By Graham "GSM" Matthews
I first remember hearing about "The Wrestler" when I was in eighth grade and how the whole angle involving Shawn Michaels and JBL in late 2008 (remember that?) was being based off it to promote the movie. So, one day in class when someone was asking what the movie was about, I told them that someone was doing the dirty work for someone else because they were in debt to them. As I would soon find out, I couldn't have been more wrong (ha ha). Of course, due to its R rating, I was unable to see "The Wrestler" in theaters when it was initially released, so all I saw of it at the time was whatever footage was shown on Raw (the movie's main star Mickey Rourke and Chris Jericho were "feuding" at the time). It wasn't until Easter weekend in April 2009 that I finally got a chance to watch the film. I skipped around some parts at the time, so it wasn't until just a few weeks ago on April 14th (the six year anniversary of when I first became a wrestling fan) that I watched the movie in its entirety, and it was just as amazing as I remember it being, if not better.
First and foremost, let me state that this movie might not be for kids, which should be obvious given the fact it's Rated R. So, I hope older wrestling fans with kids keep that in mind before watching, as it contains pretty vulgar language and nudity. The beauty of this movie is that it won't attract just wrestling fans. It received critical acclaim upon its release and was nominated for two Academy Awards. It even helped reinvigorate Rourke's acting career. Speaking of whom, Rourke was absolutely phenomenal in "The Wrestler". He was so dedicated to his part that anyone could have believed that was his real life profession. The range of emotions he shows, including feeling sorry for himself, regretting past life decisions and love for a friend of his who happens to be a prostitutes, gives his character many different layers that the viewer watches develop over the course of the film.
In a way, the plot of "The Wrestler" is depressing. Randy "The Ram" Robinson (aka Robin Ramzinski) goes from being a headliner in the major promotions (presumably WWF) to working independent shows (like CZW and ROH, which surprisingly used by name for a few matches) and having to resort to drugs and under-the-counter medication to get through his matches. He hardly has a home (he fails to pay the rent) and has no family and no girlfriend. All he has for most of the movie is a prostitute who he happens to be very good friends with and might potentially be interested in her. They have a falling out at one point, and while she does apologize to him for her actions at one point at the end, it's too late. He half-assingly accepts the apology, but goes on to take his own life a short while later).
Okay, sorry, I didn't mean to fast forward to the ending. Let's back it up real quick. Robinson works an extremely hardcore match at a CZW show and loses a tremendous amount of blood, causing him to vomit and pass out shortly afterward. He is then taken to a nearby hospital where he diagnosed with having heart problems and warned that if he might die if he ever wrestles again. At first, Robinson heeds the doctor's advice. He seems genuinely happy and at ease in life for the first (and only) time in the whole movie. He takes up a job at the deli, gets to know his lady friend more and even makes amends with his daughter who he abandoned when she was young. Seeing them bond while at the pier was very touching and shows that he hasn't completely lost his identity of what he really is: a father.
However, Robinson resorts to his old vices by drinking too much and having sex with some random woman, causing him to miss out on meeting up with his daughter. The daughter, whose name is Stephanie, has pretty much enough of her father's "shit" at this point and tells him in so many words that she never wants to see him again. He blew his chance to be a father again, and it isn't long after that he gets himself fired from the deli for reckless behavior and breaks things off with his lady friend after she says they shouldn't be romantically involved and that he's only a client. This causes Robinson to come out of retirement, wrestle one more match and in the famous final scene, jump off the top rope to his apparent death.
Remember the series finale episode of "The Sopranos" when Tony looks up from his table at the diner as the door opens and the screen cuts to black and then the credits? Well, the ending of "The Wrestler" was quite similar. Robinson, as he prepares to do his finisher off the top rope (the diving elbow), he looks around the arena at the fans one last time, seeing that his lady friend Pam has already left the building and jumps with tears in his eyes. The camera only catches Robinson's dive but not him falling, and the immediate cut to black without any music playing implies that he had died upon impact. Sure, it's grim, but that had to be one of the best conclusions to a move I had ever seen. It was so well-done and showed that Robinson had nothing left to live for except wrestling, which is why it was only fitting that he died while inside the squared circle.
As previously mentioned, you can probably tell that this is no "feel-good" movie, nor is it supposed to be. The reason why it was so well-received was because it's realistic. No, not every aspect of the wrestling business is exactly the way it is depicted in the movie, but it's pretty close. Robinson represents all the men who have lost everything except wrestling, and that's all they live for regardless of what pain they might be in. Robinson's journey throughout the film takes viewers on a ride and makes them feel bad that he just can't succeed after messing up so many times before. I'm sure there are companies that still blade or do insane hardcore matches for no reason, but any non-wrestling fans watching this that think the mainstream companies are like this today are out of their mind. However, it correctly depicts how many has-beens still do the independents to make money and more importantly, stay relevant.
The storytelling was phenomenal, the acting was excellent and the intended message was also well delivered. As mentioned before, any wrestling fan will love this movie and might learn a thing or two from it, but non-wrestling fans might appreciate it even more. The movie breaks down the barrier between the fans and the wrestlers and shows what wrestlers go through in their personal lives outside the ring. It's a must-see for sure and you will definitely not regret watching it. Get your hands on a copy as soon as possible and enjoy this masterpiece of a movie.
Should you watch this movie? Yes.