erik lundegaard

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The Wrestler (2008)

I have little in common with Randy “the Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), the wrestler of “The Wrestler.” He likes what I don’t (‘80s hair metal), lives where I haven’t (trailer park) does what I could never do (wrestles). And yet I wholly identified with him.

Maybe it’s because we’ve both reached a certain age. Maybe it’s that sense of hitting a dead end and being unable to see a way out or back. There’s a scene where, out of necessity, Randy moves from doing manual labor in the back of a grocery store to working with the public in the front. You know why he doesn’t want to do it. He was once a star, and now he’s here, and he doesn’t want people to know he’s here. I even identified with that. It reminded me of a time after high school, and during college: the jobs you didn’t want; the things you didn’t want to have to wear when you had the jobs you didn’t want. It reminded me of this thought: Please don’t let anyone see me here. Most of the jobs our economy creates — when it was creating jobs — are those kinds of jobs. Please don’t let anyone see me here.

“The Wrestler” is a hard movie to watch. Despite the above, and despite some pretty gruesome wrestling scenes, the toughest part for me was watching how needy Randy became once wrestling is taken away from him. “The Wrestler” is a perfectly titled movie because that’s who Randy is, and once he’s told he can’t be that he doesn’t know how to live. In life you struggle to find a thing you like and do well, and hope you get paid for it, and for a time Randy the Ram was paid well (in money, in fame, in everything that goes with it) for doing the thing he liked and did well. Then he wasn’t. Falls happen. We don’t know why his did, it just did.

Some have compared this movie with “Rocky” — both films are about gentle giants, working class bruisers, who make their living in the ring — but the comparisons end there. “Rocky” is about a guy who never made it but is given a chance and succeeds. “The Wrestler” is about a guy who did make it…and then has everything taken away.

What do you do when everything is taken away? What do you do when you reach the dead end?

There’s an answer.

—January 27, 2009

© 2009 Erik Lundegaard