Tuesday, 24 February 2009

the wrestler (d. aronofsky, w. robert d siegel)

The Wrestler is a skilful piece of film making. This deduction is possible because when you look at the narrative, at what’s going on in the film, it’s all fairly silly. (Said without wanting to sound too English). The Ram basically commits hari-kiri, using his sizeable heart by-pass wound and a fat old man who goes under the stage name of The Ayatollah to carry out the deed. This because he went out and got ‘fucked-up’ when he should have been making amends with his estranged daughter, who as a result becomes even more estranged. The lap dancer who doesn’t fancy him suddenly does and quits it all to convince him not to commit hari-kari, but because he's such a complete and total fuck-up he goes ahead and does it anyway.

Maybe this is supposed to be a warped commentary on the American dream. It makes for a lot of potential schmaltz and vaguely preposterous narrative turns, but, in spite of all this, the film kind of works.

There’s doesn’t seem to be too much doubt where the credit for this lies. Firstly Aronofsky, who shows he can pull off the multi-faceted Soderburgh trick. The grainy, restless hand-held photography successfully conveys the bleakness of some of the colder, duller parts of the US. It also adds a pseudo-documentary feel to the investigation of the wrestling sub-culture the film is set in. The participants don’t feel like Hollywood actors faking it – they feel like the real, unadorned thing. In addition to this, no one does screen violence better than Aronofsky. It’s often wince-making, and again, even when it’s clearly fake, (as in the meat-slicer scene), he pulls it off. There’s a kind of meta-text at work here: the fakeness of the wrestling violence is reflected in the fakeness of movie violence, and as a result the audience really doesn’t know what hurts and what just look like it hurts. Consequently, when it doesn’t just look like it hurts, but looks like it really looks like it hurts, the violence is hyper-effective, and we feel Rourke/ Ram’s pain all the more.

Rourke is the second reason the film works. It’s a performance which succeeds as much for its under-statement as its over-statement, and this is what separates it from other renowned macho performances. The moments of reflection which suggest that all the pain he’s endured (or faked) has taught him something, that something in part being the uselessness of a macho approach. The performance is a sly commentary on North American values; emphasising both the abrasive charm of a macho posture, but also its suicidal boneheadedness. In this regard The Wrestler might well be the full stop at the end of eight years of neo-con government.

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