Wrestler, The (2008)

Rated: R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.
Length: 111 minutes
Grade: DFBB=C+
Budget: $6 million
Box Office: $55 million (26 U.S., 17 Intl., 12 DVD)

Written by: Robert D. Siegel (No other work worth mentioning)
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, and Pi)
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood.

A formerly world-famous wrestler suffers a heart attack after a particularly extreme wrestling match, which motivates him to reconnect with his alienated daughter and try to form a more permanent relationship with his stripper friend.

Entertainment Value: D
I watched this movie only because it received such high critical acclaim, including Oscar nominations for both Tomei and Rourke. I can’t disagree with the one for Rourke, who was excellent, but the only thing Marissa Tomei did in this movie was get naked a lot. Seriously, I don’t understand her career choices. I used to really like her as an actress, but between this and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (which we quit at about 15 minutes), it seems to me like her grand desire is to prove to everyone that she really can do porn in her 40s. All that aside, this movie was not enjoyable to watch. It’s a heartbreaking story, but one that’s so saturated with disturbing content that it was not enjoyable in any sense of the word. And to top it all off, I really disliked the choice to shoot half of the movie from behind the head of the character the camera was following. I actually had the uncomfortable sense of feeling too close to the action and wanting the camera to back up for at least the first half hour of the movie. Still, keep reading, there is something interesting here.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sex/Nudity F, Violence F, Language D-, Illegality C
There are many explicit sex and nudity scenes. There is significant drug use, both steroids, alcohol, and other drugs. The language isn’t quite as bad as you might expect, but it’s still pretty heavy. All of this would be more than enough to earn this a heavy R rating, but the violence is really quite something. The wrestling matches involve glass, staples, and a variety of other bloodletting techniques. This is at the NC-17 end of the R spectrum.

Significant Content: B
This movie, in spite of all its flaws is ripe with preaching potential. The whole theme of the movie is that this world will use you for its entertainment until you are no longer young and sexy enough to satisfy it, at which point it basically throws you out. You’ll miss a lot of what this movie is trying to say unless you realize that it’s better title would have been “The Wrestler and the Stripper,” the point being that strippers and wrestlers are the same. Obviously a key message of the movie is that when you build your identity on the adoration of other people, you’ll eventually be destroyed by rejection.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As I mentioned, many elements of this movie made me unhappy, especially the camera work, the intense violence, and the nudity/sexuality. At the same time, I think the overall effect is quite profound. It’s a case of something you definitely don’t want to look at being very useful nonetheless, which is perfectly good for art. One problem I had was simply not knowing whether there is any wrestling which is actually this violent or not, but I’m told that it is.

Discussion Questions:
~Why do you think the camera was so often positioned directly behind the character? Why was it handheld? Why were so many scenes shot at such close range? What was Aronofsky trying to do here?
~What motivates Randy and what motivates Cassidy? Why is their relationship tragic?
~Do you think Randy deserves the treatment he gets from his daughter? Is his desire to be forgiven by her fair? Do you feel sorry for him in the end?
~Strippers make a living by selling a fantasy. What impact does this movie have on pulling back the veil on that illusion? In what ways are wrestlers like strippers? In what ways not? Why does Randy use steroids? Why does Cassidy get tattoos and piercings? If you knew that the wrestler or the stripper was actually living like these people live, would it affect the allure such people have? Since most of us rationally know it is like this, how does enjoying such things require us to lie to ourselves?
~How are the characters in this movie representative of Rourke and Tomei themselves?
~When Randy can’t make a living in a normal occupation, what is the movie saying about him and about our society? Is he a monster? If so, who created him? Is Cassidy a monster? If so, who created her? What is the intended meaning of having him sell meat at a meat counter?
~What Biblical counsel would you give to any of the characters in this movie? How would knowing Christ have changed any of them?
~What do you think of Cassidy’s fondness for the Passion of the Christ movie? How is it ironic?
~Why does the movie not show us the ending? Is there any doubt about what happens in the end? So why not show it?
~What do you think of Randy’s final choice? Did he do something wrong or did he live on his own terms? To what degree did he have any choice in it? Is this movie saying that we really don’t have much choice in our lives?
~Can you name some other examples of careers where this same basic pattern of novelty and allure aging into either irrelevance or ridiculousness is the pattern?
~Is there a difference between strippers, wrestlers, and things that seem more legitimate like fashion models and baseball players? Is the difference one of kind or one of degree?
~What does this movie have to say about the power of hope and the danger of losing it?
~What does the pay phone in this movie symbolize?
Overall Grade: C+
A very unpleasant movie to watch, but a great movie to preach on.

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