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Thu January 1, 2009
Sure it's fake, but . . .
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time
"What wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice. The idea of 'paying' is essential to wrestling, and the crowd's 'Give it to him' means above all else 'Make him pay.'" Roland Barthes, The World of Wrestling
You bet it's fake, professional wrestling, that is. But there's nothing false about Darren Aronofsky's Wrestler, a small, impressive, occasionally pretentious film about a large man, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), who suffers in the ring and out. (That blood from razor cuts, barbed wire, and broken glass look so painful!)
Like Rocky, Ram is middle-aged and 20 years past his prime fight with The Ayatollah, whom he plans now to rematch. The other rematch with his estranged lesbian daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), does not go well though Rourke is believable as an old war horse mending his ways as well as his cuts.
When he courts Stephanie by taking her back to a decrepit amusement pier they used to frequent, the sweetness of his gesture and her willingness to welcome him back after years of neglect are as convincing as any other love scene of 2008. Aronofsky seems not to care that he's beating us up with the symbolic connection of the old park and Ram.
Aronofsky is no stranger to outlying souls, such as his mathematician in Pi, but Ram gets him closer to regular people who make sacrifices for their craft: losing matches, youth, and loves.
In another obvious motif, Ram tries to rematch with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), herself an aging performer, a stripper, who stays connected to her son and tries to make a better life.
When Cassidy spouts a line from The Passion of the Christ, Aronofsky and writer Robert D. Siegel again flirt with the outrageous allusion, this time to Christ's suffering, but somehow it all works because these are authentic characters working their way through tough times themselves without pretentions.
Randy 'The Ram' Robinson: "In this life you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you. A lot of people told me that I'd never wrestle again, the only one that's gonna tell me when I'm through doing my thing, is you people here."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics shows, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain
Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com