocky is a boxer, and Randy is a wrestler. It is obvious of the difference between the two sports, because they are prominently featured in each story. Another difference would be the pathetic opportunity taken by Sylvester Stallone with the intentional hope that it would revive his acting career. He wanted to tap into the successful boxing franchise that has helped him stay afloat for a couple of decades (not discounting the Rambo franchise). However, Mickey Rourke was hired by auteur film director Darren Aronofsky to act in a movie about wrestling. His decision to accept the role and perform it wonderfully is a decision that revitalized his own acting career. He was not expecting the surge of popularity after the release of the film, and most likely was genuinely surprised to be nominated for a Golden Globe award and an Oscar award for his acting work in the film. The last obvious difference between the two films would be that Rocky Balboa is a mediocre film whereas The Wrestler purely kicks butt.
The prominent attribute that strongly resonates within The Wrestler that marks it as a wonderful story is the presence of the lead character as a human being and not merely a tool that is used as a centerpiece to connect all of the athletic matches together. If the audience is expected to sit through a two-hour demonstration of sports games and athletic events that are show within a movie and there is a lack of dramatic substance know as a story then they should be encouraged to go watch a regular sports game. The Wrestler tells the story of a human being experiencing his life. It is not about the wrestling matches in which he is a participant. If you are an avid fan of those sports movies that centers on the competition of a sporting match, then I cannot argue against your taste in movie entertainment. A story that focuses upon the lives of the characters within the film is more valuable to me than the point of focusing upon their athletic careers.
It shall be noted that a career can be an integral part of the character’s life and be an influential part of defining their story, but it should not be primary point of a dramatic film. In my mind, it would be pointless to focus upon the sports game as a leading character, or to take a prominent role in the story that will push the characters into the back seat of the film. I will probably not be excited to watch a film about two people collating office reports all day long just the same as I am not thrilled to be watching a feature length film that spends a lot of time on a sporting event.
There are several wrestling matches in The Wrestler, but my attention is not centered so much upon whether Randy wins or loses every match. As an audience member viewing his story, I am more concerned about his personal conflict of growing old, struggling to pay rent every month, reconnecting with his daughter, and a blossoming romance with a new found girlfriend. At the end of the movie with the big rematch between Randy and an old competitor, the audience may be more concerned about his health and the relationships with his girlfriend and daughter. Will he regain his health and mend his relationships? The audience never does find out the outcome of the wrestling match. Nor do they find out if he returns to his loved ones with open arms and good health. Personally, I believe the intention of an open ending for this story was for avoiding a clichéd ending for the typical sports film. The underdog wins the big game and everyone is happy! On the other side, the intent could be to avoid a draw in the sports match or to leave the audience in a gloomy mood if the lead character were to lose the match or have his health completely fail on him. Personally, I believe the ending of the film was intended to keep the focus upon Randy as a person and not upon his career as a wrestler or the sport of wrestling.