Mickey Rourke may be speaking for himself as much as his character when he describes himself as an "old broken down piece of meat," and he will probably win an Academy Award for this performance — and two decades squandered on a boxing career. He'll deserve it, for many reasons. For the scene in which tears quietly roll down his cheeks at just the right time, for the scene in which we slowly look around a room full of aging and disabled heroes of yesteryear, for the scene in which he realizes he has blown his last chance with a relationship, for all of those and more, Rourke delivers quiet perfection. He not only portrays "The Ram" as I imagine '80s wrestling stars might be, he portrays him so that I see a bit of myself and my lost glory days as well.
In the end, Aronofsky's most daring choice is to set up a final scene like that found in nearly every big Hollywood romance, and then subvert it. In so doing, Aronofsky and Rourke deliver a film that shows us an image of ourselves. While we enjoy watching movies of redemption, and tell ourselves that happiness is found only in the arms of another, our lives tell different stories. Most of us, faced with redemption, find it uncomfortable, or decide that the timing is inconvenient. Most of us turn away, siding with Rourke's character more than Tomei's.
I had heard Bruce Springsteen's song "The Wrestler" before seeing this film, but as it played over the closing credits, I fell in love. "Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free? If you've ever seen a one trick pony then you've seen me." Springsteen's song sums up the film perfectly.
The Wrestler is a disturbing film, but with a purpose. It is alternately heart-warming and brutal, delightful and tragic. It will probably win an Oscar or two, but win or lose, it's worth seeing.