The Wrestler and the Ayatollah

I recently watched the Wrestler, an Oscar-nominated film last year starring one of my favorite actors of all time, Mickey Rourke. You may remember this as the film that stirred a “controversy” with some Iranians and a formal protest by the Iranian government for a character in the movie named “the Ayatollah” based on the professional wrestler of the 80s the “Iron Sheikh.”  I was weary of watching this film because I knew it was going to be a deeply emotional journey and boy, was it ever.  Why should it, you ask?  How could I relate to a story about professional wrestlers, who are really considered clowns and phonies in the world of sports and the general public.  Well, the film is very honest about showing the fact that these wrestlers are definitely choreographing their moves for every match.  In that, you could say they are more showmen, entertainers, rather than athletes.  It also sheds a harsh light on their use of steroids and other drugs.  It by no means glorifies the world of wrestling, in fact quite the contrary.  However, there is absolutely no question that these men do get hurt in the ring, sometimes very badly.  As Rourke’s character says, in the end, after a career in wrestling, all you are left with is an old broken down piece of meat.  In that aspect, the wrestler characters in this movie elicit just as much sympathy as Fellini’s or Chaplin’s sad clowns.  They are just as neglected and alone as some of those football players with no insurance and brain injuries that are so often featured on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

 In the end, I am glad I saw the Wrestler, despite all the pain and hurt it caused me and continues to cause me.  It is a beautifully directed movie with a performance by Mickey Rourke that can be compared to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, or Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull.  This is definitely a case of perfect casting because so many elements of Rourke’s personal life lends itself to the character of Randy “the Ram” Robinson.  Not that I am saying Rourke is playing himself.  It is much more complex than that.  Rourke was so good in an arrogant, cocky young good looking actor sort of way in the 80s staples such as  The Pope of Greenwich Village, Nine 1/2 weeks, and Angel Heart.  With Barfly, it was the first time that I saw him unafraid of making himself look ugly, both physically and emotionally.  Contrary to popular belief, Rourke was not blacklisted after the 80s due to his drug use and erratic behavior.  In fact, he continued to work pretty frequently at the same time that he pursued his boxing career, and with some big name directors and actors.  Only a few years ago, I remember seeing him with Keira Knightley in the Tony Scott blockbuster Domino.  But the Wrestler is a star vehicle, a role so juicy for a seasoned actor and Rourke went for it.  And of course, the newspapers love a good “comeback” story. 

I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who have not seen it.  In fact, I want to encourage you to rent it now that it is available.  The other performances by Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood are just as brilliant as Rourke.  In fact, Evan Rachel Wood, who in real life looks just like any other vapid California blond, has the acting chops to perhaps turn her into the next Meryl Streep.  Those scenes between her and Rourke, who plays her estranegd father, were the most poignant for me.  The image of Rourke as Randy the Ram Robinson is certain to stay with you for a long long time after the end credits have rolled.

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