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The Wrestler (2008)

The Wrestler. Feature film. (2008, 111 mins) IMDB

...why do people put themselves through this?...

W

hen a movie like THE WRESTLER receives a great deal of hype, as this film surely did, and I haven't seen it before the hype, it's going to taint my viewing. The hype in this case is positive, and most of it directed towards Hollywood bad-boy Mickey Rourke.

Watching this film was like watching a balloon being filled with water. At what point will it explode and who's going to get wet?

Rourke plays a wrestler--one of those fake wrestlers. I'm not a fan of wrestling and can't say much about it except this film is all about wrestling and has nothing to do with it. Does that make any sense? It should.

It's the present day in New Jersey. Rourke has just finished wrestling to a small crowd. His body is wounded and sore. He crawls to his trailer park to find the manager locked him out for overdue rent. He sleeps the night in his van. The following morning there's a pat-the-dog scene where the neighbourhood kids come to play with him. They now him and like him and he reciprocates. Pat the dog.

The man is forty something. He's been wrestling for twenty years. His body is battered and tired. He's broke. What I liked about the film is that all this information and other information is said with mostly images. So much is said with little dialogue. Bit by bit we see a man who was once at the top of his field, but those days are gone. He lives hand to mouth and he lives recklessly.

(This film is not ROCKY. It's far less romantic and far more sober.)

When he does earn a few dollars from wrestling, he goes to a strip club where he knows the people who work there and in particular one stripper named Cassidy. He likes her. Gives her money for a dance instead of the manager of his trailer park. He wants more from her, but to her, he's just another customer to take money from or maybe that's just what she says.

The first major turning point happens at the end of Act II. He spent the evening in the ring being cut with glass and barbed wire and being slammed and stapled. It takes a team of medical attendants to clean him up and when they're done, he collapses with chest pain. Not only did he have a heart attack, he had bypass surgery. It should be the end of his wrestling days and for the rest of act II, it is.

His struggle now is how to survive without wrestling--the only thing he was ever good at. Cassidy suggests reuniting with is estranged daughter. On the first visit she wants nothing to do with him. Cassidy suggests buying her a gift and they go shopping in a used-clothing store. The gift works and father and daughter spend time together. They plan to have a dinner. It's all arranged except the night before he continues his reckless ways. He attends a wrestling match as a spectator. When he goes to a bar afterwards, he meets a young groupie who clearly wants to fuck him. They do drugs and drink and fuck and he ends up at her place. When he wakes up the next morning he's a wreck. When he goes home, his only thought is to sleep it off which means his misses the dinner with his daughter. He screwed up again and this time it's for good.

That's major turning point number two. It's act III.

During Act II as he struggles to figure what to do, he works odd jobs and makes headway with Cassidy (real name Pam). They get to know each other outside of the strip club.

While we watch this over-the-hill wrestler in the bottom of his life, we also see the stripper realize hers days in a g-string are almost over as well. Aging isn't kind to anyone and in certain work, it's deadly.

In Act III, our hero goes back to the only thing he is any good at wrestling. He failed with his daughter. He failed in his odd jobs. He failed with Cassidy. He's also failed in taking care of his body and his health, but he doesn't know any other way. He wants whatever it is he gets from being in the ring. It's the only place where he feels comfortable even though it's literally killing him. The steroids and painkillers he takes. All the scars. The bypass surgery.

He attends a big event--an historical rematch. Cassidy follows with the hope of stopping him but can't and when she realizes she can't, she leaves him.

The film ends without explicitly stating what happens, but we can guess. He lost his daughter and it's not likely he'll get her back. Cassidy was in love with him, reached out to him, but when she realizes he's basically suicidal, she backs away. She doesn't want to watch him die. It's not likely he wins her back.

The last image of the film shows him jumping from the ropes into the ring. The film fades to black before he lands. In the scenes just prior, he was feeling chest pains as if he was suffering a heart attack. This finally image to me suggest he dies that night or shortly thereafter. It was his one last moment of glory in the ring--the only place where he knew where to live.

Posted 2009/04/24 at 19h23ET in Movie Commentary.

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