The Wrestler

Disclaimer: I am a wussie. I had to talk myself into agreeing to see Let the Right One In, the bloody Swedish vampire flick in theaters right now. But it was nowhere near as violent as The Wrestler. Vampire movies are surreal and detached, but The Wrestler was real and terrifying.

There’s a whole category of movies I love that celebrate niche groups and outsiders. The Wrestler is not a documentary like those—indeed it overstates its dramatization—but it is the only serious treatment of pro wrestling that I’ve ever seen. This movie exposes the physical and emotional addiction that tempts these performers into a career that leaves them broken and bruised. For the main character in this film, that physical decline is matched by a descent into obscurity, and an inability to assimilate after his one talent in life no longer pays the bills. In the mind of the audience, choreographed wrestling matches were transformed into gripping fights, where the age and frailty of the wrestlers created heart-pounding uncertainty about whether the pain on their faces was fake or real.

For me, the most poignant theme offered by this story was the profound loneliness of this man, who for all his warmth cannot seem to make connections with the people he meets outside of the wrestling world. During a brief scene, he invites one of the neighborhood boys into his trailer to play a video game. They play a game starring the wrestler himself, released during his heyday many years ago. But the boy, unimpressed, makes a careless remark about how old it is, declines a rematch and leaves to be with his friends. It was so affecting to see that even a child could simultaneously reject and make irrelevant this towering hulk of a man.

My only complaint about this movie would be how distractingly present the screenwriting was. Every person was a one dimensional character: jersey x’er with the hair metal tapes, lesbian with father issues, stripper with a heart of gold. Every carefully placed motion advanced the plot: does a glance askew mean he’s ADHD; does a labored autograph mean he’s illiterate? Blagh.

In fairness, no scene was wasted. The pace was fast and the message was clear: today’s heroes are tomorrow’s castaways. Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m too jaded to appreciate well-executed scriptcraft without noticing the numbers behind the paint.

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