A long time ago in another blog, in a critique I wrote dissing Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek’s rather retarded and amateurish misviewing of the Dardenne Bros’ radical and shattering The Son, I suggested that filmmakers could learn a lot fromthe film’s shooting style: A floating, frantic, obsessive hand-held camera that followed rather than lead, that observed rather than determined.
Darren Aronofsky must have listened.
The best parts of The Wrestler are shot in just this way, if quite a bit more slowly and carefully, as befits the subject matter. As a result, the lead at the heart of this movie is a true character study, rather than the freak shows Aronofsky likes to create from his actor’s wired performances. As a result, it’s also the first film of his I’ve actually liked, if also been made to see his real limitations as a director. All of his films mimic, I won’t say crib, but usually poorly, the styles of directors he likes. In this one, he picked the right style to emulate, for the right subject matter, and with the right actor.
Mickey Rourke doesn’t portray Robin/Randy the Ram, a pro-wrestler about to give himself another heart attack by jumping off the top turnbuckle, as if he wants to win an Oscar, which is one reason I wanted them to give it to him, and why I was surprised they’d nominate him at all. The performance is so low-key and self-deprecating — much of the time the camera shoots at his head or shoulders, or in profile — and real-life funny, as opposed to Ben-Stiller funny, I never got the sense I was being sold something, or was being dicked around emotionally, as I felt during the interminable Forest-Gump remake, The Reincarnation of Benji Button, or whatever it’s called. And really, that’s a rare respite from a Hollywood movie.
Instead, I got the sense that I was looking in on someone’s real life: interesting, in its broad outlines, but also pathetic in its details. Not a failure, as he thinks, but just a guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with, asking a few questions of, if not allow too far into your life. The camera never really moves in all the way, either, does it? It certainly never stays still.
The faux-triumphant ending fits Randy then. Fits his profession. Fit his whole outlook on life. The real and the fake blood, a broken bone or two, a gaping wound, the gasping for breath, a launch into the air, and a final, dying cheer.