Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ya Don't Know What Ya Got, Till It's ...

This song plays over the radio in an opening scene of The Wrestler, as Mickey Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson is driving home from his latest wrestling event. Clever editing has the song cut off right after "it's" and cuts to Robinson walking up to his home, a trailer, that he fast discovers he has just been kicked out of due to his inability to pay the landlord. The final word in that line, 'gone', which should be well known to pretty much anyone watching the movie, resonates and is repeating in your mind (despite the fact that you never actually hear it) as Rourke attempts to get into the trailer and then ultimately heads back into his van, wherein he pops some pills and swallows them down with a few swigs of beer before turning in for the night. It's a sort of magic trick pulled off by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and that scene, that line, and more importantly that last word, pretty much sum up the entire film the best way it could possibly be summed up.

Yes, I finally got around to watching The Wrestler, like I promised myself I would this week. I am completely blown away and I will do my best to attempt to convey everything i'm feeling right now about this utterly heart breaking movie. Bear with me, this could get a little long ...

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For those totally out of the loop, The Wrestler is the story of professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a man as down and out and broken down as Rourke himself was at one point in his life. His daughter hates him, he's in love with a stripper who sees him more as a customer than a companion, and he's just suffered a massive heart attack. But wrestling is all Robinson's got and it's really the only place in the world he fits in, so rather than throwing in the towel and being left a self confessed "old broken down piece of meat" without the one thing that makes him worth anything in this world, he instead sets his sights on a comeback re-match against The Ayatollah, the man he fueded with 20 years prior in his prime. But in the meantime, without wrestling in his life for a little while, The Ram is forced to take a closer look at the highly troubled life his wrestling career has left him with.

First off, let's get a couple things out of the way right off the bat. Yes, Marissa Tomei is topless for the duration of much of the scenes she is in. I'm not gonna discuss that at length like a lot of reviewers have been doing because this movie has a lot more to offer than a naked Marissa Tomei and in fact Tomei herself has a lot more to offer in this movie than her tits. Nor am I going to wax on about Mickey Rourke and how amazing he is in this and about how amazing of a comeback this is for him and how impressed and amazed I am at him. All i'll say is, believe all of the Rourke hype and Tomei looks great naked. Let's move along now! (For the record, I was as impressed with Rourke's jacked up body as I was with Tomei's)

Well actually, one more thing before I get into the movie. I'm not one of those people who feels that Darren Aronofsky is the second coming. Pi? Pretentious. Requiem? Overrated. The Fountain? At times brilliant, at times pretentiously overrated. (JUST MY OPINIONS!) That being said, the man has finally crafted the film that I can back 100% and it is in my opinion that The Wrestler is by far and away his best work to date. He has made his masterpiece and this one is gonna be a hard one to top. Aronofsky has captured not only the world of professional wrestling perfectly but also the world in general perfectly. The Wrestler is just about the realest film I have ever seen. It almost feels like you're watching a documentary, watching real lives playing out right in front of your very eyes and Randy The Ram is perhaps the most human and realistic character i've ever had the pleasure of spending two hours with. I truly feel a deep connection with him and that brings me to the next thing I wanted to discuss ...

This story is one that is very near and dear to my heart because i've been a wrestling fan for pretty much my entire life (up until I was about 16 I was pretty certain I was gonna be a wrestler myself!) and quite frankly, I have never been prouder to be a wrestling fan. This movie is essentially a bio pic for all of the many professional wrestlers who I grew up watching who have given their lives and souls to entertain us. This movie shows the real life of a professional wrestler, which has never really been captured before. These guys, just like the fictional Ram, lose everyone they love for the sport. They lose their bodies, they lose their minds, they lose their lives. Believe me, i've been to conventions, i've seen what guys who were once on top of the business look like now (if they're even still alive). I've seen what their lives are like now. They are broke, they are lonely, and you almost feel pity for them when you hand them a 20 dollar bill for their autograph. It's almost a novelty, seeing who looks the most like a broken down piece of shit and laughing at them. They have action figures made in their likeness, they have people who appreciate and love them, but once they leave that convention or one of the many wrestling events where they're still lacing up their boots and competing, they are nothing. Once the chanting crowds and loud theme music have subsided after an event, they are just beaten up old men with barely enough money to afford food and a place to stay. They've been on the road for so long and for so many days out of the year that they've lost touch with their loved ones. They've been forced to neglect their families and friends. And what do they have to show for it? Nothing. Once they're too old, and their services are no longer needed, they're kicked to the curb and are forced to wrestle in high school gyms and bingo halls on the independent circuit. It's one of the saddest lives one can lead and Aronofsky and Rourke and everyone involved have captured that brilliantly. Nearly every scene, every moment of the film is a mirror image of what goes on in the life of a has been pro wrestler who needs a cocktail of drugs to even bear the physical and mental anguish they are going through (not to mention a steady stream of steroids to stay looking the way they need to). Look one of these dudes in the eyes and tell them that wrestling is fake, I dare you.

WRESTLING IS NOT FAKE. IT IS STAGED. There's a huge difference and you're doing these guys an incredible injustice (not to mention taking a huge shit on their entire life's work) if you mistake the two. Yes, the matches are planned out. Yes, most times the two guys competing against each other will be going and grabbing a beer with one another after the match. But believe me, what goes on in between those ropes is far from fake. These guys kick the living shit out of each other day in and day out. The pain is real, the wounds are real. There's a reason the life span for a pro wrestler tops off at about 45. Like wrestling or not, you must appreciate and respect what these guys are putting themselves through in the name of entertainment. You may have heard that the owner of the WWE, Vince McMahon, didn't like this movie. Why, you ask? Because it's just too goddamn real and accurate for him to handle.

I feel like I had a lot more to say but i'm not even sure right now what more to say other than that you must go see this movie, whether you love wrestling or hate it. Hopefully, if you're one of the haters who thinks it's fake nonsense, your mind will be changed after you leave the theatre. Diehard wrasslin' fans, you will probably enjoy it a bit more and you'll notice more than a few familiar faces throughout, which really adds to the atmosphere. But wrestling fan or not, i'm willing to bet the movie will stay with you long after you get up out of your seat and return to your daily life.

Joe Lynch over at his blog a couple months back said that if Rourke doesn't get a nomination for the best actor Academy Award, he will eat a rotten tomato. Well, Mr. Lynch, I second that and I raise you! If Rourke doesn't WIN the Oscar, I will do the same! I'm willing to bet this movie could even win the Oscar if only the subject matter were different ...

I leave you with this beautiful song that Bruce Springsteen wrote for the film which plays over the end credits. I don't think i'll ever be able to listen to this song again without squirting out a few tears ...



Springsteen's haunting ode and Aronofsky's gut wrenching film combine to form one of the most beautiful, sad, and raw pieces of entertainment I have ever seen.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review Johnny. I agree with it

Tony C

Sauceman said...

Glad you finally got around to seeing The Wrestler....great review...the movie is amazing, from Rourke to Tomei to The Boss...a wrestling fan's dream...One of the rare movies that has you dreading the end. Gaurantee you squirt out a few more tears when Mickey wins the Oscar...Can't wait!!

thebonebreaker said...

Outstanding Review Johnny!!

I keep hearing great things about this movie, and am looking forward to seeing it myself!

Jason Takes Portland said...

This definatly on my to see list! Also I read that Aronofsky's next movie will be a Robocop remake/reboot, how bad ass will that be?

Johnny said...

I will most definetly shed a few more when Rourke wins. In fact, I held back on squirting a few post movie so I would have some in my reserves come the big day!

Jason - that should be pretty badass. He's also working on one called The Fighter about an Irish boxer, which I think is gonna be his next.

Johnny said...

Another thing I wanted to say is that this one is one of those movies that really gets even better as the days go by and you continue to think about it. I woke up this morning (actually, it was this afternoon) with even more of a love for the movie than I had last night when I watched it. That's the sign of a pretty kickass movie ...

Johnny said...

Yet another thing to say now that i've seen the movie for the second time in 2 days! A lot of people have been complaining about the ending, which I obviously won't spoil. But if you truly 'get' the movie and understand the character of The Ram, i'm pretty sure you will find the end to be pretty much the most perfect ending to the story imaginable. So quit whinin!

Jigsaw said...

I agree totally with you Johnny! This is definitely a great movie.I hope Rourke gets the Oscar for his powerful performance! The Fighter will be about "Irish" Mickey Ward who had some classic bouts with Arturo Gatti.

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