Thursday, January 29, 2009

Man on Film: The Wrestler Redux

As I sit here listening to Working on a Dream for probably the seventh time in the past two days, it occurred to me that I had not written a review/reflection* on The Wrestler. Well, that's not entirely true. In fact, that is not even remotely true. Unfortunately, the slipshod, mailed in manner in which I wrote the initial review of The Wrestler was so lacking that I actually forgot I had done one until I went back and checked my blog. So without further ado, I shall enter a second installment into the annals of the internet; one which does more justice to the film than my initial try. If you have not seen the movie yet, you may not want to proceed past this point as there will be talk about plot points to the point of there being some fairly significant spoilers. You have been warned.

*I'm sure I've said this here before, but I hesitate to call what I'm doing here reviewing for a few reasons. Chiefly, I do want to err from reviewing films, per se, in this space. While there are certainly reactions to, ruminations on, and reflections on films here at Inconsiderate Prick, review implies an act that I'm not sure I feel comfortable using here.

I have actually reviewed films in print in the past and can safely say that what I do here is different from what I did in that capacity. I have also written a fair amount of film criticism and written more than my share of film theory papers as a result of having minored in film theory and would also have to say that what I am doing here would not qualify as such without a liberal amount of stretching the definition of film criticism and theory.

I also tend to bristle against reviews of films, as the popular form of film review is one which has largely abandoned analysis of elements in filmmaking that are key to understanding and appreciating a film, opting for a simple critique of acting and narrative and crediting and disparaging those elements to the direction, for better or worse. So, while the film reviewer or critic more often than not leaves me wanting, I would prefer to not associate myself with that form (even though I assign each such entry with the "film reviews" tag, for lack of something more apropos or even more pretentious than this diatribe) and try to distance myself somewhat from reviewing a film and approach something more closely resembling a reaction/reflection.

Perhaps this return to the film has been spurred by the repeated listens to "The Wrestler", which so aptly evokes the character of Randy "The Ram" Robinson that it actually moves me. Few songs affect me to that extent, but if a song actually moves me to the extent that I have to revisit a film I saw two weeks ago, it certainly achieved its goal.

Maybe my return to the film was inspired by having heard Darren Aronofsky on Fresh Air Monday. His love for the character seems real. His respect for the medium--the line that it walks between artform and spectacle, sport and play, play-fighting and true pain--really came through upon having heard him speak of the sport and the research done for the film. Any doubt of the sincere passion he felt for not only the character he constructed but for the real wrestlers of years past and the lackluster place they have left for the place they once held was eliminated upon hearing him talk at length on the film.

What Aronofsky accomplishes on screen is truly amazing. In the opening credits, he lies the pinnacle of The Ram's career out for all to see--the years in which he rode atop the wrestling circuit, headlining events at the Madison Square Garden to sellout crowds. The success of Randy "The Ram" Robinson at what many would argue was the pinnacle of wrestling's popularity* is promptly put in the distant past as we are jarringly introduced to present day Ram, performing in high school gymnasiums and VFWs for chump change in front of tiny crowds of the unipeds and the downtrodden, seeking out their own escape from their own forgotten lives.

*Sure, wrestling enjoyed a resurgence in the late '90s-early '00s, but with the exception of The Rock none of those wrestlers transcended the sport and captured imaginations like Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair or Andre the Giant or Rowdy Roddy Piper did.

And while you instantly feel sorry for this man who has to subject himself to such a pitiable set of circumstances, attempting to revisit and recapture the gloried acts of his prime to ever dwindling crowds of spectators while his body struggles not to perform the acts but to merely continue on, Aronofsky imbues him with the flaws of every man. This is not a noble man who has lived a life free of transgressions. He abandoned his wife and daughter when he still mattered and wants back in his daughter's life largely because he feels alone. He is a man that, when given another chance, blows it nearly every time. You get the sense that he more than likely made the bed in which he lies. Regardless, he is a man who has been exploited to make money for others--much more money than you would imagine he could ever have seen. When The Ram's body has been used up, he is left alone to deal with the damage, while the parties complicit in and profiting from the abuse are nowhere to be seen. Despite his obviously self-absorbed and self-destructive path, Randy "The Ram" Robinson is a mostly likeable character who, on a certain level, seems like a person with a good heart even though he never managed to put together a life that included much more than himself.

And, upon trying to right the wrongs of his past, he is justly spurned by his daughter after falling into old ways and forgetting about plans he made with her. When trying to reach out to the equally-aged-for-her-field Cassidey, his initial attempts are rebuffed. When she finally does come around, he has already determined the path he must take. His body has been used up, all the spare beats in his heart have been spent, and if he is going to go out, he is going to go out with the people who love him, even if that love is only for those few briefs moments in the ring where he is king.

And goddammit, when he jumps off of that top rope, and the screen goes to black with just the cheer of the crowd which slowly shifts into the should-be Oscar-winning Best Original Song, Aronofsky punches his audience square in the gut. "Tell me friend can you ask for anything more?"

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