The Wrestler (2008)

Darren Aronofsky’s gritty tale of a washed-up wrestler returning to the ring provided a comeback role for Mickey Rourke, whose own return from the wilderness it celebrated.

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“The Wrestler is ultimately a film about performance and make-believe – and their costs. Even though wrestling is acting, an art of vaudevillian mugging and pratfalling, the pain is often real.”
Mark Fisher, Sight & Sound, February 2009

Following the expensive flop of The Fountain (2006), with its three stories spanning 1000 years, Darren Aronofsky forsook that film’s CGI-heavy metaphysics in favour of something much more down-to-earth, shot in a raw camera-on-the-shoulder style reminiscent of Belgium’s Dardenne Brothers.

The role of wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, reduced to working at a supermarket deli counter when his body can no longer take punishment in the ring, provided the perfect role for Mickey Rourke, trading on the actor’s own battered mystique as the man who had previously abandoned a glamorous movie-star career to become a boxer. He was widely tipped for an Oscar, but lost out to Sean Penn in Milk (2008). Marisa Tomei was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress as his stripper girlfriend Cassidy.

Darren Aronofsky followed up The Wrestler with another look at a performer driven to the edge: this time ballerina Natalie Portman in Black Swan (2010).

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