Twenty years later, and one-time professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) has fallen on hard times. Aside from his job at a supermarket during the week, he makes his living fighting, yet only now for a few diehard fans who recall his golden age, and not in stadiums but in community centres where a wrestling ring can be set up. He is still on very good terms with this fellow fighters, but cannot say he has any friends, and his past affairs have left him with a daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who doesn't want to meet him. As if that were not bad enough, now his health is being brought into question...
For some reason, The Wrestler was reported as Mickey Rourke's "comeback" movie, as if he had been away a long time, yet these commentators so judging his career seemed to have forgotten he had still been taking part in successful projects such as Sin City and Man on Fire throughout the decade this film was released in. Sure, they had not been lead roles, but it's not as if everyone had forgotten him with a dismissive "wasn't he some guy off the eighties?", so when he was nominated for an Oscar for this, along with other awards, it seemed as much a vindication of those who still recognised him as much as it was a reward for his performance.
Not only that, but he was very good indeed here, as although Rourke had been a boxer rather than a wrestler, he had still endured quite some physical punishment over the years, just as his character had. His face now resembled a tenderised slab of beef, ideal for playing someone who was regularly battered every weekend, not so much for the financial rewards, but because such performing offered him rewards to his self-esteem and pride, something he certainly wasn't going to otherwise get anywhere else from those he encountered in his day to day life when he is frequently locked out of his trailer home for not paying his rent.
There is another character in this film who is in a similar position of relying on her physicality, and she is the ageing stripper Randy has a soft spot for, noticing a connection between them that she is reluctant to acknowledge. She is Pam, or Cassidy to give her stage name, played by Marisa Tomei with brittle but brave quality as she knows she isn't getting any younger though she has been in the business so long that she, like Randy in his profession, will find it difficult to adjust to anything else. Yet Pam fears what she sees in Randy and his efforts to get closer to her, putting up a barrier between them in the excuse that she doesn't date customers.
It is Pam who makes the important allusion to the religious film The Passion of the Christ, the Mel Gibson hit which went into way too much detail about Christ's journey to the crucifixion, as like that film, the hero here is put through an enormous amount of harm for our entertainment. You may think you're not watching to see Mickey Rourke get beaten up and are here for the emotional stuff, but you are seeing this to experience his personality take a hammering when he cannot get close to either his daughter or Pam, and suffers at a job that demeans someone who has more to offer than serving uncaring customers. Randy's daily life is as much a trial as his professional one, and when he has a heart attack and has to give it all up, it as good as destroys him. Of course, when he goes back to his glory at the end, that might destroy him just as easily. Although dramatically it's a little pat, The Wrestler succeeds because it showcases a star displaying his talent, and how he has still "got it", something which is genuinely cheering. Music by Clint Mansell.
American writer and director, whose low budget science fiction film Pi was much praised. He followed it with Requiem for a Dream, an equally intense drug addiction story, with the long-awaited but unsuccessful sci-fi epic The Fountain arriving in 2006. Downbeat drama The Wrestler was Oscar-nominated, suggesting he was fulfilling his early promise, and Natalie Portman won an Oscar for his ballet horror Black Swan. His eccentric Biblical epic Noah met with a mixed reaction to say the least.