Despite what the title would have you believe, this is not a film about wrestling. This is a film about a broken down man that has made a lifetime out of making bad decisions and realized his mistakes just a little too late in life. Darren Arofnosky has crafted another sorrowful tale whose lead character is a reflection of the decisions all of us make.
After a quick montage of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), we pick up with him doing small shows around Jersey for ends meet. He lives in a trailer and works part time at a grocery store. This is a sad man, way past his glory days. But he refuses to let go of his dream of making it back to the top of the wrestling world and in order to get there, he has to suffer through brutal beatings and ingest every steroid on the market.
But after a serious heart attack, he pauses to reflect back on his life and the mistakes he’s made. With the help of a kind stripper, Pam, played by the stunning Marisa Tomei, he reaches out to his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and begins to try to make amends with his past transgressions. But a failed attempt at starting a relationship with Pam leads to a night of drugs, which leads to him missing a dinner date with his daughter. To him, this is a sign that he can’t make up for what he has done and therefore has nothing in life but his job.
The physical pains that the Ram endures are brutal to say the least, but they’re really just the physical manifestations of the emotional pains he’s working through. It would be easy to sit back and say he’s stupid for putting himself through that, but before you pass judgment on him, look in the mirror and think about what you do to yourself for your job. How many nights have you gone without sleep or skipped a meal, or stressed yourself out to the point of creating ulcers or even a heart attack? Or you can look at the steroids he injects into his body to maintain the performance he was able to achieve when he was 20 years younger. Again, it’s easy to judge, but how much caffeine do you intake on a regular basis? How many uppers, downers, cigarettes or alcohol do you consume to cope with the stress of your job? We’re not so different from the Ram, and I think that’s the point Arofnosky is trying to make.
That’s where THE WRESTLER succeeds; using the pain and suffering of Randy as analogies for the average guy’s life decisions. It’s painful to watch, but it’s even more painful to think about how it’s similar to our own lives. And the part is played so beautifully by Mickey Rourke that you feel the pain as you’re watching the film. This is a powerful film and one that will stick with you long after you watch it.