The Wrestler

The Wrestler

The Wrestler. 2008. Darren Aronofsky, director. United States.

The Wrestler immediately inundates its viewer with sounds and sights serving to communicate the high esteem in which Randy “The Ram” Robinson is held. Broadcasters excitedly call his matches while announcements are made identifying attendances in the tens of thousands. Venues such as Madison Square Garden host Randy and posters highlight his iconic status.

The viewer then meets “the Ram”. It is twenty years later and Randy is seated in an empty elementary school classroom. Before leaving – by way of the gymnasium in which his match has just been held – Randy is given a payout amounting to much less than what was expected. His match, it seems, generated very little interest. Later, Randy finds that he has been locked out of his trailer park. Unpaid rent. Well into his fifties, Randy wears a hearing aid, takes a lot of non-prescribed medication, and works in the warehouse of a grocery store. Once revered, his is a star which has fallen.

Randy experiences just one relationship approaching authenticity. That friend is a stripper named Cassidy from whom Randy receives lap dances. The two are not, at first glance, terribly different from one another. Both Randy and Cassidy rely on the manipulation and abuse of their own bodies so as to gain and maintain the esteem of others. Both exist within professions which rely on falseness. Each have been required, for example, to become someone else and each, thereafter, struggle with questions of identity. Most importantly, both Randy and Cassidy are in decline; the body of Randy is broken and Cassidy is aging.

In one scene, Cassidy spots a wound which has opened on the forehead of Randy. And they say wresting is fake, she teases. Randy responds by showing Cassidy some of the wrestling injuries which he has accumulated over the years; the bicep which split when hit by a piece of lumber with a loose nail in it … the clavicle which cracked when Randy was thrown over the top ropes of a ring. Summarizing these injuries, Cassidy repeats a quote she recently saw prefacing The Passion of the Christ: “He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities”. Cassidy begins to tell Randy about The Passion and about how “they throw everything at [Christ] … and he just takes it”. Jesus, to Randy, must have been one “tough dude”.

In my opinion, this rather peculiar scene serves to alert viewers to one way in which Randy and Cassidy might be different. Christians interpret the death of Christ – the “sacrificial lamb” – as having efficacy. When Cassidy designates Randy as the “sacrificial Ram”, a question arises: Has there been efficacy in Randy sacrificing his own body? The sacrifices made by Cassidy are straightforward for she works to provide for her son. Further, she sees an escape from the trap in which she exists. Even though Randy, on the other hand, experiments with realities outside of the ring, he finds difficulty matching any with the cheers of those attending his matches.

It is hard for me, however, to view Randy as a selfish man. He strikes me as slightly more complicated. He has made selfish decisions and has left a trail of hurt behind him. He has prioritized his career over his family. However the relationship he attempts to foster with his estranged daughter does seem guided by his sense that he has erred in the choices he has made. Perhaps Randy has had no such epiphany. Perhaps he has simply defaulted toward fixing his broken relationships because the future of his own career is uncertain. It seems to me, however, that in those moments where Randy begins to repair something of the hurt he has caused, a sense exists in him that reconciliation is that toward which his energies are best directed.

The Wrestler has an MPAA rating of R for “violence, sexuality / nudity, language and some drug use”.

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