That “The Wrestler” is nearly void of the usual condescension and easy tears usually found in a “sad” story about the struggles of a lower class guy means the movie gets a pass for any other flaws. And as with just about any flick, there are flaws, but the movie is great, miraculous even, and recommended.
A fully redeemed Mickey Rourke is Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a once Hulk Hogan-esque pro wrestler who now lives in a trailer and struggles with rent, booze, women, relationships, life. He lives in the part of Jersey that earned the state many nasty punch lines, and his friends and fans are the sort not often given screen time. He listens to 80s hair metal bands, plays the original Nintendo, and the only possessions that place Randy firmly in the present are some post-9/11 Americana kitsch (soaring eagle pictures, flags blowing in the wind, etc.) and a Vampire Weekend poster at his daughter’s house. The movie’s subtle power is that in Randy, we have a stand in for the kind of American male whose era is ending, had ended.
Randy keeps wrestling. His three opponents we see are a vaguely feminine mohawked punk rocker, a hairy, pot-tattooed hippy and “The Ayatollah,” archetypes all for what must be defeated by the kinds of men Sarah Palin called “real Americans.” Randy’s struggles are those of everyone facing the impossible pressures of fulfilling the roles of an antiquated script. At one point, Randy comments that “that pussy” Kurt Cobain ruined music, and we know that it was at this same time that his career began to crash. Right now, it seems that the era that began to end when Nirvana came along has closed for good here at the end of the era of Bush. Without patronizing, and with an unusually compelling and sympathetic portrait given life by Rourke and director Darren Aronofsky (“Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream”), in intimately witnessing one man’s slow decline, viewers behold the end of an era.