You’ll need to wipe away the glistening sweat, the dried blood and the onslaught of wrestling puns in article titles to get to the root of The Wrestler, but the film’s director is offering the quickest route to the movie’s heart:
Ultimately, the film is about a guy who wants to be loved.
If it sounds too simple, it isn’t. If it sounds too simple to be an Aronofsky film, it’s refreshing that it isn’t. If you happen to need more, he’s got it.
“At first he’s loved by his fans. Then, when that’s not possible anymore, he tries to find love through these two women, but it becomes a matter of asking a little too much a little too late. Then he goes back to his guaranteed place where he can get love,” he tells me and another reporter sitting in his hotel room in D.C.
Wearing his very own Ram necklace – a gift from Mickey Rourke - Aronofsky tries to break down a film that has critics fawning to a few simple concepts.
The road to The Wrestler is one that Aronofsky took traveling in the tire tracks of the real-life Rams that made up his true subject matter. The facts behind his fiction.
“We did a lot of roadtripping to independent events, and, through that, we met a lot of wrestlers and talked to them…Back in the day, these older guys would do 300 days on the road. They’d drive shitty cars and live in motel rooms together because transportation and accomodations were never covered.”
When I ask if he got a good sense of what these men went through, he claims he didn’t. A few months on the road doing research didn’t scratch the surface of what the modern day, high school gymnasium gladiators go through.
“That’s why most of their lives were in shambles. By the time their career ended, they had nothing left.”
Somehow, Aronofsky is able to capture that ‘nothing left’ on the screen. To do so, the director claims he shot for a documentary-style approach – finding that leading a character doesn’t work because they’re always aware of the camera. He also discovered that following behind Rourke with the camera gave a sense of energy and immediacy to his actions.
Aronofsky may have felt a sense of urgency himself, coming off a critically rough few years, but he wanted to tackle a story about wrestling for two important reasons. Because it was new to him and new to audiences.
“You can’t escape wrestling. It’s such a big part of our world…No one’s ever done a wrestling picture before.”
He points out the ubiquitousness of boxing as its own sports genre and the host of other sports films out there, theorizing that no one had tackled professional wrestling simply because audiences at large felt it was fake. Aronofsky wanted to bring audiences on board with a very real world of physical and emotional pain that requires a dedication that deteriorates the body and a life outside the ring.
All of these aspects and techniques culminate in the final fight, where Aronofsky hopes the audience will be in Ram’s corner. “This is his big moment, and we’re with him now. It’s his work. His art.”
Since the subject was new to him personally, he took chances in creating the film, especially regarding the subject matter and the casting. Then, something he says about Ram seems to ring true for the director himself.
“Holding on to what you were is impossible.”
It’s a poignant thought, but when I try to dig deeper into how Ram’s struggle personally resonates with Aronofsky, he shies away, opting to discuss the universality of why we all can see ourselves in Ram.
Still, it’s clear that the project is a deeply personal one. The film, and Aronofsky’s approach to it, are handled with the kind of care you’d hope every director would exercise. The characters are complex and empathetic but ultimately all searching for that simple feeling of love.
So I ask Aronofsky what he and The Ram have in common hoping to get a glimpse of the personal connection that the director had to his story.
He smiles, leans back and says, “The muscles.”
The Wrestler opens tomorrow, December 19th.