A Punishing Character Study
One of the most painful moments in The Wrestler is when the doctor explains to Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) after his heart attack that he must not exert himself. The aging, muscular man is devastated and cries out, “Doc! I’m a professional wrestler!” The key word there is professional. He takes it seriously. It defines him. Being stripped of his identity, Randy feels worthless. He has never thought about the long term. His lost years of celebrity, drug use and promiscuity left him devoid of anyone who really care about him. Now, Randy is finally going to feel the emotional punishment he has spent his life numbing by punishing himself in the ring.
Why do I love Randy “The Ram” Robinson? Because after sleeping in the back of his van, he has the good spirit to humour the kids knocking outside his window with some horseplay. Because he is a good sport when he choreographs a wrestling match involving a staple gun being used on him. Because he really does love Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), that sweet woman who works at the strip joint he often frequents. Because he is a good sport when he choreographs having a staple gun used on him during a match. Because when Randy picks out a jacket with the letter “S” for his justifiably resentful daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), he really thinks she’ll like it. Because Randy hates himself for screwing up the good things that come his way. I can’t hate a man who already hates himself so much.
Mickey Rourke plays this character as if he atoning for sins for which he cannot forgive himself. Watch how Rourke has Randy force himself to smile and not cry when Cassidy swills the rest of her beer down. Sizing up Rourke, Marisa Tomei as Cassidy stomachs so much pain here, whether she exposes her body and is passed over by customers or how she just can’t bear to watch Randy punish himself. Back in 2005, Rourke played a brutish lug named Marv in the comic-adaptation of Sin City. That character’s dialogue and scarred face were the stuff of pulp. Marv is an extension to Randy, a very sad avenger who nurses romantic fantasies. The closest Marv gets to a confession is when he confides his trouble with love. “I couldn’t even buy a woman… the way I look.” Mickey cut a big slab of himself off that meaty character and named him “The Ram”.
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