Darren Aronofsky’s first three feature-length films all elicited a very visceral reaction from me.  I watched Pi in AP Stats and found it sublimely confusing; it was exciting to realize a movie could be so off the wall and yet so compelling.  Requiem for a Dream is nearly unwatchable.  I was bored out of my gourd.  The Fountain, on the other hand, is probably one of my favorite movies of all time.  The three movies, of course, are exceedingly different, so I didn’t really know what expectations I should have going into The Wrestler.  Strangely, while the film is different in style and tone from its predecessors, it is much more accessible and yet (or maybe therefore) had much less of an impact on me.

Maybe it isn’t surprising that The Wrestler sticks out among Aronofsky’s work.  It is the only film he didn’t write himself, Robert D. Siegel gets the credit for this one.  And the story has a much more linear feel than Aronofsky’s earlier films.

That’s not to say I disliked The Wrestler.  I liked it just fine, I guess I was hoping to be a bit more affected.  The main character, Mickey Rourke’s Randy the Ram, is certainly compelling in theory.  Once at the top of the professional wrestling world, he now ekes out a living doing third-rate shows in fourth-rate towns, doing promotional signings in rec centers with over the hill wrestlers, and supplementing it all with a job hauling stuff at a local supermarket.  He lives (when he can make the payments) in a rented trailer, and the only person with whom he can have a conversation seems to be his favorite stripper at a random joint.  He’s a sad person, someone who lives and breathes and is only good for one thing, and he’s no longer supposed to do that.

In my mind, though, Aronofsky and Rourke dehumanize The Ram.  He’s unable to have prolonged interactions with other people.  He can’t maintain a relationship with his daughter.  Can’t hold a steady job.  His life has become professional wrestling.  Not in the sense that he’s obsessed with it, rather that’s just who he is and what he was made for, like a machine built for a certain task, he was made to wrestle.  Even his nickname, “The Ram”, acts to dehumanize him.  And I’d argue that this dehumanization leads to a certain inevitability about The Ram’s path.  So it is hard to feel badly for The Ram’s failures at life outside of professional wrestling any more than a Roomba’s life outside vacuuming.  It may be tragic he was molded into a machine, but I’m not sure there’s anything inherently sad about a machine doing what it does until it can no longer go.

My only problem with the film was the subplot concerning The Ram’s daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).  As it stands, it felt sort of tacked on, as if the movie just needed a few more minutes to reach an acceptable running time.  I think what it accomplishes now could have been done with just a few phone calls.  Or they could have fleshed things out a bit more, maybe provided a little more background.

The Wrestler is a very good movie.  The wrestling scenes are fantastic, as the scenes in the deli.  Marisa Tomei’s character fits into the movie well, and I’m not just saying that because she’s a stripper.  She provides a compelling counterpoint to The Ram, she’s like him in so many ways, yet hasn’t become consumed by her profession.  I loved the hair metal soundtrack, it fit the movie well.  The ending is pretty darn close to perfect.  And among “Oscar bait” movies (in the sense that a movie like Pineapple Express stands no shot of even being considered for the top prize), there’s a very real chance The Wrestler ends up in my top five.  Had I been just a little more emotionally invested, I think I would be even more highly singing the movie’s praises.

If it is possible to be a shoo-in for a nomination, then Mickey Rourke is a shoo-in.  People may be right or wrong for having issues with the man, but his performance has been pretty much universally praised.  Indeed, from the physical to emotional aspects of the role, The Ram does seem like a character Rourke was born to play.  To be moderately contrary here, my socks were not entirely rocked.  Yes, I’m guessing Rourke will end up being in my top five, but I do not think he’d be my pick for top performance.

Next most likely to get a nomination is Bruce Springsteen’s song, “The Wrestler”.  I love The Boss something fierce, but I don’t think I’m being biased when I saw it is a solid song and fits the movie very well.  One of the few songs I can remember playing over the end credits and yet still feeling like it is part of the movie.  I’m guessing it will be the only nominated song that I will believe should have been nominated.

There’s a very good chance Marisa Tomei gets a nomination for supporting actress.  It varies based on who you read, but as of now there are maybe ten women with a realistic shot at getting the nomination and only one or two who have one secured.  I haven’t seen enough of the films with shots in this category yet, so I’ll reserve judgment, but if Tomei gets shut out, it will have been a very strong category indeed.

The film also has a shot at original screenplay.  I think that’d be a mistake.  Not necessarily a grievous one, mind you, I wouldn’t be hooting and hollering if it gets the nod.  But I think so much of the movie’s success is due to the actors and in particular things like the wrestling matches, that I’m a bit hesitant to give it my blessing.  That said, I think there are very few scenarios where five screenplays I appreciated more get nominated.