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Film / The Wrestler

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"The only place I get hurt is out there. [points away from the ring] The world don't give a shit about me."
Randy "The Ram" Robinson

The Wrestler is a 2008 drama film written by Robert D. Siegel and directed by Darren Aronofsky. The story follows Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a professional wrestler 20 years past his prime, working match to match and part-time at a supermarket to pay his bills.

After a violent hardcore match, Randy has a heart attack and is forced to retire. As a result, he tries to find something meaningful in his life beyond wrestling — his budding relationship with a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and a possible reconciliation with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). When a promoter proposes a rematch with his old wrestling nemesis "The Ayatollah" (played by former WCW wrestler Ernest "The Cat" Miller) on the anniversary of their biggest match, Randy has to decide if his life in the ring is worth the risk of death.

The matches themselves were filmed in front of actual wrestling crowds at actual wrestling events (notably, during CZW and ROH events), and Rourke trained and performed in the ring himself. It also marked a major comeback in what many called a career-best performance for Rourke, who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Not to be confused by a movie of the same name starring Verne Gagne and Edward Asner in 1974.

This film includes examples of:

  • All-American Face: Check out Randy's entrance for the climactic match, with Old Glory hanging down and all.
  • Alone in a Crowd: When Randy returns to watch Unico after his retirement, he cries while the rest of the crowd cheers.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Randy passes up the chance to cleanly pin the Ayatollah in favor of going for the Ram Jam, despite knowing full well it'll probably be his death. He climbs the corner post, listens to the crowd cheering for him for several seconds, raises his arms and leaps off, disappearing out of frame. End of movie.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Stephanie lives with another woman whom she clearly has a close friendship with. Randy suspects that she's a lesbian, but it's never confirmed or denied.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Randy loses his daughter, his job, his only friend, and his health by the end of the movie. But he winds up finishing the movie in the ring, where he belongs. It can also be seen as a pure downer ending, since some interpret it as Randy dying in the last scene, throwing his life away needlessly due to his inability to live outside the ring.
  • Body Horror: Downplayed but we see up close the serious physical toll even an average wrestling match in a modest format can have on a person's body.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The end credits roll right before the audience finds out if Randy died performing his signature move, or if he survived another heart attack like he did earlier in the movie.
  • Broken Ace: Randy is a respected performer and a popular wrestler amongst fans. However, he's well past his prime and has no idea how to adjust to life outside of wrestling.
  • Butt-Monkey: Subverted to a significant degree. Randy's misfortunes could be played for comedy in a sitcom or a less serious movie, but here his struggles are so depressive and severe that he's this in almost every aspect of his life except when he's wrestling. At which point he manages to become a god among men for a handful of minutes.
  • Career Resurrection: invoked Randy tries, but the sad truth is that his age and his injuries have taken their toll.
  • Character as Himself: All of the wrestlers in the film are playing themselves and their real gimmicks, aside from Rourke and the Ayatollah.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Despite being a regular patron at a strip club, Randy is very respectful and polite towards Cassidy, and he does not tolerate it when other patrons insult her.
  • Daddy Didn't Show: Randy is quite absent from his daughter's life. And when he sets up dinner trying to reunite...
  • Death Seeker: It's pretty obvious Randy wants to die in the ring once it becomes clear there's no chance his daughter will ever be able to love him again.
  • Dented Iron: Randy's body is in terrible shape, and he really should have given up wrestling at least a decade ago.
  • Disco Dan: Randy seems to be stuck in the 1980s, the time of his Glory Days. He plays Nintendo games with neighborhood kids and talks about how much he hates modern music, preferring hair metal from the '80s.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul":
    • Randy doesn't like being called Robin Ramzinski, his real name.
    • Subverted with Cassidy, whose real name is Pam. She doesn't mind being called either.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title refers to both Randy's job as a professional wrestler and the struggles in his personal life, since "wrestle" is also a formal word for "struggle".
  • Dyeing for Your Art: invoked That scene where Randy cuts himself with the razor? That's a real injury, known in the business as "blading". Not to mention the thumbtacks, the barbed wire, and getting stapled in the ring during the hardcore match.
  • Ending Theme: A heartbreaker written for the movie by Bruce Springsteen.
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Played with in-universe. Cassidy explicitly compares Randy to Jesus Christ, and even quotes the Bible. Then it's revealed she knows it all from a movie, namely The Passion of the Christ.
  • Expy: While Randy has elements of various wrestlers about him (Hulk Hogan, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, etc.), the Ayatollah is a straight up expy of The Iron Sheik (though is nowhere near as insane as the real life Sheik). The real wrestler's famous "camel clutch" move is even copied in the final bout by both wrestlers, no less.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: It looks like this will be the case with Randy, working the deli counter. It gets downplayed when we see that he has a knack for interacting with customers. Although he hates it when he gets recognized, and everything eventually blows up when his daughter rejects him for good.
  • Fan Disservice: The butt shot where Randy injects steroids. To make matters worse, it shows up on the DVD menu.
  • Firemen Are Hot: This is true, at least, according to the one-night-stand Randy picks up. She even has a pair of boots for him to wear.
  • Foreign Wrestling Heel: The Ayatollah character is this to a T, but Bob, the man behind the gimmick, is a much nicer guy.
  • Foreshadowing: Randy's rematch with the Ayatollah is foreshadowed by the video game he was playing with a neighborhood kid. The parallels are actually pretty close. Both in and out of the game, Randy passes up the chance to cleanly pin the Ayatollah in favor of going for the Ram Jam, a flashy but physically taxing move.
  • Garbage Wrestler: CZW and ROH regular Necro Butcher makes an appearance in the film, and he puts Randy through hell in a hardcore match.
  • Gentle Giant: Despite his towering appearance, Randy's an incredibly nice guy, albeit working out some personal demons. This applies to all of the traditional looking wrestlers that he interacts with as well, friendly to a man including the scarier looking ones.
  • Gift-Giving Gaffe: Subverted. When Randy picks out an ugly, dated satin jacket to give to his daughter, Cassidy suggests he get something else. Randy ends up giving her the jacket anyway, but, as it turns out, only as a joke, and gives a more fitting gift afterwards.
  • Glory Days: The main thrust of the film. Randy is unable to live outside of the glow of his glory days. He shares a common bond with Cassidy, who is also in the twilight of her profession. Their conversation about '80s glam metal shows how they both prefer the old days.
  • Hate Sink: Wayne, Randy's manager at the supermarket, is an unpleasant jerk not just to him but to everybody else that the man's seen interacting with. Wayne's brutally snarky lines are sometimes pretty funnynote ; still, he's the only character to come off as a total jerkass.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Randy tries to reconnect with his daughter. After succeeding but then disappointing her again one last time, she abandons him forever. This convinces him to go on his death quest. It doesn't help that his efforts to reach out to Cassidy blow up in his face as well.
  • The Hero Dies: Played with. Whether or not Randy himself dies from his second heart attack at the end is left up in the air.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Averted. Randy suddenly gets dizzy, has pains in his arm, throws up, and collapses, waking up later in the hospital after surgery. He reacts in a confused daze when he finally wakes up, barely remembering what'd just happened.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Cassidy is an aging stripper, but she's kind and has a good head on her shoulders and is ready to redeem Randy if he's willing.
  • Hope Spot: After Randy retires from wrestling, he reluctantly accepts a full time job attending the deli counter, only to find he actually enjoys interacting with people. He also starts rebuilding a relationship with his daughter, and it seems Cassidy is the influence he needed in his life. For a moment it looks like things are finally going his way. That moment does not last long.
  • Jaded Washout: Randy's one as he's still trying to relive his glory days, despite being well past his prime.
  • Jerkass: Wayne. Randy's retail job would be boring enough for somebody used to stardom, but his manager makes it way worse.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: At first, it seems like Stephanie is unreasonably harsh and unsympathetic towards Randy. It's hard to fault her for feeling that way considering how it's implied that Randy has been an inadequate and emotionally unavailable parent for most of her life. It's not unreasonable to assume that Randy has tried reconciling with her more than once already (and failed) going by her tearful reaction to him not showing up to dinner.
  • Joisey: The movie is set mostly in various towns along the Jersey Shore. It was shot there, too; except for a few random scenes in New York and Philadelphia, the latter being the site of the Ring of Honor matches.note  The whole movie was shot in New Jersey, mostly on the shore (with a few random scenes in Elizabeth and Bayonne). One of the places where Randy tries to bond with his daughter is the Asbury Park boardwalk. This is altogether fitting given Bruce Springsteen's involvement with the soundtrack.
  • Kayfabe: The movie portrays wrestling as a form of entertainment made of fakery, smoke and mirrors. However, the injuries and human tragedies are so very real.
  • Manly Tears: Randy can't help but get completely emotional when connecting to his daughter.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: The film shows the behind the scenes interactions between wrestlers, who are all friendly and respectful to each other in spite of their kayfabe rivalries. Randy's old rival the Ayatollah, in particular, is a very nice guy outside of wrestling. This is further exemplified when he tries to end the match early when Randy is in pain.
  • Meta Casting: Rourke, who himself experienced a serious career decline and later surged back to the spotlight.
  • Mirror Character: Much like Randy and his wrestling, Cassidy is also getting on in years and soon won't be able to make a living as a stripper anymore.
  • Missing Mom: No mention at all is made of Stephanie's mother. It's obvious that she and Randy haven't been together for years, if they ever were at all. Randy's tearful attempt at reconciling with his daughter seems to imply that he carelessly rejected them both during his glory days.
  • Ms. Fanservice: She may be older, but a topless Marisa Tomei is still a topless Marisa Tomei, and it's still a spectacular sight.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The movie is actually a deconstruction of the type of films the trailer makes it out to be. It's a lot more heavy and than is implied.
  • Nice Guy: For all his flaws and immaturity, Randy is a genuinely likable and kind person.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Inverted. Randy's fans and the public at large have largely moved on and forgotten about his glory days in the ring, seeing him as a former great and present day has-been. However, all the wrestlers that he interacts with, who know about most of his personal warts and less than glamorous lifestyle, still treat him with the utmost respect and sincere affection. After their hardcore match, Necro Butcher tells Randy that it was an honor to wrestle him, while another wrestler, knowing full well about Randy's limited income, provides him with steroids and other meds and takes Randy at his word that he'll pay him back eventually.
  • Oscar Bait:
    • Rourke's performance, especially in light of his personal life. Of course, he still didn't win.
    • Springsteen's song played over the end credits had it even worse. Considered a strong contender for Best Original Song, it didn't even get nominated. It did win the analogous awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Golden Globes, though.
  • Pac Man Fever: invoked Averted; they even created a fully working NES game for the movie.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • The first thing Randy does when he's off the clock is horse around with some kids at his trailer park.
    • There's a routine but heartwarming moment of Cassidy interacting with her family. Her son is playing with an action figure that Randy himself asked her to give to him.
  • Redemption Failure: Randy is a middle-aged, washed-up wrestler whose Glory Days are long behind him. He tries to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie and becomes romantically involved with Cassidy, an aging stripper with a heart of gold who is clearly considering settling down with him. He fails at both by not showing up for dinner with his daughter because he was experiencing a hangover, then alienates Cassidy as well by continuing a wrestling match that could kill him because of his heart problems. In the end, it's strongly implied that Randy dies in the ring.
  • Redemption Quest: Deconstructed; what would be the subject of such a quest in most other sport movies (his big reunion match with the Ayatollah) in fact isn't; his real quest is to patch up things with Stephanie and hook up with Cassidy. He ultimately fails at both, and his decision to go ahead with the bout even if it kills him is a symbol of his failure to make a life for himself in the world outside the ring.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Randy presumably blew all of his earnings from his stardom on this type of living. Both psychologically and physically, this has clearly taken its toll on him.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Shows pretty much everything about how wrestlers would plan a match out, all the proper slang used, and even how wrestlers would call spots to each other in the ring.
    • Notice that Cassidy is very covered up when she and Randy go shopping? Strippers notably dress very modestly when off work, to avoid developing tan lines.
    • The filmmakers went to all the trouble to create a fully working and totally believable NES game for Randy and to play with a neighborhood kid, even making the graphics and sound authentic.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Cassidy.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: Randy's day job, which he treats as unbearable drudgery, is a complex example. It's downplayed in that he starts to actually enjoy himself when he's allowed to work with customers, but he still turns his back on a normal day-to-day job in pursuit of stardom.
  • Trashy Trailer Home: Randy's trailer is one of the signals of how far he's fallen, especially when he gets locked out of it and has to sleep in his van. Downplayed, though, in that it's not shown as an unpleasant place and most people are pretty nice.
  • Truth in Television: The film is an amazingly accurate portrayal of life as a wrestler in the smaller promotions / independent circuit. That said, the only major difference in the big leagues is the miles traveled, size of the crowds and quality of the drugs. Some wrestling fans have raised an objection to the way Randy works a hardcore deathmatch, as former stars will rarely do such a thing. Randy, however, is clearly uncomfortable and out of his element in the match, showing his participation as a sign of extreme desperation.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Randy is a Professional Wrestling example.