I remember the first time I ever watched a wrestling match. It was October 1985. I was the new kid in class at Prince Phillip Public School in Hamilton, Ontario. I was one of 3 or 4 Jewish kids in my grade 4 class, and one of maybe 15 or 20 total in the entire school. No surprise really that us Jews stuck together, which is why just weeks after being the new kid, I’d already made some friends. I’d even been invited to a birthday party. The kid’s name was Zev. He was turning 9. For his birthday his parents rented us Wrestlemania on VHS to watch. The main event was Hulk Hogan and Mr. T taking on “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. We all watched the videotape for 2 hours straight, and when it was over we watched it again.
I was hooked, and in some way, shape, or form I’ve been hooked ever since.
For 24 years I’ve watched wrestlers come and go. Huge names in the business, names that you know, even if you were never a fan. I’ve shaken hand with heroes like Hulk Hogan. Roddy Piper. Steve Austin. The Rock.
I’ve stood next to wrestling’s real life villain, Chris Benoit. What was once one of my most cherished photos, a smiling me standing next to Benoit, his arm around my shoulders, his recently won World Championship belt snug around my waist, is at the bottom of a box, never to return.
Wrestling has been full of triumphs and tragedies, and they’ve never been captured in cinema with more poignancy than with Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. But the story of Randy The Ram (Mickey Rourke), a former superstar now relegated to plying his trade in half empty high school gymnasiums, is far more than just a wrestling story.
Lots of critics have talked about the parallels between the character Mickey Rourke plays in the film and the real life trials and tribulations of the actor himself. Those parallels are not totally accurate. To be sure, for almost twenty years there’s been nothing bankable about Mickey Rourke. Though he was heralded for many of his performances throughout the 1980’s (1987’s Angel Heart is a personal favourite), he hasn’t had a marquee name in years. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t working. Rourke was paying the bills with small cameos in films like Masked And Anonymous, while virtually stealing the show as Marv in Robert Rodriquez’s 2005 hit film, Sin City. But it’s true that with his performance in The Wrestler, Rourke has redeemed his reputation and created a hugely compelling character in the eternally flawed Randy The Ram.
But there’s more to the movie than Rourke’s performance. There’s the story of a man who can’t get off the stage. In this case, the stage is the wrestling ring. With no family, and seemingly no friends, that’s where The Wrestler feels he will only truly belong. With the lights and the sounds of a crowd chanting his name. The Wrestler’s work is everything to him. It’s the only thing. It’s where he thinks he belongs.
Don’t you know someone like that? Maybe you’re someone like that. Who feels their worth is only determined by their job, whatever that job may be. Whatever their stage may be. The Wrestler isn’t just about wrestling. It’s about the celebrity who used to be on television, and is now doing dinner theater. Some do it for the money. Some do it for the love of acting. Some do it because they don’t know what else to do. The Wrestler is about the businessman whose life is spent in the office, missing birthdays and anniversaries and at the end of the day is left alone.
Maybe I see these parallels because I’ve been watching wrestling for 24 years and I’ve seen so many of the superstars of the 1980’s become the Randy the Ram’s of the 2000’s. Maybe it’s because in some ways I’ve known what it’s like to be so driven by work that I’ve forgotten the adage “work to live, not live to work”. Whatever the reason, The Wrestler spoke to me on so many different levels, and not just because of Mickey Rourke’s perfect performance or the fact that I’m a wrestling fan. The Wrestler may very likely speak to you as well, in some way that I haven’t even considered.
If not, take heart in the fact that you’ll also get to see Marisa Tomei’s boobies on the big screen.