In 'The Wrestler,' Rourke's Gory, Tragic Comeback

Mickey Rourke as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson i

No Holds Barred: Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) looks like battered lion in the ring. His body is ravaged, but he'll continue to fight — even if it kills him. Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight hide caption

itoggle caption Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight
Mickey Rourke as Randy 'The Ram' Robinson

No Holds Barred: Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) looks like battered lion in the ring. His body is ravaged, but he'll continue to fight — even if it kills him.

Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight

The Wrestler

  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.

Mickey Rourke with Marisa Tomei as Cassidy i

Robinson finds comfort in the arms Cassidy, a stripper who is past her prime, played by Marisa Tomei. Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight hide caption

itoggle caption Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight
Mickey Rourke with Marisa Tomei as Cassidy

Robinson finds comfort in the arms Cassidy, a stripper who is past her prime, played by Marisa Tomei.

Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight

The Wrestler is Mickey Rourke's comeback — I'm not exactly sure from where, but it did a number on his face. When he became a star in 1982 in Diner, he was lean and self-contained and perpetually amused, as if smiling at some private dirty joke; his voice was soft and seductive.

These days, his face is a swollen mask, his voice about an octave lower. But in this movie his ravaged appearance works. He's such a mess, you want to see him triumph.

Rourke plays aging pro-wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, once a star on the circuit, and he has long yellow hair and looks like a battered lion — like hell, but in his tragic way, beautiful. Now, though, he's alone, forsaken, clinging to his career in spite of a failing body.

He once abandoned his wife and child. His daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, won't talk to him, and he resorts to reaching out to the only woman who gives him any warmth — an aging stripper who calls herself Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who has the grace not to let him see her eyes wander in search of other lap-dance customers. Randy wants to meet her outside the club, and somehow this hulk manages to get her.

But we know that even if Randy bonds with her and somehow breaks through his daughter's anger, he'll screw it all up, because, after all, he's only good for one thing in life, even if it kills him.

Director Darren Aronofsky and writer Robert D. Siegel conceived the film for Rourke; they put him on a pedestal — and at times on a cross. Allusions to Christ are everywhere: an opponent's outlandish use of staple gun makes Randy's back look as if it has been lashed. Cassidy even mentions the carnage in The Passion of the Christ.

The Wrestler is predictable, corny, heavy-handed, but with Rourke on the wire and acting his heart out, it gets into your bloodstream. Aronofsky's style is radically subjective. His vocabulary changes to match his characters' altered states. The nature of the high is different in every movie: It was swirling and fractured in Pi, feverish and then hazy in the junkie drama Requiem for a Dream, and transcendentally romantic in the over-the-top epic The Fountain.

In The Wrestler, he induces a state of masochistic ecstasy — the oneness Randy feels with the universe when he's in that mythically garish costume and is pummeled and cut and watches his blood fly onto the canvas before shrieking crowds.

Even though the wrestlers are friendly backstage and clue one another in on the abuse to come, the pounding they take is ferocious, and we see the world through Randy's swimming perceptions — we see that smashing other peoples' heads and getting his own smashed back really does complete him. Next to these bouts, the ones in Raging Bull seem like Japanese tea ceremonies. In one scene, Randy hides a small razor in his costume and, down for the count, slices open his face to make the gore even splashier. He rises in triumph, and throws back his head. It's as if he's saying, "I bleed, therefore I am."

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