Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wrestling With Slumdog

Why The Wrestler is Best Picture Material...

Recently, my buddy said this regarding my blogpost about Slumdog Millionaire...  

“Before you saw the Wrestler, you were all for this movie. 

Mickey Rourke was a son of a b*#$! in the Wrestler, he did steroids, screwed his daughter over by banging some skank in a bathroom, and WORST of all, he didn't go for Marissa Tomei. He deserved that heart attack. Jamal was a cool dude, and he had a heart, he fell in love.”

Here is the problem: Many people consider Slumdog Millionaire a gripping, exciting non-stop action movie, but no one wants to consider what the hell its saying/asking.  The kid who wrote the above quote made me realize Crash is an extremely overrated movie.  Well, the same thing is happening with Crash as with Slumdog - all style and no substance.  To expalin: I loved Crash the first time I saw it, and from what I recall my friend did too.  Though after I thought about it - with the help of my friend’s reasoning - I realized the movie wasn’t saying anything profound (unlike e.g. - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Do the Right Thing, The Color Purple, American History X).  A lot of people love Crash for its portrayal of racial problems in modern society.  But I beg the differ, I think its because the movie is part of the growing movement of interlinked stories that connect in the end (a movement I personally love, just not in this instance).  Hence, Crash is a movie that is aesthetically good, but thematically bad.  

Regarding Slumdog, I understand Jamal followed his heart and fell in love, but if people are only going to observe the film from an outside perspective rather than looking into the message then I am nervous for any and all philosophical insight expressed within future cinema.  This in fact allows me to bring up my new favorite quote from Mike Leigh’s Naked (emphasizing the italicized) is a perfect description of how people seem to regard all aspects of cultural activity.

“Was I bored? No, I wasn't fuckin' bored. I'm never bored. That's the trouble with everybody - you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and plenty of them, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new, as long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors. So whatever else you can say about me, I'm not fuckin' bored.”

That description sums of my attitude of Slumdog Millionaire, forty fucking different bleeping colors, nothing more, nothing less.

Alright, on with The Wrestler, the best movie of the year. From the opening credits I knew that I was viewing cinematic perfection.  From the very beginning Aronovsky plays with our emotions - the 80’s metal playing over cheesy credits established a positive view that is quickly destroyed within the first ten minutes.  The Ram has a dead end job with a shitty boss, has become estranged from his daughter, is in love with a stripper-mother and has a body that is moments away from complete break down.  

So what does he do after his heart attack?  Does he try and repair the relationship with his daughter?  Does he try to find a job with a better future?  Does he choose Marisa Tomei in the end?  No, because his love is with wrestling.  The time for rebuilding broken bridges or establishing new ones has come and gone.   

Even if he were to try and repair them it would have been out of selfish motives.  His daughter is not five or ten years old, she is twenty.  The pain of dealing with the absence of her father has clearly been something she’s come to terms with. If you pay close enough attention, she doesn’t even ask what happened when he didn’t show up, she just assumed he ditched her.  Correctly yes, but it distinguishes the extremely delicate nature of her capability for forgiveness.  From the little about we learn about The Ram its understood that he has not had the best of luck with women (he's alone and seems to have been for awhile).  As for work, he has yet to find a job that gives him fulfillment and satisfaction.  When he is “enjoying” himself at the super market its obviously in bad faith rather than genuine contentment.  The Ram quickly understands that he is good at one thing and one thing only, that he loves to do one thing and one thing only and that is wrestle. 

Not many people are willing to live in a trailer, below the poverty line, barely making ends reach.  Most would try and find security through a nice pension and quality benefits after their golden age of youth (or in the Ram’s case golden age of wrestling).  The Ram does not sacrifice his dreams and even goes so far as to die for them.  It is NOT about the fame, it is NOT about the fortune, it is about genuine love and dedication.  The absurdity is that its wrestling, but such an absurdity is also the beauty.  It is not even closely considered an honorable profession, and yet Aronovsky can somehow portray all of the wrestlers within the film with immense amount of depth and substance.  To strive for becoming a professional musician, director, painter, actor or whatever is something that provides the possibility of being one day blessed with reward and honor.  But The Ram, who ignores the stares and confusion of the masses, goes beyond the typical and embraces his absurd passion without humility or reservation.

So in the end, are you really going to tell me that Jamal is a better person for falling in love with a beautiful girl?  Does that make him stronger?  I think the stronger man is the one who can disregard such trivialities and rather be willing to sacrifice his life for doing what he loves.  I will even declare that The Ram is one of the most heroic characters of cinema.  After all, what takes more courage - to pursue a gorgeous Marissa Tomei/your deeply damaged daughter, understanding the massively negative consequences let alone the obscenely selfish agenda? Or to turn away from those potential modes of happiness and into a life of solitude which is rather dedicated wholeheartedly towards passion?


paubins said...
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paubins said...

Slumdog is about a character, Jamal, who can not control his situation. Figuratively speaking, he's a surfer on a wave. The wrestler is about a character, Randy, who can't control himself. He's trying to fight against the waves rather than surf on them.

Slumdog is about a more idealized and adolescent version of love. He lives his life for a girl. He does everything right, and then he gets the girl. Most of the major decisions in his life are made by his older brother Salim. His purpose is made perfectly clear throughout the movie: to find

Latika. Throughout the movie, he never has to make any really tough life decisions.

In the Wrestler, the main character, Randy, is in a constant internal struggle between two choices; to accept truth or to continue in denial.

He has the heart attack that snaps him back into realtiy so he feels obligated to talk to his daughter. His daughter will not blindly accept her father back into her life. He needs to earn it. However, he is a man not in complete control of his emotions.

He gets rejected from Cassidy so he decides to go on an all night bender. This causes him to miss a dinner date with his daughter scheduled for the following night and ruins any future relations with her. Essentially, she cuts off all contact with him.

The wrestler is not about love. It's about acceptance. It's about complete self-actualization. That is realizing your full potential, accepting the truth regardless how much it may hurt or even kill you. In his case, the truth is, he's a dead beat. He was at the top of his career twenty years ago. His wife's gone. His daughter hates him. He can't pay the bills. Sometimes he lives in a van. It doesn't matter how fun he makes it, working at the deli sucks. His boss sucks. The only thing he really likes to do, the only thing he really knows is wrestling. It's the only thing he's been capable of understanding.

Throughout the entire movie, the only time he seems to really fully embrace this position is when he jumps off the corner of the ring in the end.

Before he jumps, however, he looks up for Cassidy and she's gone. She can't watch him kill himself. And for a moment, the audience is led to believe that if maybe she was still standing there, he wouldn't have done jumped. Maybe, he would have thought twice and stepped out of the ring. And the movie would have ended with a loving embrace between the Ram and Cassidy.

No. It's him saying, "Fuck it. Fuck you. This is who I am. I lived in this ring. I will die in this ring. If you don't like wrestling, then you won't like me." It's not a story of love. He doesn't love anything in this movie. Cassidy was there to keep him from lonliness. His daughter was there to give him warmth and love. He found neither of them really accepted him. The only people who both loved and accepted him were his fans. The only place he didn't feel alone was in the ring.

He didn't love wrestling. Obviously he didn't, but he found companionship from the sport. It was something that respected him.

Now compare the Wrestler to Slumdog Millionaire.

Jon Cvack said...
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Jon Cvack said...
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Jon Cvack said...

Why would you assume he wasn’t “in reality” in the first place? Take for instance when he gives Cassidy the toy and jokingly states that its worth three-hundred dollars. Also the many instances of dialogue between him and the upcoming wrestlers where he states that they have some good moves and will go far. If he can joke about his fame, respect his colleagues, and never show a hint of arrogance then I think he was in reality. The character who is outside reality is the one who is completely disrespectful, under the false impression that his VHS tapes and toys are actually worth something and so on. The person who was out of reality was the man The Ram wrestles in the end - where when they converse he is a pompous asshole.

The blame was not on him, rather it was on the person who mandated that The Ram would always win the matches (they never clarified who said this). After all, why would the young, energetic wrestlers want to lose to an old man? Such decisions definitely drove The Ram’s ego into unrealistic territory, but I do not believe it was necessarily his fault. As he says in the end, he’s keeps wrestling because of the fans and if they stopped, he would stop. Even the scene when he’s selling the merchandise he observes the handicaps experienced by all of the other ex-wrestlers - unlike them, he can wrestle; he just shouldn’t.

So in some ways I agree, but the love component is a lot stronger than the self-actualization. His reality is force fed to him by his fans and colleagues, while the love for wrestling is on an individual basis. Thus, his love is genuine vs. his denial is provided. As I tried to say, the fact that he’s living in a trailer is a strong indication of his love for wrestling. In order to afford an apartment, condo or even hotel room he would need a decent job. But he doesn’t want a decent job because it risks him falling trap into the rewards of labor and hence allows less time for wrestling.

The reason I would disagree with him NOT loving wrestling is because at what point does he start pursuing Cassidy? Only after the heart attack. Before that, he only wanted lap dances and a few conversations. As for his daughter, he knew he would have to deal with being alone if his wrestling career was over and so he tried to repair the relationship.

I would have agreed with everything you had said if he ended up with Cassidy in the end. If when she arrived he left the ring and they drove off into the sunset. But then the story regresses into cliche - the happy ending, a man realizing his mistakes. The Ram didn’t make a mistake through killing himself, it was a way in which to renounce all of the things he’d never be good at. The final match at the end of the movie dealt with what you are discussing - it was the pompous, unrealistic asshole vs. the genuinely dedicated man. The Ram wins. Do you think the other man would have had the courage to die for his sport?