There's something about The Wrestler that's quietly revelatory, it's not just Mickey Rourke's comeback performance (although much more on that-- it's a singular beaut), nor Darren Aronofsky's naturalistic and possibly even hopeful (what a change from the crazed auteur of Requiem For a Dream) direction-- it's something deeper, something raw and personal that transforms an art house Rocky clone into something you might expect from a young Scorsese. It starts from the beginning-- a shot of Rourke's once big deal wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson hunched in a corner, back towards the camera-- right away there seems to be a fusion of character and actor-- he knows this character internally. Much has been said of the comparison of Randy and Mickey, but that almost belittles the accomplishment at work here. What we forgot (with the exception of brief gleeful moments in Sin City) is that Mickey Rourke, as 80s dreamboat or modern train wreck has always been a movie star-- his timing, his charisma is so riveting that even the most seemingly ordinary and mundane scenes in The Wrestler are multi-layered-- sadness and joy, entertaining and passionate-- beautiful really. It helps that the majesty of Rourke is shaped into a well-told tale of redemption by screenwriter Robert Siegel and Aronofsky at his most free flowing, on the wall, and insightful.
But back to that hunched over opening shot-- Randy back in the day was huge-- now his body (still big and imposing) is not as quick nor as strong, decayed from decades of torture. However this is all he knows, so he still does it. He wrestles small time fights on the weekends, while working at a grocery store. His outlet is playing Nintendo with local children in the trailer park, and going to the local strip club for flirty encounters with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, the best actress for awards worthy stripping), who in a mirror image of Randy strips because that's all she knows, despite fears of a less desirable body. The third, and least successful part of The Wrestler is the reconciliation between Randy and his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood.) Despite one very lovely scene at the Jersey docks, it feels overly familiar whereas everything else tilts off formula.
But the utter "smallness" The Wrestler has filmically, it's over-sized emotionally. Every small sense of Randy's sad-ish life is emblazoned by the Rourke insistence of not creating a martyr. Whether sleeping in his truck, due to his inability to pay rent on his modest trailer, or scooping pasta salad at a grocery store deli, or flirting with a resistant Cassidy, or being tortured in a sadistic wrestling match with barb wire and staplers (in the films goriest, least watchable moment.) Rourke never demands that his Randy should be pitiable. It's tender, brutal and exhilarating! A