Monday, June 3, 2024

THE WRESTLER (Darren Aronofsky, 2008, USA)


A self-destructive dichotomy of internal conflict, a schizophrenic battle of will as Robin Ramzinski becomes sidekick to his alter-ego, consumed by the fictitious persona of Randy “The Ram” Robinson: this faux flesh and bone becomes more substantial and burns out…while Robin fades away. Director Darren Aronofsky focuses upon a small-time loser, a washed-up wrestler whose better days are lost in the ether of time, the eighties nothing but jagged recollections and punch-drunk nostalgia. 

The film opens with a pasted collage of memories, a violent past that seems brighter than Randy’s dreary and shredded reality, his battered physique carrying the scars of a tough life of bad decisions and regrets. Aronofsky doesn’t spare us the gore and brutality of Randy’s existence, as he still bleeds out a tiny existence on the local wrestling tour; we are privilege to an insider view of this life of addiction and medication, and the true physical suffering of these dedicated athletes who dream big…but live small. Randy (Mickey Rourke) is counterpoint to Cassidy/Pam (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who doesn’t date her clients, a woman who keeps her profession strictly separate from her personal life. Aronofsky is concerned with identity: who we are, how we actually perceive ourselves, and how others dictate our individuality. Cassidy is able to shed her skin and live as Pam, a single mother who dedicates herself to her child. In comparison, Robin is subsumed by his stage persona and become “The Ram”, his life meaningless except for the fanfare, the screaming crowds and tortures of the damned, the harsh electric glow of the spotlight shining upon his juiced-up ego. Mickey Rourke is outstanding as he quickly assumes the guise of the protagonist and injects the narrative with a touching and emotional performance, a sublime tribute to those shattered athletes dominated by their past and unable to exist in the present, whose future is limited and void. 

Aronofsky and his brilliant DP Maryse Alberti use of mise-en-scene is brilliant as Randy sits signing autographs in a school gym, and his point-of-view focuses upon his peers who are now crippled: a cane, wheelchair, colostomy bag, all ex-wrestlers who are now paying the price for their momentary fame. The film's gritty, nostalgic palette is like a bad memory, investing the story with a raw credibility. But Randy must choose his own fate, and as his body breaks down during his final match, his Ram Jam becomes his epitaph and a final freeze-frame upon the empty space that was once a human life. 

Final Grade: (A)