BY Matthew Wears
EIGHT years on from directing one of the most visceral and uncompromising anti-drug films of all time with REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000), Brooklyn born filmmaker Darren Aronofsky turned his focus to the horrors of being a male with THE WRESTLER (2008), a gritty yet fragile portrayal of masculine pride. Leading man Mickey Rourke stuns in the role of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up wrestler trying desperately to win back his former glory. It is a part that hauntingly mirrors Rourke’s then position within the acting world.
The film looks at masculinity in a predominantly negative light as Rourke’s character pursues a previous, professionally successful version of himself. Randy is so set on returning to his former glory that he becomes blinded by his own pride, totally disregarding his deteriorating mental and physical health. Wrestling becomes a metaphor for emotional pain; any physical affliction that happens inside the ring is only treated after the match, much in the same way that any emotional pain is only discussed outside his wrestling life.
Professional wrestling is a sport that exists within a hyper-masculine world where only the bravest and toughest survive. Randy has to live up to this. The Ram is very much a front put on by Randy, which in turn causes him to experience inter-personal problems as he struggles to break free from his macho shackles. His attempts at reconnecting with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) fail, simply because he has not yet learned the emotional skills to nurture the relationship. This narrative pattern occurs throughout the film and time after time he is left angry or emotionally hurt by his failure to correctly interact in social situations. This fuels the need to regain his wrestling title, a status whereby his masculine traits will be celebrated and not the cause of pain.
It is here that the film takes an interesting stance as it becomes apparent that it is through fear, not just pride, that Randy continues wrestling. His life as a wrestler is the only thing that he knows and the concept of learning anything outside of this craft is too daunting a task. A constant inner fight is evident throughout the film. The film’s title refers less to Randy’s profession than to his own complex and contradictory mind. He tussles between right and wrong, pride and fear, his world of work and his home life, eventually finding it impossible to strike a balance with any of them.
Undoubtedly the most touching and emotionally charged Aronofsky film to date, THE WRESTLER is an incredibly complex character study set in the most masculine of settings. It focuses on the interior and exterior of a man's crumbling life, highlighting the struggles that emerge in the relationship between the two. The film’s tough-guy exterior could not be any further from the volatile emotional inner core, a narrative that parallels the journey faced by its leading character.