Aronofsky Leaves it All On the Mat with The Wrestler

You’ve already heard that Mickey Rourke and The Wrestler are phenomenal. Here are a few more reasons why you should see it for yourself.
By  · Published on December 19th, 2008

Unless I planned on busting the buzz on what seems like a universally loved film, there wasn’t much left to write about it. I never read reviews before I see a film or before I write my own, and I haven’t yet, but the highlights are inescapable: Mickey Rourke’s return, Aronofsky’s maturing as a director, award nominations inevitably waiting in the wings.

But the truth is that The Wrestler deserves all the praise that it’s receiving because it’s a triumphant film.

Mickey Rourke explodes back onto the screen as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, the human equivalent of expired hamburger meat, who is desperate to find acceptance from thousands of screaming fans or the only two women in his life that should matter – his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) and a stripper named Cassidy that he tries to connect with beyond the reach of his dollar bill played brilliantly by Marisa Tomei.

I’ll be blunt. I didn’t think I could add much to the conversation regarding this film since so much has been said already. Yes, it’s a brilliant film. In a year of deserving films, it has risen to the top – even rising to the top 200 on IMDB amongst every film ever made. It’s relaunching Mickey Rourke as an icon, nearly guaranteeing him a Best Actor Oscar. A lot has already been said, and I can’t disagree with any of it, but I’d like to explore why the movie works the way it does.

1. Maryse Alberti’s and Aronofsky’s camera work is striking. He spends a large amount of time following as Rourke walks in front either moving through the back hallways of the wrestling event or the prep station at the grocery where he works. It creates a sense that The Ram is a constant performer, even when there’s no one around to watch. This physically embodies a major theme of the film – a question of what happens when the roar of the crowd fades away and the battered performer drives home alone in a beat up truck to an empty home.

2. The pacing is perfect for the simplicity of the film. One of the greatest bolstering aspects for Rourke’s performance – as deep as it is on its own – is the natural progression of the storytelling. The delivery from Rourke, Tomei, and Wood alongside the quiet infused into the scenes by Aronofsky is quick enough to hold interest but drawn out enough to let each moment sink deeply into the audience.

3. Robert Siegel’s script is a poetic blend of crushingly sad moments met with the possibility of redemption and opportunity. The characters are all grandly flawed in a very real way. There’s nothing pretentious or contrived about why they feel incomplete – The Ram craves a love he only felt two decades ago, Cassidy is forced from the inertia of dancing for her children by a new spark of love, and Stephanie is shaken from bitterness with the quixotic hope of finally knowing her father. The fact that we can dwell for so long in their loneliness without knowing whether things will work out for them makes the script even more powerful.

Simply put, this movie will have a strong effect on a large amount of people. It instantly entered my Top Three for the year when I saw it, and, with the amount of praise that it’s getting, it’s easy to take the hint that it’s one of the best films of the year.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.