Darren Aronofsky directs 'The Wrestler', and serves up one of the best films in recent years against the rough and tumble backdrop of professional wrestling. The film is meticulous in its realistic portrayal of the sports entertainment subculture.
Pro wrestling has been a popular part of American entertainment culture for nearly a century, but until now has been depicted very poorly in the movies. 1962' 'Requiem for a Heavyweight' may be the best wrestling movie ever made until now almost by default. Requiem starred Anthony Quinn as an aging boxer who is at the end of his career and running out of options. He turns to pro wrestling out of financial necessity, and this career move is intended to symbolize his hitting rock bottom.
While Requiem is certainly a great film with some excellent performances by Quinn and Jackie Gleason (one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood history) along with a whos who of prizefighting greats including Ali, Willie Pep, Jack Dempsey and Barney Ross and even an appearance by famed wrestler Haystacks Calhoun, it is at its core a boxing film. Pro wrestling is portrayed as the nadir of an over the hill pugilists decline, which has historical precedent (Joe Louis most notably) but does nothing to explain the phenomenon itself.
Pro wrestling has been featured in a lot of other movies, almost all with poor results. With the exception of a few movies with a small pro wrestling component (Jim Carrey's excellent portrayal of comedian Andy Kauffman in 'Man In The Moon') and a half dozen or so documentaries, wrestling and movies have never seen eye to eye.
In the starring role of Randy The Ram Robinson, Rourke doesnt just hit the ball out of the park: he turns in a performance that will almost certainly take its place among the greats in film history. Before seeing the film, comparisons that critics were making to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, Paul Newman in The Hustler, and Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull seemed somewhat hyperbolic. After watching Rourke firsthand, such lofty comparisons not only seem appropriate but obvious"his performance leaves the viewer at a loss for superlatives. For a wrestling fan, its even more impressive due to his in-ring work. With the exception of a couple of extremely high risk spots, Rourke did all of his own wrestling and took all of the bumps himself. Its unfortunate that the Oscar voters couldnt see past their disdain for the subject matter to give Rourke the Best Actor award he so obviously deserved.
Aronofsky had a high degree of difficulty in creating an honest portrayal of professional wrestling. On one hand, he had to illustrate the raw and gritty reality of life at the lower levels of the profession. On the other hand, he had to convey to the audience the appeal of pro wrestling"why men like The Ram put themselves through hell to stay involved and why hardcore fans care so much. Miss the balance in one direction and the result is a film that misses the ability of pro wrestling to touch magic in its own way that keeps wrestlers in the ring and fans watching them. Err in the other direction and youve got a film that overly romanticizes a business that is at best tough and unforgiving and at worst barbaric and dehumanizing. Perhaps the most amazing thing about The Wrestler is how well it succeeds on both levels, which likely accounts for the effusive praise it has garnered from film geeks who wouldnt know a headlock from a padlock as well as pro wrestling enthusiasts.
Aronofsky and Rourke manage to convey the lure and revulsion that is unique to pro wrestling and simultaneously extrapolate them to much larger truths about human existence. It simultaneously depicts pro wrestling at its best and worst and gets them both right. By putting in the 'due diligence' to get the pro wrestling backdrop right, the film allows the brilliance of Rourke's performance and the deeper thematic significance of his conflicts to shine through.
Ross Everett is a freelance writer and respected authority on NFL football betting
. His writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sports news and sportsbook directory
sites. He lives in Northern Nevada with three Jack Russell Terriers and a kangaroo. He is currently working on an autobiography of former energy secretary Donald Hodell.