Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Wrestler: A Masterpiece of Cinema

The Wrestler (David Aronofsky, 2008) (Home) The Wrestler is a quintessentially human film, and is heartbreaking in its simple honesty: Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) is a broken down old piece of meat that has only ever felt alive in the wrestling ring, invigorated by the adoration of the crowd.

Rourke plays Randy straight up: he's not a complicated or conflicted character. He likes to live hard and fast to a soundtrack of Gun-n-Roses and Skid Row, but a few too many fights and a heart attack under the belt and it seems like time to slow down. Time to take stock before he's wearing a catheter, wheel chair bound, or rendered a mental cripple.

As Randy looks around him and sees how empty his life outside of the limelight is - a crappy job, a ratty trailer to call home, an estranged daughter, a sort-of-maybe girlfriend - my heart ached. I felt his confusion and fear as he scrambled to build a few connections, to root himself in a real world where relationships are not choreographed and there is no roaring crowd to render even the most egregious sin forgiven.

This film brought tears to my eyes, and made my heart literally ache at the vast emptiness this simple but quintessentially good man lives in. I have always loved Scorcese's Raging Bull for its ability to make the audience understand even a little bit the way that Jake LaMotta sees the world - but in the end La Motta never boils down to anything but a wounded animal.

Randy the Ram is wounded, but it's his heart that is broken by more than cardiac arrest, and he understands instinctively that his redemption is not to be found in the ring - even though that may be all that is left.

I lament the fact that I missed The Wrestler in theatres, where I could have sat in the dark sharing the experience with the crowd and savoring that glorious last shot, and the abrupt climax, haunted as it is by the spectre of what could have been. It's not often that we have a chance to see such powerful performances as those given by Rourke and Marisa Tomei as they wound and soothe each other - their characters have both been used hard in this life, and they have so much to give each other.

The Wrestler is a compelling portrait of the human condition, and a true masterpiece of cinema. I saw Milk, and I respect Sean Penn - but Rourke deserved the Oscar.

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