Occasionally the Oscar buzz surrounding a movie will be enough to make me want to watch it. The Wrestler was certainly one of those movies. The script was praised from nearly all quarters, the buzz about Mickey Rourke’s “big comeback” was strong, plus I grew up watching WCW wrestling (back before Vince McMahon conquered the professional wrestling world), so I was interested.
Then I watched the movie. Other than one or two high points for me, the whole movie was a little boring, a little disturbing, and very bleak. Here are my high points and low points…
-Mickey Rourke does a good job portraying an aging, aching, lonely man who doesn’t know any great love other than professional wrestling. The movie also accurately portrays the ins and outs and the ups and downs of the small-time professional wrestling life.
-The middle section of the movie, where Rourke’s character recognizes his own weakness (both physically and emotionally), is very powerful. After a heart-attack, he realizes that he can’t continue in his current lifestyle as a wrestler. He begins to make a great effort to reconnect with his estranged daughter, gets a full-time job, and pursues a relationship with a (more or less) stable woman, all in an effort to have a normal life with other people. He recognizes his innate need for relationships with others. The scenes with his daughter are particularly touching, the best thing this movie has to offer, in my opinion.
-I’m a sucker for the ideals in a literary epic. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, when the men of Rohan charge down the hill at Minas Tirith into a sea of orcs and trolls, they do not expect to live. To charge headlong into battle, expecting death, but doing it anyways so that your name will be remember in song for generations to come… That is literary epic. And that’s how The Wrestler ends. Knowing that his upcoming match will cause another heart attack and kill him, Rourke’s character wrestles anyways, giving the best performance he can.
-Lots of strong language.
-Lots of nudity – About 1/3 of the movie takes place in a strip club; Rourke’s character is shown having sex with a woman he has just met.
-Drug use – Rourke’s character injects himself with steroids, gets prescription painkillers illegally, and snorts cocaine.
-Bleak outlook on life – This is the worst thing about The Wrestler. The whole movie portrays Rourke’s character as being trapped in his life. He’s not educated. He’s not skilled at anything other than wrestling. The attempt he makes to reconnect with his daughter is cut short by a night of partying that causes him to miss dinner with her. His attempt at a dating relationship is cut short by the woman he is pursuing (she is a stripper at the club he goes to, and is unwilling to cross the line of dating customers). At the end of the movie, she is willing to start a relationship with him, but can’t stand to watch him wrestle his last match, knowing what it could do to him. In the climactic moment in the movie, Rourke’s character is standing on the top rope, deciding whether or not to perform his signature move (and probably die) or end the match and live the rest of his life. He looks up to the window where his would-be girlfriend was standing, and when he sees that she is not there, he jumps off the ropes and the screen goes black. The watcher is left to assume that he died, alone in the world, with nothing other than his fading fame as a professional wrestler to his name.
I was disappointed with The Wrestler. The outlook on life is so bleak, that even the high points of the movie were overshadowed by a sense of fatalism and misery. I’ll give it a C-, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.