Last night at the end of the movie The Wrestler, I sat in the theater, stunned, with most of the other people who had come to watch the movie that afternoon. I didn't want to leave. I didn't want to go out into the night. In some ways, I felt shattered by the experience and definitely changed. I saw myself in The Ram, the character Mickey Rourke so brilliantly portrayed. I wondered how many other people in the theater had doggedly stuck to a dream or a career or an idea that no longer fed them.
The movie is ostensibly about a professional wrestler who has fallen on hard times twenty years after making it big. He still wrestles and it has taken a toll on his body and his personal life. He spends most of his money on drugs and supplements so he can keep wrestling. He doesn't have money left over for rent so his landlord locks him out of his shabby trailer. He pays for the only female companionship he has, and he is estranged from his daughter. After an especially brutal match, he has a heart attack.
A couple of weeks after the attack, he goes to a fan event. In the basement of some church or school, old wrestlers sit at long tables facing one another. They sell VHS copies of fights, t-shirts, and signatures to the few people who attend. At on point, the Ram looks around the room at the other wrestlers and sees how old, crippled, and pathetic they are. How sad they are. It is after this event that he quits wrestling. He tries to create a new life for himself by attempting to reconcile with his daughter and starting a relationship with a woman.
When things don't work out the way he wants them to, he doesn't have the resources to change his behavior. What he knows is wrestling. What he knows he is good at—or was good at—is wrestling. He doesn't know how to get his daughter or a woman to love him. He knows what to do to get the crowds to cheer him.
As I watched this movie—especially the scene at the fan event—I thought about all the writers I know, about all the artists I know; I thought about myself. How sad and pathetic do we become as we try to keep doing what we love even though it doesn't sustain us. Are we still trying to make our voices heard? Or is it that we no longer believe we have the skills to do anything else? It’s none of my business why other people do it. The question is: Why do I do it? The Ram didn't know how to do anything else, so he kept doing work that was destroying him.
In the last part of the movie, The Ram comes out into the ring and takes the microphone. He looks at the crowd and says that everyone thought he was washed up. Everyone counted him out. But he was back because the people in the crowd were his real family and being in the ring fighting while they watched was his life.
In one of the advertisements for this movie, the promoters wrote, "He lives to be a hero one more time." I thought either they didn't understand the movie or I didn't. Or maybe it's like any piece of art: We each take away something different. What I saw was a man who didn't walk away from something when he should have. When he could have. I saw a man who could not change his behavior to save himself or the people he cared about. I saw myself. I saw so many people I know.
Do you remember the end of Thelma & Louise when the two women looked at each other as their car idled inches from the edge of the Grand Canyon? They nod to each other and clasp hands. Behind them was the whole damn system waiting to put them in chains, to dampen their wild selves. I was sobbing as I sat in the theater watching it—sobbing, and whispering, "Ten of swords, ten of swords." And then they accelerated and went into the great abyss while I choked on my sobs.
In the Motherpeace tarot, the ten of swords shows a group of women leaping off the cliff. They have decided, in essence, that is better to die on their feet (flying, no less) than to live on their knees. When Thelma and Louise took that drive into the great unknown, I understood in every cell of my body why they made that decision. I tried every day not to live on my knees, I tried every day to live my truth, but most days I didn't have enough courage or enough understanding of my own failings to make the leap. Or maybe it was that I didn’t understand that I had made the leap and now I had to be at peace with the consequences.
If I didn't want to live the typical “stifling” middle class life, then I was not going to have the perks of that middle class life.
In the movie, the doctor tells The Ram he can’t wrestle again or he could die. The woman he wants runs after him and begs him not to go into the ring; she tells him she's there now for him. He looks at her and shakes his head. He doesn't understand how to be with her. He understands how to be with them, the anonymous crowd. He turns away from her and walks toward the ring.
And in this last match as it gets more and more difficult for him to fight, the ref and the man the Ram is wrestling try to help him, try to make it easier on him. But he climbs the ropes and stands on that top rope because he knows that is what the crowd came to see. And then he leaps.
Just like when I watched Thelma & Louise, I understood why The Ram took the leap. This time it didn't feel heroic; it didn't feel like it was the only way. It felt like this was a man who was living an unsustainable life and he couldn't see his way out of it. But I understood why he did it. I understood why someone would want to believe they were good at something, even if that something was...nothing.
I understood why it sometimes felt easier to try to entertain a crowd than to build relationships with people in real life. So often it feels easier to stay on the same road we’ve been traveling: We know where we have been and we know where we’re going.
In the last twenty minutes of The Wrestler, I cried so hard I could barely see. I knew how the movie would have to end. I wanted it to be different. I wanted him to make different decisions. But he had no idea. I understood.
The Ram believed his only choices were to live in discomfort and despair or leap to his death. He couldn’t see another option. How many of us have come to that point in our lives when we know what we're doing isn't working but we have no idea how to really change it? We don’t know how to go from the Vision to the Real. Or maybe we just don’t know how to make another leap into the unknown. A different leap.
I value art. I believe what Mickey Rourke did with this character was art. Sublime. Superb. It made me think. More importantly, it made me feel. It made me shiver as I saw myself reflected in the mirror of this bloodied man.
Man. I am so done with being a one trick pony. And I am so uncomfortable. I have no idea. But, babies, I am ready to make the leap.
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