The Wrestler Darren Aronofsky USA 2008; Mickey Rourke; Marisa Tomei
Viewed Tyneside Cinema Tues 10 March 2009 Ticket price £6.45
Now hair’s a funny thing…
Just as in some stories and myths, the hair of the principle characters is central to plot, Samson the Princess in the Tower, in some films the protagonists are defined by their hairstyles. I thinking of Lucretia Martel’s La Nina Santa and the sensualised locks of Lauren Bacall. In both examples the films flow out of the sensual stylistic visual rhythm of the women’s hair. In viewing the Wrestler it seemed to me the whole of the movie was grounded in Randy’s haircut; a lion’s mane of peroxide tresses swept back from his brow to the base of his spine, a tumbling cascade of energised filaments that defined the man in the movie.
The mass of hair carried by Rourke as Randy the Ram, is a aqueous medium that carries us from affect to idea. His hair, as it is tousled, flung back, shaken. disciplined, splayed out in its magnificence, encased and hidden in protective plastic, coiffured, neglected, leads us to Randy as an objectified entity his hair a metonym for his condition. A shake of his crowned head and his weakness and vulnerability are displayed. His pride and his folly all contained and mediated through the white mass that falls from crown of his head. His hair a badge that has changed from being a showbiz gimmick into the defining elemental substance of his being. A device so central to the film that without it there would be no film. Because it is the hair which we watch and through which imaged cadence we engage with the content.
Although located in the world of wrestling, this is not a film about a world. It’s a film about a situation mediated by a visual device. The situation is that of the complete and devastating isolation of the individual. The matrix of isolation is the culture of the USA where the cult of the individual has overwhelmed the collective instincts and institutions of humankind. Randy’s hair is initially a mark of his individuality adopted to give him a profile that will stand out in the world of World Professional Wrestling. Ironically it is a mark into which his individuality is subsumed and which in time traps him in an image of himself that he cannot escape. Like the salesman’s Lenny in Miller’s play and the characters in Cassavetes Woman under the Influence, we are looking at the effects of a culture in which people are damned to eternal isolation, trapped inside their bodies and left with little more than the justifying shibboleths of capitalism to comfort them.
Randy the Ram has nothing in life except his work, wrestling ,which has come to define him and compress him in a circuit of amplified alienation. Randy although a wrestler could as well be a stock broker or the floorman of a commodities broker. The world of work sold by the culture as the ultimate expression of American identity and individuality involves an adopted enforcement code where there is room for nothing else, neither friends nor family. There are only fellow workers united in the bond that each understands the others situation without being able to do anything about it. The Maysles Brothers doc Salesman (1968) captures the situation. The Wrestler attempts to ground the film in the body with its images of bandages and pain as the by product of the business of wrestling. But this is a false trail. This is a simple American tragedy well trailed and explored by many previous writers. It says nothing new, but maps the spiral path to Randy’s inevitable death. In the Wrestler it is through the medium of the Randy’s white mane which engages us as an optical sign that we follow the course of the tragedy and which as a pure visual contains the film.