Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke star in 'The Wrestler.' (Fox Searchlight)
I had heard that Mickey Rourke gives the performance of a lifetime in this movie. What I found was much more.
“The Wrestler” presents Rourke, who plays washed-up wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, as a Christ figure. You see this when Randy goes to the strip club (stay with me) and hears Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) look at Randy’s battered body and say, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
Cassidy is talking about “The Passion of the Christ,” but as we follow Randy through his life, we see how he is symbolic of Christ. Please note that Randy only symbolizes Christ. Randy is profane, uses drugs and is promiscuous. He is a sinner, pure and simple, but his life is symbolic.
One of the matches shown in the movie is known as hardcore wrestling. The wrestlers use all manner of implements not intended for humans to use on other humans. When the match is done, Randy walks back to the dressing room and you see the blood, whelps and open wounds. He looks like Jesus must have looked after the scourging by Roman soldiers.
He has sunk so low in wrestling that he must subject himself to this kind of punishment. Randy once was a headliner. He sold out Madison Square Garden. Now he is wrestling on the independent circuit. There’s no steady job, just stocking shelves at a local supermarket. When he asks for more work, the boss tells him all he has is weekends, saying, “Isn’t that when you sit on men’s faces?”
Randy sleeps in his van because he can’t pay his trailer rent. What money he has is spent on hair highlights, tanning booths, steroids and pain medication. He has a daughter (Rachel Evan Wood), but when she needed him, he wasn’t there. He attempts to reconnect with her, but Randy can do nothing right. He is despised and rejected.
The only real human contact he has is with Cassidy, a middle-aged stripper and single mother. Her real name is Pam, and she makes it clear there is a boundary between her and Randy. She interacts with Randy when he pays for it. Once she goes and helps Randy buy something for his daughter, but she comes to regret it. And when she starts to feel for him, the wall comes up anew.
Burning the candle at both ends makes Randy a physical wreck. His heart isn’t in good shape. The doctor tells him to stop wrestling, but that’s the only thing he does. It’s his only way to contribute. He offers his body up to the crowd, which calls out for him to take more punishment. They need his sacrifice of self to satisfy their need.
Mickey Rourke is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar this year. And well he should. No actor in recent memory shows more physicality and pathos. He is beaten down and you see the pain, but you also see the hope for redemption on his face.
Randy is a broken heart and spirit, but the psalmist declares that God will not reject that kind of person. Watching Rourke’s performance, you want him to find his peace, but every time he looks to stand up, something beats him back down.
Marisa Tomei is also nominated for an Oscar. Her weariness and pain create a boundary in relationships. She has been used before, and she does not have enough in her to trust again. Much like the person who has been abused by church and finds it easier to rail against it, Cassidy is one who finds it hard to believe again.
No doubt some will find fault with my seeing Christ in this performance. To offend is not my intent, but the parallel stands out: the suffering servant. It’s a pearl in the midst of manure. It’s beauty found in brutality.
And it must be remembered that there is offense in the story of the Christ. Paul makes that clear in I Corinthians 1 when he speaks of the cross as a stumbling block, a scandal.
Can it be that something offensive can speak of Christ? I think “The Wrestler” does that.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.
Reviewer’s note: This movie is not recommended for anyone who is offended by inclusion of these elements.
Director: Darren Aronosky
Writer: Robert D. Siegel Cast: Randy “The Ram” Robinson: Mickey Rourke; Cassidy/Pam: Marisa Tomei; Stephanie: Rachel Evan Wood.