February 1, 2009 [The Wrestler]

It's been a long time since anyone bowed down to the Pope of Greenwich Village. Mickey Rourke has found himself exiled, with only secret visits from the faithful few, for whom he's been a shiny animated feature in Sin City and a big scary Papa Bear in Domino—and sure, before then here and there; a really real gone cat only for a while, when he started boxing and got close to the apotheosis his characters often approach, via pummeling.

And then he ends up at Darren Aronofsky's door, a man who seems happiest when he's gone so far that everyone rolls their eyes and wishes he'd stayed put—but not me, no sirree, Pi and Requiem for a Dream and even The Fountain send a shiver down—I'm not sure if it's my spine or something deeper, hidden where my brain can't find it, far from the endocrines and synapses, stretching out like an evolutionary animal in the cooling cave of the beginning of things. He makes plots, but he shapes them like an old-school surrealist, a pretend child playing a real game.

So what does he do with Big Mickey but to force the guy into that cave, and then ask him to try to climb out—to wrestle as The Wrestler, a Ram with a mane that gets in the way—like his temper, and his cravings, until he not simply burns the bridge but tries to make the river crossing; but Randy isn't allowed on the other side, he stands and watches the Promised Land recede—until the last moment, his heart ready to give out, when he jumps, high high high, and lands somewhere beyond the movie.

I'm not kidding when I write that as I watched The Wrestler I kept thinking of Springsteen, the way he builds memorials to people who do their best to live the right way, get up every morning and go to work each day—but their eyes go blind and their blood runs cold. And when Randy takes that last leap of faith, I stood at the door and heard the dogs on Main St. howl in understanding and belief—and then there he was, Springsteen singing at the end about the one-legged man dancing his way free, and I saw me.


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