The sad pulse of The Wrestler is of a man adjusting to an era beyond his own. Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei play 1980s artifacts---still holding candles for the glory of Quiet Riot headbanger hedonism. Now they're saddled with lives that don't give them much joy. She's a stripper; he's a once-famous wrestler. Director Darren Aronofsky sheds a human light on their disparaged sex and violent trades. And that becomes The Wrestler's greatest strength. Fighter Randy "The Ram" Robinson's life isn't made gratuitously sensational or cool. Aronofsky keeps us in the grime of tacky establishments, often tracking behind Randy so that his experiences aren't detached from our own. It's the sort of lonely-man film screenwriter Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ) is often associated with, and the will for Randy to succeed rests on the power of Rourke's performance. Though the movie itself is an artful downer, Rourke's victory is the great climax of a comeback that began with his appearance in the 2001 Enrique Iglesias video "Hero."
The battle to emerge victorious through our obsessions when they'd sooner destroy us (the common theme of Aronofsky's movies) hits hard because, despite his hammy stage persona, Randy is a good person. If that makes any message in The Wrestler hard to distinguish, it elevates it with the uncertain glory and defeat of real life.
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