The Wrestler (2008)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Aging wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson is long past his prime but still ready and rarin' to go on the pro-wrestling circuit. After a particularly brutal beating, however, Randy hangs up his tights, pursues a serious relationship with a long-in-the-tooth stripper, and tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. But he can't resist the lure of the ring and readies himself for a comeback.

Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is long past his prime, but he is still rarin' to go in the local pro-wrestling circuit. But after a particularly brutal beating that seriously threatens his health, Randy hangs up his tights and pursues a serious relationship, and even tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Yet Randy can't resist the lure of the ring, and readies himself for a comeback.

The stage is thus set for The Wrestler, which is essentially about what drives him back to the ring. To be sure, Randy derives much of his money from wrestling, as well as his 'fitness', self-image, self-esteem and self-worth. And it's no use insisting that wrestling is fake, for the sport is, needless to say, Randy's identity. It's not for nothing that this film is called The Wrestler...

In a number of ways, Darius Marder's Sound of Metal (2019) is both a reaction to and a quiet remake of this film, if only because both movies utilise popular professions to explore such questions of identity. But perhaps simply when The Wrestler was filmed makes it the superior film. Indeed, the role of time feels very important for the Wrestler — in the first instance, time is clearly taking its toll on Randy's body, but I felt it more strongly in the sense this was very much a pre-2008 film, released on the cliff-edge of the global financial crisis, and the concomitant precarity of the 2010s.

Indeed, it is curious to consider that you could probably not make The Wrestler today, although not because our relationship to our work has changed in any meaningful way. (Indeed, isn't it somewhat depressing the realise that, the 'work from home' trend to one side, we require even more people to wreck their bodies and mental health to cover their bills since the start of the pandemic?) No, what I mean to say here is that, post-2016, you cannot portray wrestling on-screen without, how can I put it, some unwelcome connotations. All of which then reminds me somewhat tangentially of Minari's notorious red hat...

But I digress. The Wrestler is a grittily stark darkly humorous look into the life of a desperate man and a sorrowful world through one tragic profession.