“I followed wrestling all through my 20s, and continued to order the major PPVs every year ¦ right until (Chris)Benoit murdered his wife, suffocated his son and took his own life, in 2007. That was it for me” writes ESPN The Magazine’s Bill Simmons, who interrupts his lavish praise of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” with a personal note to let us know that while he could turn a blind eye to 99 wrestlers dead before middle age, number 100 was just too much to bear. A tad less grandstandy is Bill Miller, who in writing for Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Online muses, “we wrestling fans know of the deaths and the sadness in the business, but what we often fail to realize is origin of it all.”
As affecting or satisfying or fulfilling as The Wrestler will be for most hardcore fans, it’s also mildly offensive. The business is shown in such a poor light that it is more likely to reinforce rather than question the decision lapsed fans have made to stay away. Everyone around the business is shown to be nice and personable, but also fundamentally deranged. Be it the aging star, the hardcore indy vet or the doting fans, they are societal misfits, all. They all want something to be bigger than it is. And they all want to ignore what it does to the players for at least enough time to enjoy the show.
In Mickey Rourke, the makers of this film seem to have chosen the perfect vessel for depicting the real. Much has been written about the parallels between Rourke’s life journey and that of his character, all of it poigniant. Both Randy the Ram and Mickey enjoyed stardom, partied too hard and fell out of the limelight. Both are now in line for redemption. Yet as a wrestling fan one can’t help but see one sadder fact that is not in parallel: Mickey Rourke the actor works in a business where his redemption can allow him to regain his place in life: money, fame, etc. Randy the wrestler works in a business where redemption means getting to wrestle in a National Guard Armory and receive a plaque at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.
It’s hard to tell what effect the movie will have on professional wrestling. It seems unlikely that such a punishing film will cause people to gain or regain their fandom. It seems likely that some people working in the business will see a bit of Randy the Ram in themselves or their peers and at least consider making some changes. In the end, though, I think the movie may affect wrestling fans the most. The perception of us may end up being crystallized through the audience’s reaction to Necro Butcher: a nice, respectful guy on the outside who has a side that will always leave him an outcast of society.