“When you live hard and you play hard and burn the candle at both ends... in this life, you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you. A lot of people told me that I'd never wrestle again, they said "he's washed up", "he's finished" , "he's a loser", "he's all through". You know what? The only ones gonna tell me when I'm through doing my thing, is you people here. You people here... you people here. You're my family.”
We were talking about films and a friend asked me why I liked Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler’ so much. The question set me thinking. I feel he is my own.
Randy the Ram, as he’s called in the film, is a washed out, has-been WWF champion, who has the social skills of an African ape and the fragile sensitivity of a touch-me-not plant. He is a loser and continuously losing. Does he mind? Sure, we all do. What probably bothers him more is a child’s puzzlement that he has been singled out for such loss again and again. He knows he bears some responsibility for them and he never shirks the blame. Yet, the child-like befuddlement is never far behind. He is child-like not because he doesn’t accept the tags and rules that seem so natural to others. It is because he doesn’t understand them. They are beyond his comprehension. You can’t teach calculus to an 8-yr old and then be angry when it doesn’t do well. Randy is that child in a universe governed by the laws of calculus. He knows there is something wrong with him, he knows he has done some things wrong, he strives to make amends, but as with life – it is too late.
Another child-like characteristic in him is his inability to accept change. He is the neanderthal who didn’t walk fast enough when the world was rushing by and is clueless how to get back on track. All he knows, all he wants is to be a part of the world that left him behind but he doesn’t know how to. He reaches out to people but he has failed his part of the bargain and no one really wants him. All he really wants is for someone to own him and miss him when he’s gone. I think that’s the crux of what he seeks. Watch him in the scenes with his daughter or with Marisa Tomei and you can see the aching loneliness he carries inside his battered body.
Does Randy change or transform during the course of the film? No. But something interesting happens. He exorcises his need for an ideal ‘other’ – be it in the form of his daughter or his lover. He comes to understand that it is indeed too late for him and there is no affection or encouragement for him beyond the impersonal cheering of the ring-side audience. Rather than learn calculus, he turns his back upon the world and jumps into the boxing ring with great heroism as ‘Sweet child of mine’ breaks out into the background . It is the heroism of a one-legged dog, it is the heroism of a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and wheat, but it is heroism nevertheless.
If you're interested, you'll find the one-legged dog and the scarecrow here. Turn on the volume, feel his voice course through your nerves. That's the only way to do justice to such beauty.