The Wrestler: The Inevitability of Growing Old
The Wrestler is a 2008 film starring Mickey Rourke and directed by Darren Aronofsky. The film is about an aging wrestler named Randy “The Ram” Robinson, who is still trying to live in the glory days by continuously competing in wrestling events. When Randy suffers a heart attack, his doctor informs him he could die if he ever steps back into the ring, and Randy’s world comes crashing down on him. Without his wrestling, he struggles to be accepted by society and the people in it. He soon realizes he has lost the one true thing he was ever loved and respected for.
Darron Aronofsky is well-known for deconstructing his main characters in his films. He does not do this to villanize them, but instead to humanize them and a similar theme can be seen in all his characters in various films. He puts his characters in a situation that is out of their control, and then he shows how it slowly destroys them. One way this could happen is the character’s bad decisions causes the central situation like in Requiem for a Dream. On the other hand, it could be a character is given a task to complete, but he/she simply cannot handle the massive amount of responsibility like in Noah. The Wrestler is an interesting film because the main character both causes his own bad situation, and also is put in a scenario he cannot handle.
The film can be seen as one of Aronofsky’s saddest films, and that is due to how realistic the film is. Aronofsky shows he does not need special effects, or outlandish psychological images to tell a story. It is his most subtle film to date because Randy is facing a fear that everyone will have to go through some time or another; the fear of becoming irrelevant. It is true when they say nothing lasts forever, and that does not just relate to having to retire from a beloved career. It also means drifting apart from friends, and even some family members who thought they were inseparable. The only thing that is left is to look back on his glory days. It is a sad truth that most people like to put in the back of their minds, but in Randy’s case, that day has finally caught up to him.
The most important thing to understand about Randy is that he is not a bad person. He is respectful around others, and at times shows an upbeat attitude that rubs off on some people. With that said, his biggest problem is that he is his own worst enemy, and because of that, he does not come off as very bright at times. He is not an idiot, but he does not think things out, which usually comes back to bite him in the ass. This presents him as more human because no one is perfect, and when Randy makes a poor decision, he only has himself to blame. For example, he is trying to reunite with his daughter, but she is all grown up and resents him for never being there when she needed him. This may be an example of his bad decision making, but in other examples, life just treats him unfairly.
Randy loves wrestling, and loves having the ability to pump up a crowd; but what happens when it goes too far? People often say that wresting is very fake, but not in this film’s case. Not only do they use ladders and chairs in the fight, but also resort to staple guns and broken glass, all just to entertain a crowd. Aronofsky does this to dehumanize the sport, by showing it as ugly and uncomfortable; similar to the way he depicted ballet in his next film Black Swan. It makes sense for the doctor to be concerned for Randy’s health because no one should have to go though that excruciating pain. Sadly, Randy cannot go back in the ring, not because he is a bad wrestler, but because he is old. Plus, the fans have become too demanding, and he simply cannot keep up.
The wrestling he participates in is not a full time job, but a part time job, and he barely gets enough money to keep a roof over his head. He eventually has to get a job at his jerk-like friend’s grocery mart at the deli counter. His name tag says Robin (which is his actual name), but he hates the fact he is not being called Randy, his established wrestling name. This symbolizes how he is literally changing who he is after retiring from wrestling. He hates this job with a passion, but it is the only job he can get, and he tries to make the best of it. This changes when a fan of Randy encounters him, and starts to rub salt in his wounds regarding his retirement. When Randy slams his hand in the deli slicer in frustration, he quits on the spot, and people are shocked to see his true face.
Randy may be giving into the fact that he is old, but he is still scared of being alone for the rest of his life. He has friends who are wrestlers as well, but since being retired, he has also lost this group of friends he was so close with. He has fans that love him, but they do not really care about him outside his wrestling persona. He plays old NES games with his kid neighbor, and is symbolically playing a wrestling game, starring himself. All he wants is someone to interact with, but the kid is easily board and sees Randy as outdated. To further hammer in the point he is old, he sells old wrestling merchandise at an autograph signing, and is surrounded by washed up wrestlers, just like himself. No wonder he wants to get back into wrestling, because it is the only thing people like him for.
The Women in His Life
Randy may have friends and acquaintances, but without the two most important women in his life, he is nothing. The first women is the stripper Cassidy, who he has desperately fallen in love with. She is an older stripper, and her age is an apparent turn off for men. Her real name is Pam, but being a stripper, she has to have a name that is more sexy. Because of this, she is the mirror image to Randy, and what he is going though. It is not just that they prefer their stage names, opposed to their real names, it is also because they are both aging people trying to stay relevant in their professions. But in doing so, they are only seen as washed up. None of the men at her stripper joint finds her attractive, except for Randy, who enjoys her company for a different reason. He may find her body attractive, but he loves her on a personal level. True, it is mostly because he is lonely, but he simply needs someone totalk with about his problems.
She is the only true friend he has, and she was the first person he told about his heart attack. Cassidy does show feelings for him, because he is the one person who shows interest in her. Yet, she is by nature a stripper, and cannot interact with customers outside the club. Randy is far more than just another customer, but because she has a hard enough time getting men’s attention, she has to do anything she can to keep her job. Randy is heartbroken to hear this from the woman he loves, that she sees him as no more than a customer, and he is justifiably angry at her. He rudely tells her to give him a lap dance, and a huge scene breaks out in the club, and their relationship officially ends.
The other important woman in his life is his daughter Stephanie. He has neglected her most of her life, and in desperation tries to make things up with her. She of course hates him for dropping in on her life like it was nothing, and aggressively tells him that he means nothing to her. She is a grown women with a nice house and decent relationship with another women; so she has no real reason to give him one more chance. In films and in culture in general, neglectful dads are always seen as unredeemable jerks, as it is an easy way to villainize a character. In a different approach, the audience is put into the shoes of the neglectful dad, and while that does not redeem his neglect of her, it does show he is desperately trying to change his ways just for her to like him.
He does eventually get her to listen what he has to say, and they do start to bond together. When Randy talks to her, not only does he not blame her for hating him so much, but he also feels maybe he does deserve to be alone because of all his bad choices in life. They make plans to meet for dinner, and at this point he is on Stephanie’s good side. Yet, he ruins his last chance to reconnect with his daughter, by forgetting to show up to dinner. He forgot to go to dinner because he slept in too late, and while that may be a slight slip up on his part, it in the end causes the relationship with his daughter to end. This was the final straw for her, and she tells him to never see her again. Now with no job, and both of the women in his life gone, he has no place else to turn; except for wrestling.
Even with the risk of his heart giving out,Randy goes back into wrestling, by facing one of his rivals from a long time ago. Even though at first Cassidy thought her job came before Randy, she soon comes to grip with the fact he is the only man that cared about her at the strip club. So she just leaves in the middle of her job and goes to see Randy before he makes a grave mistake. She catches up to him and this is where the audience assumes that they would live happily ever after, but that is not what happens at all. Even though Cassidy came to him, he sadly already accepts his fate, and he feels that she should do the same. She tries to convince Randy that he will most likely die if he goes back into the ring, but he simply replies, “The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a shit about me.” In other words, even if he does die in the ring, its better than facing the real world.
Randy leaves Cassidy without even a real goodbye, and proceeds to fight in the ring. His heart starts to beat rapidly and even his opponent asks if he is ok, but Randy keeps fighting on. In the end, he beats his opponent, and is going to finish him off with his famous “Ram Jam” move; when he jumps off the ropes onto his opponent. He is surrounded by all of his fans, screaming his name in joy, and Randy is finally happy because this is where he belongs. Randy jumps off the ropes and the film ends by fading to black. This ending has been interpreted as Randy committing suicide, not with a noose or a gun, but by doing what he loves. Even the way he jumps of the side is almost like he is jumping off a high building to his death.
When looking at the film, it is very sad and at times dour, but it never feels manipulative. It never feels like Aronofsky is poking the audience with a stick, but instead there is a reason for all the sadness. The film feels grounded because it is not romanticized at all, and depicts the harshness of life to further the story, not the other way around. The film has been credited for the accurate depiction of real aging wrestlers and how they have a hard time getting their life together, as well as getting money. It would make sense that Randy would feel more comfortable in the ring, because it is mostly staged, and he feels in control. But outside the ring, he has no control over the people around him, therefore he has no real way of fitting into society. The deconstruction of his character makes him realistic and different, that we are used to seeing in Hollywood films. All in all, The Wrestler is one of Darren Aronofsky’s finest films, that is not afraid to ask the questions involving the inevitability of growing old.
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