Monday, December 28, 2009

I know it when I see it and I saw it in The Wrestler

Finally got around to watching The Wrestler over the holidays and of course I loved it as I love anything that's honest enough to acknowledge that our dreams are slowly killing us at least as much as our faults are. Also loved the casting throughout but was at first a little surprised to see Marisa Tomei doing a turn as the frequently topless stripper, I guess Im still naive enough to believe that an Oscar, even a questionable one, automatically insulates you from pandering nudity.

While that may or may not be true there is no denying that no matter how big your career in Hollywood if you're playing a stripper/hooker you will have a heart of gold beating just underneath your ta-tas. And with this movie in particular you have to call bullshit.

Rourke's character, while immensely compelling, struck me as really something of a pornographic figure. He portrays a man who will endure almost limitless physical humiliation and pain for money, he sells his body for the fleeting pleasure of strangers. Im thinking particularly of the scene with the staple gun and the aftermath as medics pull embedded staples out of his flesh in a makeshift locker room, but just about any scene will do. Now perhaps that isn't prurient in an erotic sense but that kind of entertainment hardly appeals to our better natures and has in common with pornography a physical and spiritual debasement. So what do we want to call it instead?

Now one could hardly be blamed for seeing the parallel between Tomei the stripper and Rourke the wrestler as the fact that they essentially have the same job is just one of the many reasons they were meant to be together forever, except that the movie goes to a lot of trouble to make certain we know that one of them doesn't really have their soul in their work. Wanna guess which one?

"Im not a stripper" Tomei is obliged to announce. Hell, she's got a kid, a life, maybe a glimmer of a better future funded by tips from back room lap dances, so its not that she likes being naked for strangers there's a laudable reason for it, and like magic we have her tits without judgment. Rourke on the other hand offers no such excuse for his equally debauched employment. He likes it, a lot, and that's why we find the story so compelling but the upshot is Tomei has to apologize for her boobs but Rourke isn't troubled to explain why he is drawn to slowly killing himself and yet there is no judgment there either. And maybe there should be. Does a person like that really deserve our sympathy? That character isn't a victim yet I experienced him as one in the story and whose fault is that?

Who is letting who off the hook here, us or the movie? Men can be physically defiled AND heroic, women cannot. Im not smart enough to know why that is but I can't help but think that nobody is particularly well served by it.

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