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The Wrestler (2008)

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Whoa!

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler just won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

I had just read something yesterday about how good this film is. I thought it was the Joe Morgenstern piece I linked to in the Slumdog Millionaire post, but no, it's not there. Hmmm. Anyway, the buzz was building as of yesterday, and today it just went into overdrive.

EDIT: It was Anne Thompson. Her excerpts from the Variety review noting Rourke's performance are very strong.

Edited by Christian

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Paste's Robert Davis, twittering from TIFF:

Aronofsky's naturalistic Venice winner THE WRESTLER is very strong. Requiem for a Heavyweight Pro Wrestling Has-Been. THAT's Mickey Roarke?!

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From Todd McCarthy at Variety.

Talk about comebacks. After many years in the wilderness and being considered MIA professionally, Mickey Rourke, just like the washed-up character he plays, attempts a return to the big show in "The Wrestler." Not only does he pull it off, but Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances. An elemental story simply and brilliantly told, Darren Aronofsky's fourth feature is a winner from every possible angle...

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I see this Monday night, and am very intrigued to find out that the female cinematographer looked to the Dardenne brothers for inspiration in devising this film's look.

"The Wrestler" ... called for a realistic approach to semi-improvised situations. Using the films of Belgian siblings Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne as a model, Alberti and Aronofsky discussed the aesthetic of "Rosetta" and "The Son," tales of working-class heroes that shadow their characters at a slight distance, often gazing at the backs of their heads as if trying to peer directly inside.

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I met Aronofsky and Marisa Tomei last night at a pre-screening reception for the filmmaker. After hanging in the back of a small room and trying to listen to him chat with other, more prominent critics, I finished off a glass of red wine, worked up my nerve, and approached. I asked him if he planned to make a film of the novel Flicker, to which he has the rights. No immediate plans, although there's a good script from the same writer who adapted Fight Club.

Then I said my peace on the ending of Requiem for a Dream, which I'd seen at the same theater years earlier, with the director fielding questions afterward. I never worked up the nerve to say then what I wanted to say, which has hardened in the years since seeing the film, and which is that the ending was way too much for me. I asked if anyone else had shut down the way I had during those final moments of the movie. Some did, he said, others thought those closing moments were integral to the story -- about what you'd expect him to say.

The two of them took questions from the audience after the screening. Some press folks asked additional questions, and again, I wanted to say something -- to speak my peace on the movie before another four or five years go by -- but this time I yielded to the audience members who would never have a chance like I had earlier in the evening.

If I had spoken my piece, I would have said, "Darren, you've made some good movies, but this movie is your best by far," and I would've gushed about the look and style of the film, and Rourke's amazing performance. When Todd McCarthy calls it "iconic," he ain't lyin'.

Oh, did I mention the soundtrack? '80s hair bands! That's my music, ya feel me? :) There's a moment where two characters sing an impromptu duet of one of my favorite hair-band songs. It's not the best moment in the movie -- there are several -- but it was the moment when I knew the hooks were in, and they were in deep. The rest of the movie did not disappoint.

Wall-E remains the best commercially released film I've seen this year, but this is number 2 for now, without a doubt. I don't know how widely shared that opinion will be among critics. I heard some audible sighs of boredom more than once from my colleagues (maybe it was the same person; can't tell in the dark), but I attribute that more to the visual style. It took me a couple of viewings of Dardenne brothers movies to adapt to their visual style, which is very similar to that of The Wrestler. Had I not been accustomed to that visual approach, I might have found the movie taxing in some ways.

I didn't. I was thrilled. I'm as excited about it the morning after -- maybe more excited -- than I was exiting the theater.

Edited by Christian

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Crow   

This a deeply moving and authentic film. It gets all the details right, from the collaboration of the wrestlers in and out of the ring, to the desperation of these characters in gathering at strip clubs, seeing in their eyes they're just trying to keep going. And even an authentic 1980s wrestling video game with the blocky graphics, the kind I used to play back when could still figure these games out.

There's one scene in particular, the aftermath of a particularly bloody match, that is just as gut-wrenching as anything in the The Passion of the Christ. Speaking of which, there is an offhand reference to POTC early in the film that perfectly illustrates the mentality of these characters, the way they view this kind of bloodsport, as well as life in general.

I can see the Dardennes influence with the shots looking at the main character from behind. As well as the uncompromising realism. I can imagine that this will be a very polarizing film, nothing like you would expect from a Hollywood sports film. It will be something that you will that you love or hate, with no middle ground.

And the ending is perfect.

Definitely one of the best films of the year.

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And the ending is perfect.

Yeah, that's the lingering image for me -- which is just Aronofsky was going for, no doubt.

I'm glad you saw it and felt so strongly about it, Crow.

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Grrr. Just lost my post when I hit "submit," and was told I hadn't logged in yet. No going back to the original post.

Anyway, a link to Karina Longworth's review which may, in part, be answering critics like Richard Corliss, who accuse this movie of being weighed down by a cliche-ridden script:

That this all manages more often than not to avoid sports film fall-rise cliches and veer into unexpected directions whilst exploring a wide range of feeling is a minor miracle. It

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M. Leary   

Greencine interview:

"The first two films were exercises in subjective filmmaking and pushing that to the extreme. When I got to The Wrestler, it was going the completely the opposite direction. Basically the film is 98% objective. It's like a documentary. I call it "proactive documentary." In a real documentary, everything is reactive. If you're watching "Cops" and a guy runs away, a second later, the camera chases after the guy. We didn't have that second delay because we knew what the scene was about and we knew where Mickey or Marisa was going to go, so we were able to choreograph it."

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Gabriel McKee:

The Wrestler is a movie all about redemptive suffering, as we see the central role that dramatized violence plays in the Ram's life. At a couple points this is made perhaps too clear, as in an early scene where Randy shows Cassidy the scars his career has left him with. She responds by quoting Isaiah 53:5 by way of The Passion of the Christ's opening epigraph: "He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by His wounds we are healed." She makes the connection even more clear moments later, dubbing Randy "the sacrificial Ram," and later in the film we see a tattoo in the center of his back of Jesus crowned with thorns. Clearly, the film wants us to view wrestling as a spectacle of redemptive suffering. . . .

It's not stated explicitly in the film, but the match against Necro Butcher is a "Bring Your Own Weapons" match, a staple of CZW (Combat Zone Wrestling) events in which fans provide the tools with which the wrestlers mangle one another. The barbed wire, forks, and thumbtacks that nearly kill the Ram are provided by the audience; this is participatory violence. In this context, the audience's chanting takes on the audience's role in a Passion play. "Crucify him!" is replaced by "Fuck you Necro," but the end result is the same: the audience makes the violence possible (and necessary). . . .

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Very good, but as we were leaving my wife commented that she couldn't recommend it to anyone. This is a dark and depressing story. Each opening for hope or redemption quickly slams shut. I wouldn't want it to be different, but still it is a hard film to deal with.

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Redemption is a tricky subject. Don't you think the character did achieve an illusory redemption in following his own code? Just like the antiheroes of revisionist Westerns like The Wild Bunch, et al.,

we're supposed to feel some tension, or worse (I think), a visceral thrill, when the characters meet their fates by living the way they choose to live

. In this case, Rourke's character's final comment

is about how he can't function in the "real world," and that the ring is his "world," and when he takes that final leap, it's exhilarating -- and, if you care to stretch the term (I don't, but others might) "redemptive"

.

Just a thought. If you didn't buy the movie, you didn't buy the movie, and my attempts to stretch it to suit your terms probably won't wash. But loving the movie as I did, I thought I should give it a shot.

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M. Leary   

I understand what you are getting at, but I think that someone like Herzog has a much more compassionate approach to unredeemable characters who are searching for at least some kind of "redemption" based on their own code. All the Kinski films and Stroszek, for example, are about these kinds of figures that are resolute about living in their own "worlds" or "rings" despite the fact that they don't actually work. But as these films wind to a close, we come to find that Herzog himself has an affection for these people, and won't let them simply become characters or icons. Maybe P.T. Anderson is another good example of a director that expresses the charity towards his characters that he wants his audience to feel for them. The Dardennes comparison to the cinematography of The Wrestler is what triggered this criticism, as Aronofsky doesn't seem interested in his characters in the same way. I love The Son and Rosetta because I am enabled to love all of these broken people in a very John 15 way. As Bazin said, "the cinema more than any other art is particularly bound up in love," and I don't get any hints of that from Aronofsky so far. That last scene is a barbaric yawp, a bold flicker of pure cinema, but I can't tell what else it redeems as an image other than the previous hesitancy of all the "documentary" images of Ram feeling his way through things he just doesn't have the facility for. He only really works in the ring, and that last image embodies his confidence within that tiny world.

This is by far his best film. By light years. And it is wonderfully crafted. But I ain't feelin' the love, dawg.

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The Wrestler's theater count expanded a bit just this weekend, so I'm not too surprised that this thread hasn't taken off the way, say, the Slumdog Millionaire thread has. But I'm still hoping for more discussion about the film.

I'll be watching it again tonight.

Edited by Christian

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M. Leary   
But I'm still hoping for more discussion about the film.

Same here, especially as I think the film is basically just torture porn and confirmed my suspicion that Aronofsky is far more into film as a formal playground than he is in actual characters and stories.

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SDG   
But I'm still hoping for more discussion about the film.
Same here, especially as I think the film is basically just torture porn and confirmed my suspicion that Aronofsky is far more into film as a formal playground than he is in actual characters and stories.

Great review. Great review.

Side note: Is professional wrestling in fact already torture porn?

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M. Leary   
Side note: Is professional wrestling in fact already torture porn?

I think so, and I like the language of "participatory violence" that people have used to describe those awful scenes with Necro Butcher (the Ayatollah). I get such heebie jeebies watching scenes like this because they seem like Passion narratives in a parallel universe.

The inherent problem with my review is that since wrestling is torture porn, it is silly to criticize The Wrestler for being torture porn, as it is simply trying to achieve realism. But I don't think The Wrestler actually achieves this realism, thus making Aronofsky and his audience complicit with everything that happens to Ram.

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