The Look of THE WRESTLER
This is not a film review.
I want to state that again: this is not a film review.
I love this movie, and in fact the totality of Darren Aronofsky's film work, so much that there is no way I can be objective enough to "review" this. Thus, my aborted (and long overdue) attempt to write about his last film, The Fountain. (Maybe I'll be able to sort through my thoughts and feelings enough in the future to produce something of worth on that, but for now, it shall lie, fallow and unfinished.)
But THIS is not ABOUT The Fountain. THIS is about The Wrestler, Aronofsky's newest film, starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. It is undoubtedly the best film of 2008. And while theme-wise, it is not as drastic a departure from Aronofsky's previous work (especially Requiem For A Dream), VISUALLY, it is as different from them as almost anything can be.
His first two films, Pi and Requiem For A Dream, had a lot of stylistic touches, very overt and showy, almost. Not to the "oh look at me, I'm fancy and can do these fancy things" point, but in ways that service the story being told. The editing of Requiem was rhythmic, sticking to a beat and pattern that repeated throughout the film (Aronofsky refers to it as "hip-hop editing), as the point was to inure the audience to the acts of drug abuse, and make it a very big deal later when the pattern lengthens, or is interrupted, or changes. It exemplifies the point that addiction is all about habit and repetition, and that it is a cycle that only degrades.
The Fountain, his third film, while as stylistic as the earlier films in its own way, did less with rhythm, but was all about visual patterns, the same images and actions used at different points in the film to (both overtly and subtley) connect different scenes and time periods. The theme of "recurrence" was an important point to be made and stressed, and thus the similarity of such disparate time periods as 1500's Spain, Modern day America, and the deep space of the far future was brought to bear, and made to relate to the movie's theme of death, rebirth, and acceptance. Death is nothing to fear, the film says, and while it maybe should not be celebrated, it should be embraced as a necessity.
The Wrestler uses very little of these tricks, and in fact goes as far opposite from those films as possible in terms of style, to point of being very documentary-like in feel. The grain in the image implies harsh reality, and the washed out colors of everything in Randy "The Ram"'s life, accentuate the vividness the film adopts during the scenes of action in the ring. The blood and lights "pop" that much more when contrasted with the mutedness of Randy's trailer, really of his entire life outside of the ring. Like all of Aronofsky's films thus far, this relies, at its center, on the interpersonal relationships between its characters; in this case, between Randy and the people in his world: his estranged daughter Stephanie, his only real "friend" Cassidy/Pam, and the various acquaintances of his wrestling career. Aronofsky has always focused on how people relate to their world and each other, and Randy's disconnect from both is at the heart of the film, and the reasons for why it looks the way it does.
Repetition still plays a small part in the film, as it is, in its own way, about addiction. Contrast the scene of Randy's walk-out to the ring in the beginning of the film with his walk out to the floor on his first day at the deli counter: the crowd noise piped in over the latter seals it, as does the exact same type of plastic curtain in front of each place's respective entrance. Randy is addicted to the crowd, the noise, the reaction he gets from people who know him as a character. He gives them his sweat, his blood, his very life, and they applaud, they cheer, they chant. He needs that, he craves that, and his life is a complete shambles because of it. His health, his family, his ability to deal with every day life: all sacrificed within the altar of the "squared circle."
There's more to say about the film, and its themes and ideas, like the similarity between Randy and Pam's stories, and his own self-destructive streak, and the (deceptively) unambiguous ending, but I wanted to stick to discussing the look of it. It is a fascinating film, and one I hope everyone gets to see. Aronofsky and Rourke, especially, deserve all the credit in the world for a wonderful piece of filmmaking and acting. Go out and see The Wrestler whereever and whenever you can. It is on a limited release now, but I believe it goes wide shortly.
We're all looking for the crowd's roar. Very few of us ever find it. The ones who do, sometimes have trouble letting it go.