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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Wrestler’

There's more to life than meets the eye. Will we use it to help others or ourselves?

3 Stars — Troubling

What makes for a fulfilling life? Is it just being able to be happy and content all the time? Is it making a difference in the world? Is it about you, or is it about more than you?

The Wrestler gives us a glimpse into the life of an aging legend of the ring, a man who was somebody in the 1980s, and is a ghost of his past in the present. Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) ruled the wrestling world 20 years ago, and continues to live off his past memories. What he has become is a lonely, broken-down old man in every sense of the word. He has no real friends, and his only contact with humanity is a stripper named “Cassidy” (Marisa Tomei) that he meets with regularly in a bar while she dances nearly naked around a pole.

It is debatable whether professional wrestling is a sport or a staged gladiator routine. What is obvious is that it is a young man’s event. “The Ram” has maintained his physical capacity over the years, but it has taken a tremendous toll on his life.

Randy still gets out on the wrestling circuit, playing small venues and paying for his meager existence by working a variety of demeaning part-time jobs. While he treasures his memories, he has squandered the love of his family and in particular his daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).

As Randy reaches the lowest point in his life, he reflects back on what he has lost by having focused so much on his own public adulation. Unfortunately, he cannot get past his own demons, and his depression leads him into the escape of drugs and sex.

His last hope is to stage a rematch with his 1980s nemesis, “The Ayatollah,” which could put him back on top. Unfortunately, it could also put him six feet under in casket. You will have to see the movie to know how it comes out.

The Wrestler is a study in depression brought about by a life of bad choices. Young men are easily seduced by the images of sports stars or rock ‘n’ roll stars, and never see the consequences of their lives lived in hedonistic ways. What appears to be the gold standard of a successful life, is merely brass that quickly tarnishes. Our society is filled with people who thought they were on top of their game when they were in their 20s, only to find that no one cared anymore when they grew older.

Being the best in a sport, or the arts, is a personal achievement that stretches our ability. If its pursuit grows our commitment to family and increases our friendships, then it is a gift well developed. If, on the other hand, it only leads to self-adulation, there is a real danger that we will become increasingly isolated and alone.

If as he grew older Randy “The Ram” Robinson had used his wrestling skill to coach young boys about sportsmanship or healthy competition, he could have lived out his life with a fulfilling purpose. We can choose to become more and more isolated and lonely, or we can invest in others and spread the wealth of our experience in a way that draws people close to us. The good news is that this is not just a choice lost in his youth. This is a decision any of us can make right now.

Discussion:

» Mickey Rourke exquisitely plays the part of a man who describes himself as a “broken-down piece of meat who deserves to be alone.” How do you think Randy’s vision of himself affected his life? What vision do you have of yourself?

» When Cassidy complains to Randy that when he looks at her he sees a “stripper” and that is not who she is (she’s a mom), how do you think her work has stolen her identity? How is that true of your work?

» The decision Randy makes at the end of the film could be seen as either a heroic act or a surrender. How do you view it?

Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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