Darren Aronofsky’s fourth feature, The Wrestler, closed the 46th annual New York Film Festival on Sunday night. The film rode into town with a fresh Fox Searchlight logo attached, following a buzzy acquisition in Toronto last month. I was lucky enough to finally see the film at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. It was a bit of a homecoming for the cast and crew (many of them New York natives), and the enthusiastic reaction from the audience during Aronofsky’s introduction, was evidence of that.
The film is great, the reviews are correct. However, it’s not the second coming of Christ, like some of the hype may lead you to believe. It’s just a really well-executed and smart character study. The character in question is former pro wrestler, Randy “The Ram,” who is played masterfully by Mickey Rourke. Everyone loves a comeback story, and the saga of Rourke’s return to legitimate mainstream cinema is a bit more magical than the attempted comeback by “The Ram” in the film. This character is less-than-sympathetic but still tender, and captured with great patience and style by Aronofsky. It’s probably his most conventional work as a feature director, but that serves the story well. Things become so chaotic and disturbing throughout, that a steady hand is what empowers even greater clarity.
Everyone involved in The Wrestler should be proud of its accomplishment, especially Rourke. But, alas, where does he go from here? He’ll likely receive an Oscar nomination, but he’s so perfect inside this character, that it’s unclear what kind of roles he would get in the future. This isn’t like a John Travolta comeback after Pulp Fiction, where a seemingly endless availability of roles opens up. Mickey Rourke, with his difficult reputation and his road-worn appearances, only has so many options. Regardless, it’s lightning in a bottle that he agreed to accept this one. The parallels between Rourke and “The Ram” come to a crescendo with the poetic final shot of the film, and what it says without saying too much. It’s a shot that won’t only haunt viewers, but probably haunts Rourke as well.