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The resurrection of Mickey Rourke
on March 4, 2009
I've been a wrestling fan since the '70s and it's one of those things that I have to hide from most people because they think it's a joke or they just don't understand what it's appeal is. Then came along "The Wrestler" and now my friends are asking me questions and taking interest in "the business". I saw the movie with some friends and family and we had some very spirited discussions afterward. They couldn't believe that these guys would, for example, mutilate themselves to have blood in matches (a practice called "blading" that's performed with a small piece of a razor blade), or that years spent in the ring will leave most wrestlers battered and even disabled thanks to the legit wear and tear that wrestling has on the body. Most people assume a wrestling ring is a trampoline, but it's actually like landing on concrete and over time there's a price to pay for taking bumps on such a hard surface for so many years. "The Wrestler" reveals all of these issues wrapped up in an enthralling and emotional motion picture you wont soon forget.
Life imitates art on several levels in "The Wrestler". For example, the movie shows the dark side of steroid abuse that has caused a laundry list of wrestler deaths in just the past 10 years (the pressures of the Monday Night War era claimed the lives of countless wrestlers). Well, during the first backstage wrestling scene, Mickey Rourke's character shakes hands with a wrestler that is huge and jacked to the gills. That wrestler died from heart failure a few weeks before the movie's release. Also, there is a scene where another huge and overly muscular wrestler sells several illegal muscle enhancers to Rourke's character. That wrestler was recently arrested for selling drugs. But the real story here, is how Mickey Rourke's character of Randy the Ram mirrors Mickey's life in many ways. Both are former stars, both have pushed their bodies to the limit in sports (Mickey revealed on the Charlie Rose show that he was forced to quit boxing because one more serious blow could've been it for him) and both want to get back in the spotlight. Thankfully, Mickey has achieved his goal of regaining the spotlight. As for Randy, that's a different story.
Randy the Ram, seems to be based on a combination of former wrestlers Lex Luger and Jake the Snake Roberts. Lex Luger's ailing body and rock bottom financial situation plus Jake's volatile relationship with his daughter were definite inspirations for screenwriter Robert Siegel. Mickey takes the experiences of Lex and Jake, along with his own and shapes a character that he was born to play. The part was originally written for Nicholas Cage, but I can't imagine anyone but Mickey Rourke playing this part. Mickey plays Randy with such heart and soul that he truly makes the audience feel for him. We feel his pain, we relate to his shortcomings and we cheer him on to find love and rebuild the relationship with his daughter. When Randy apologizes to his daughter for being on the road wrestling and not being there for her when she needed him, you feel it.
As a wrestling fan, one of the most powerful scenes takes place at the end when Marisa Tomei's character begs Randy not to wrestle just moments before the start of a match due to his heart condition and Randy tells her that he belongs out there. It's the only place he fits in, it's the only place he feels successful and loved. Randy's music then hits and a man who looked broken down and beaten just a second ago, busts thru that curtain and walks out as a superstar with the crowd eating out of his hand. It's a powerful scene that sums up why so many wrestlers find it so difficult to walk away from the business.
Don't let the fact that "The Wrestler" takes place in the world of professional wrestling keep you from seeing it. You don't need to be a fan to enjoy this movie. Wrestling is merely the backdrop for the drama taking place on the screen. Everyone puts in amazing performances. Rourke and Tomei deserve their Oscar nominations and Evan Rachel Wood nearly steals the movie. Just keep this in mind while watching it. Don't get too wrapped up in the drama, because after all, it is just a movie. And movies are just fake, scripted entertainment with predetermined outcomes.