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Randy The Ram Robinson has had his time as professional wrestler, but as with most jobs, life forces you to practice them even after your prime. So here is the old man, still a legend, but already becoming a curiosity, working his way through increasingly pathetic matches against increasingly ruthless and self-destroying opponents. After a match against a man with a stapler gun and some metres of barbed wire, a heart attack cuts The Ram down. His efforts to use this opportunity to re-establish a life with his daughter and with a stripper do not bear the success he envisaged. If he ever knew how to be a social man, he has forgotten it, or the world has ceased to believe in his ability. Being left alone, he turns back into the ring despite the doctors’ advice, because this appears to be the only place where he knows the right moves.

Unavoidable: you have to begin with mentioning the mountain of meat Mickey Rourke has become. Never mind which misguided insights have brought him where he is today and to what he is today, it is the perfect body for this movie. What’s left of a character face, with a hairdo beyond terms of ridicule, a body so re-erected as a muscle momument, countering the laws of nature and age, that he now appears as the freak he needs to be to be credible. If “Rocky Balboa” had not shown these images some time ago, “The Wrestler” would have been decried as a freakshow. Now we are used to it. Only that in Rocky it is the movie character that is the freak – in The Wrestler it is the actor. I would have had a hard time recognizing the man who shagged Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart, but here he is, and he’s got it going with the chicks again. He appears to be the only one who realises that he is a wasted experiences, as his environment does not even treat him badly (with the exception of his supermarket boss, who puts him in a hair net and behind a supermarket deli counter). He can still fight, he can still have the girls, he is embedded in a well-functioning community of fan fests, colleagues and drug dealers.
The Ram and his wrestling buddies roam one of these completely depressing gym worlds, where the centerstage cannot be glamourous and the lime lights cannot be bright enough to make the changing rooms not smell like training shoes died twenty years ago. This may be what makes good sports films: that they show the bluntness, the non-glamourousness, the dirtiness, the repetitiveness of a sport. Show how many disgraceful procedures even those have to undergo who only want to survive in the sport, not to speak of dominate it. There are many depressing and touching moments in the film, but what I found most depressing and touching is the way he must pretend to ignore his age, create a physical appearance (literally from head to foot) that is grotesque, and carry this appearance through real life. Dying hair, tanning body, stretching in front of the trailer.
It is rather frightening to watch this, because it means that whatever we do today, we may be forced to do it 25 years from today in just the same fashion, with the same routines. The slight boredom the film brings along only underlines its own quality – there is not really much happening apart from a life slowly crumbling, it’s like watching a body decompose, only that it’s still twitching. Ageing is, indeed, nothing for cowards.

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