Always a good sign, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about The Wrestler. It is an extraordinary showcase for Micky Rourke, an actor who has been missing in action for so long and who has gone through such drastic changes that he may as well be brand new.
Rourke’s return to boxing in 1991 hasn’t been kind to him. Or rather it hasn’t been kind to his appearance. He looks like someone who’s spent 15 years as a human punching bag in a second-rate gym. But, in a blessed twist of fate, all those years of abuse have paid-off with one of the most remarkable movie transformations in history.
Without the aid of make-up, Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” looks like he walked right out of Beauty and the Beast. More importantly, Rourke’s life as a fighter has lent him the perfect physique, the perfect jagged edges and scars, and the perfect insight to play a road-torn wrestler.
I imagine the backstage antics – and pain – as well as the drugs and groupies and tiny venues stocked with folding metal chairs are all very familiar to Rourke. I imagine he experienced depressingly lonely autograph signings as well.
The movie’s centerpiece is an agonizing wrestling match involving broken glass and barbed wire and a table fork – and lots of blood and pain and writhing. It’s hard to watch but never gratuitous, always with a point. It leads to a wake-up call and much of the movie’s drama revolves around how Randy “The Ram” will respond. Will he heed the call? Or will he slam the phone back on the cradle?
My memories of The Wrestler don’t linger on blood and suffering though, as they well could have. Instead, I fondly recall a gallery of carefully etched character moments.
Preparing for a match, “The Ram” sits and has his hair tinted and groomed and the moment holds the charm of Disney’s Beast being prepped for the ballroom. The scene is like the Cowardly Lion being groomed to see The Wizard.