Saturday, 31 January 2009

Film: The Wrestler

The Wrestler is not the sort of film that I would have gone out of my way to see. Despite the fact that Mickey Rourke is a good actor and the film has been well received by critics, it’s just not the sort of thing that I end up seeing, but some friends of mine were seeing it and I was in the area so I thought I’d tag along too.

The film is about a past-his-prime professional wrestler going by the name of “The Ram” and involves him trying to come to terms with the fact that his glory days are probably long gone. The whole theme of the film is perfectly summed up by a conversation he has at one point where he discusses how much he loved the 80s for the music such as Guns and Roses and the having-a-good-time ethos as opposed to the 90s, which wound up depressing “once Cobain came along and ruined it all”. The progression from a high to the inevitable low symbolised by this transition from the 80s – a notoriously flamboyant era, to the 90s – a notoriously dreary era, and trying to come to terms with this is something that’s incredibly well dealt with. There are hundreds of clues throughout the film that “The Ram” is having difficulty making the transition from his glory days, such as the scrap-book-like wall in his van, to a scene where he gets one of the local children to play an old wrestling game on the “NES” with him – a vintage gaming console, whilst the child is talking about “Call of Duty 4” – one of the modern graphically intensive all singing all dancing first person shooter games of today.

The main character is likable. He’s a bit of a no-hoper, but he has a certain amount of charm and it’s difficult to not genuinely feel for him. Emotionally, I was surprised at how well the film handled itself. Films that find themselves diving in and out of a strip club rarely have that sort of emotional investment. I wonder if some of this empathy that you take away from the film was down to the very visceral reaction you get from the violence that you see in the ring itself with each blow to the face making you wince in pain. The one thing that everyone knows about wrestling is that it’s all staged, with my friend that’s really into it going so far as to describes it as a mixture between a soap opera and a boxing match, and so it’s really jarring to see that despite the fact that it is all choreographed to a certain extent, there is a definite reality to the pain and injury that is inevitably sustained. There are also frequent comic moments in the contradiction between the two sides of each wrestler, one half being the tough, muscle bound Herculean hero in the ring and the other half being the theatrical type with a slight case of stage fright in the dressing room.

I realise that I’m being typically vague on the plot and that’s not necessarily because I’m worried about giving out spoilers, it’s just that it’s not a focal point of the film. The plot is barely worth mentioning. That’s not to say that the film dithers about too much, it just has a fairly vague fragmented structure. The pace, as I’ve hinted at, is remarkably well handled and at no point was I checking my watch. I was even faintly surprised and disappointed when it ended. The fact that the film ends with no significant closure could even be symbolic of the way that we all struggle to let things go completely and put them to rest.

After all of this rambling, I think what I’m trying to say is that I would recommend this film. It is gritty, a little dirty and violent and probably not for the squeamish, but beneath it’s rough exterior is a very sensitive beast, much like the main character himself, and anyone can relate to the theme and mood in some sense.

Additional Notes:

I think the best definition I can come up with for a wrestler is “action-thespian”. I’m still thoroughly confused as to why grown men follow wrestling, but I’m sure they’d probably be at a complete loss as to why I sit at a computer for 75% of my life.

Writing all of this vague analysis makes me think of all those hours I spent at school dissecting literature. I always took the view that dissecting literature was like dissecting a frog in that both die in the process, yet here I am talking about the symbolism of a wrestler in a strip club.

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