For those of you who grew up watching professional wrestling, you probably know of the movie, The Wrestler, which came out earlier this year (DVD available today). The movie stars Mickey Rourke, who plays aged out professional wrestler, “Randy ‘The Ram,’” a man who knows one thing and one thing only – performing inside the squared circle. For his performance in the film, Rourke was nominated for an Oscar.
Outside of knowing how to slam his opponents to the canvas and pop the crowd, “Randy” holds no other sustainable occupational skills, largely because his identity is entrenched solely in pro wrestling. Despite having a serious heart condition and coming off surgery, “The Ram” looks to have a booming finale against his arch nemesis from yesteryear.
While professional wrestling is hardly equivalent to mixed martial arts (MMA), there is overlap in that the two industries offer fighting (one version scripted, the other version real) as a form of entertainment. And given the buzz that has recently ensconced the MMA blogosphere regarding Chuck Liddell’s apparent retirement, perhaps coming a bit too late, we can see further similarities, with performers hanging on too long in an enterprise that brutalizes the body.
The Wrestler also stars Marisa Tomei, playing “Cassidy,” who like “Randy ‘The Ram,’” struggles to uphold a career in a commodity-based industry that requires a youthful aesthetic appeal – stripping. Thus, “Cassidy” and “Randy” play off one another, coping with similar identity crises in different ways (Tomei was also nominated for an Oscar for her role).
More importantly, both "Randy 'The Ram'" and "Cassidy" live in hegemonic mascline environments that privilege and discriminate in very rigid terms. Consequently, the two characters find difficultly in escaping their unbending confines that perpetuate different types of violence inflicted upon men (physical) and women (sexual).
However, The Wrestler also exhibits a warped sense of camaraderie among men. It portrays a violent space where men attempt to support and protect one another, oddly enough, through the distribution of steroids, pain killers (including alcohol and recreational drugs), and a method of distributing pain to an extreme threshold so that comrades are not seriously injured, at least not in the short run. This all to put on a theatrical performance for predominantly male fans who crave varying levels of violence.
Critics who associate professional wrestling with MMA as a way of de-legitimizing the latter do not have adequate ground to stand on. Socially responsible and professional mixed martial artists take their sport seriously in the same ways as similar athletes from other sports, where mental and physical preparedness is taken to levels many cannot comprehend.
If anything, The Wrestler is a commentary on the commodification of human life – the degree to which humans commodify each other, allow themselves to be commodities and/or are manipulated as such, and where society dismisses the violent, commodified process so we may be entertained.
At a more abstract level, The Wrestler is not just about professional wrestling or simulated sport. It is a violent, but profound film about life and the limited occupational options many in society hold.
For an absolutely outstanding interview with the Director of The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky (you can listen to it or read the highlights), click HERE. For a look into Jackson Katz and Sut Jhally's superb academic analysis of professional wrestling's extreme patriarchal nature (which The Wrestler does not address), click here - Wrestling with Manhood: Boys, Bullies & Battering.