The Wrestler is the first movie that made me wake up sore the next day. Watching Mickey Rourke on screen had some kind of psychosomatic effect on me where I felt the pain of a lifetime of wrestling. Just as pro wrestling sometimes blurs the lines of fake and reality (even staged body slams have to take a toll on one’s body) this movie blurs the lines between Mickey Rourke the actor and Mickey Rourke the person.
The fact that Rourke has been out of the limelight for many years made his transformation all that more amazing. Was this really the good looking young actor of the 80s films Diner, Body Heat, Rumble Fish, and The Pope of Greewnich Village? I’ve never been to a pro wrestling event, but know enough about the culture to think that Rourke’s performance rang true.
When I was youngster I used to go to boxing matches and hang out at the Orlando Sports Stadium gym which in many ways was the boxing equivalent of some of the mid-level wrestling shown in The Wrestler. The most bruised and beaten face I ever saw was that of boxer Mike Quarry the day after a fight. Quarry once had a title shot that he lost to Bob Foster and continued to fight ten years after that loss.
He died at age 55 and the cause of death was pugilistic dementia which is also known commonly known as punch-drunk caused by traumatic blows to the head. Mike’s brother Jerry, also a boxer, died two years before him and also suffered from pugilistic dementia. Mike’s swollen and beaten face that I saw when I was 12-years-old stays with me to this day.
The Wrestler is a look at one character’s life and why he puts his body through the abuse he does. It doesn’t preach, but it does show that there is a cause and effect to the choices we make in life.
It was not an easy film to watch. It was also not an easy film to get made.
“It’s always been hard for me to make my films. I’ve always had to make them with incredible financial limitations because it’s the only way to get them made. After Pi everyone was like, “What do you want to do?” and I showed them the book to Requiem and no one returned my calls. After Requiem it took six years to make The Fountain. Then when we tried to put this movie (The Wrestler) together , because I cast Mickey Rourke, it took two years to finance it. No one believed that Mickey could be sympathetic. It’s always a tough road for some reason. I end up choosing things that are not obvious.”
film.com interview with Laremy Legel