31 January 2009

Movie review: The Wrestler

We all have great moments in our lives. You have your first kiss, you lose your virginity. You get married, you have your first kid. You get into the college you really want, you land your dream job. If you're an athlete, maybe you make the varsity team or maybe you hit a home run in the World Series. If you're an actor, maybe you get the lead in the school play or maybe you win an Oscar. They can even arise from bad things. You finally take that last drink, you reconcile with an estranged relative, you save a baby from a burning building. If you're lucky, you have a lot of them and they're not too front-loaded.

Robin Ramzinski, aka Randy "the Ram" Robinson, had all his great moments many years ago, and now he's just running out the clock. He used to wrestle in arenas, now he's stuck in VFW halls. I saw The Wrestler a week ago, and it's stuck with me since then, and I think I've finally figured out why.

A lot of what I've read cites the scene at the autograph signing as the saddest scene. Randy, surrounded by fellow washed up wrestlers, signs Polaroids for petty cash and hawks his videocassettes. He looks around at the guy in the wheelchair, the guy with the fluid bags taped to his ankles, the guy taking a nap because he doesn't have any fans, and realises where all that glory has left him. But to me the scene that follows is the saddest: Randy's love interest, an aging stripper, makes the rounds of the club, offering private dances to guys who turn her down without taking their eyes off the younger, firmer talent on the stage before them.

I liked all the parallels director Darren Aronofsky draws throughout the film between wrestlers and strippers. They sell their bodies for mind-blowing amounts when they're young, naively believing the good times will never end, then suddenly have nothing left when they wake up old one cruel day. And no one cares. I liked the contrast between the relationship each has to their name: Randy clings to his, complaining when the supermarket where he toils during the week issues him a name tag that says "Robin"; while stripper Cassidy yearns to have someone just know her as Pam.

If you haven't seen the movie yet and want to, stop reading now.

Later that day after we saw the movie, my wife asked me what I thought happened after the ambiguous ending. Does he mount a triumphant comeback? Does he die in the ring? I told her I thought nothing special happened. He gets hurt again, maybe suffers another minor heart attack, decides to hang it up for good, spends the next few years drifting in and out of wrestling, partly because he can't stay away and partly because he needs the money, tries a few more times to reconcile with his daughter and keeps screwing it up, tries to make a go of it with Pam but it doesn't work out, and dies anywhere from five to thirty years later, depending on how cruel the fates are, lonely and broke.

What happens after isn't the point. The point is that when he leaps off that turnbuckle, when he flies through the air, when he delivers his final Ram Jam to the hated Ayatollah in the climactic moment of their long-awaited rematch, that's the last great moment in Robin Ramzinski's life.

1 comment:

Chris Ott said...