The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke’s impressive performance in The Wrestler received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best actor; I can not imagine better casting for the role of the aging, down-on-his-luck professional wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson.  But I think it’s unfortunate that the film wasn’t also nominated for best picture.

Why, you may ask?  It is, after all, merely another sentimental tale, peppered with a little sex — and an ample helping of gore for good measure.     

Well, I may be going out on a limb here, but what I saw in The Wrestler was an allegory about America and so much of what we have become.  Some reviewers have suggested Christ-like parallels in Rourke’s character (for example, here and here), but I rather see representations of contemporary American issues, such as the economic crisis and a war on terror gone wrong; and, on a broader plain, perhaps a more general, uneasy feeling that America, like Randy, now well into middle age and bereft of its youthful vigor, is quite simply past its prime.

I don’t want to spoil the film for others, so let me try to justify only one of these:  the symbolic parallels with our economy.  For we see economic decline almost everywhere in the film:  in the run-down trailer park and decaying urban environment where Randy lives; in the menial jobs he takes to supplement the wages he earns in his chosen profession; in the often disappointing, even depressing turnouts for his matches and autograph signings; and, in the “quiet desperation” of his would-be, exotic dancer girlfriend (played by Marisa Tomei) to escape a world of $60 lap dances.    

Virtually all of us must feel a similar sort of economic angst as we watch the current financial crisis and recession unfold — and I suppose I may be projecting my own feelings of despair upon the film. 

However, the economic milieu of The Wrestler (and I should mention here that Randy has quite a few problems which are unrelated to his material circumstances, namely health and relationship issues) is in fact more particularly that of the “working poor,” i.e., people who just barely get by, often by working two or more jobs.  And the growth of this class is something our economy has been going through for at least a couple of decades as we’ve seen manufacturing give way to the service economy and Kevin Phillips’ “financialization.”  

The book in our collection which comes to my mind as dealing most directly with the problems of the working poor is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed:  On (Not) Getting By In Boom-time America.  Check it out sometime if you have a chance.  Some other good books on this or similar topics include:  Strapped:  Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead by Tamara Draut; The Missing Class:  Portraits of the Near Poor in America by Katherine S. Newman and Victor Tan Chen; Traveling Light:  On the Road with America’s Poor by Kath Weston; Scratch Beginnings:  Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard; Ending Poverty in America:  How to Restore the American Dream, edited by Senator John Edwards, Marion Crain, and Arne L. Kalleberg; One Nation, Underprivileged:  Why American Poverty Affects Us All by Mark Robert Rank; The Betrayal of Work:  How Low-wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans and Their Families by Beth Shulman; A Working Stiff’s Manifesto:  A Memoir by Iain Levison; and Just Generosity:  A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America by Ronald J. Sider.

At any rate, I highly recommend this film with this one warning:  there is quite a lot of blood, especially in what I’ll call, with good reason, the “Passion of the Christ” wrestling scene.


One Response

  1. Another title that might be of interest – Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War by Joe Bageant

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