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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Film

The Wrestler
Darren Aronofsky’s Mission in Mainstream Transition
Dean Betts

Aronofsky’s latest film, The Wrestler, completes his evolution from art-house moviemaker to mainstream money-maker, with RoboCop, his next feature, set to be the icing on the 2010 cake. The cult days of Pi, (Aronofsky’s debut black and white film) which bore numerous resemblances to the early work of David Lynch, is but a distant memory in the shadow of his latest venture.

However, box office success has not cost the film its’ quality, as the movie is the total sum of some sensitive subject matter and impressive acting, almost earning Mickey Rourke an Academy Award for best actor.

For those who have only seen the trailers on TV, it is but another sports movie, but for those who have bought the ticket, you’ll know it is so much more. So then, why make such a misleading trailer? Money, sure enough, as you can bet every other wrestling fan in America has been to see the movie. Humorously, Rourke is even set to appear ringside at Wrestle Mania this year. However, don’t be put off by the high-flying antics in the teaser, as the reality is a film spiced with Aronofsky’s interesting interjections on the human condition, as he takes a look at the decaying father figure whose greatest passion, wrestling, is also his nemesis.

When Randy "Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) suffers a serious heart attack, he is told to give up either wrestling or his livelihood. Wrestling is not only his hobby however, but also a source of income, and so among other pursuits, the "Ram" is forced to take shifts at the deli counter in a supermarket, where he would usually work out back in deliveries. Struggling to cope with life away from the ring, the gregarious yet slightly bullish Randy, eventually finds his new line of employment isn’t too bad after all. Randy is then buoyed to the extent that decides on paying his daughter a visit, with whom he has had very scarce contact over the past decade.

The inevitable ups and downs which occur between a young woman and her negligent father are acted out in some believably heart-felt exchanges, yet notwithstanding Randy’s best intentions, he is unable to free himself sufficiently from his stage persona, similarly to Gerard Depardieu’s character in The Singer (2006). Randy, despite his inclination to reform, is better suited to pre-scripted occasions such as his wrestling bouts, coping much better when the spotlight is solely on himself, and the chances of having to deal with multiple social demands are minimal. His character bears many similarities to a long list of washed up sportsmen, footballers in particular, who unfortunately find themselves crippled without the adrenaline rush they received in their playing days.

Mickey Rourke’s depiction of his character is sublime, and for many it was a genuine surprise that he did not walk away with the Oscar. He dressed to impress on the night, in a dapper suit with a gold charm around his neck, in which there was a picture of his deceased pet Chihuahua, Loki. In fact, the extent of his love for the dog caused him to walk off of the set of Luck of the Draw in 2000, when Rourke learned there was no place in the film for the canine companion. Indeed it has been speculated that Rourke’s most recent controversies away from the cameras may have cost him the Academy’s recognition. However, Penn, who is no saint himself, received the award graciously. He produced a rambling acceptance speech on the subjects of love and equal rights, which backed up claims that his receipt of the award was correct only in the political sense; as arguably the least prestigious film in the list of nominees, scooped one of the most decorated awards in the film world.

Aronofsky and Rourke alike seem to have got themselves back on the rails with the success of The Wrestler; the movie has provided a huge stepping stone towards the revival of their respective careers. Rourke now has a string of productions to look forward to, including Sin City 2 and Iron Man 2. Likewise, Aronofsky seems to finally be over his audacious flop, The Fountain. He can now go on to pursue his career with his fans’ best wishes, having captured the imagination of so many, with his first truly commercially successful feature film.
© Dean Betts March 2009

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