This month’s Great Character theme: Sports figures. Today: Jason Cuthbert’s guest post features Randy “The Ram” Robinson from the 2008 movie The Wrestler [written by Robert D. Siegel].
Prior to starring in 2008’s The Wrestler, directed by the insanely great Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Rourke had been sharing the spotlight in a fairly steady string of films with ensemble casts, among bright star power in: Sin City, Domino, Man on Fire, Buffalo 66, and Spun. These fierce appearances were decades after Rourke rocked and rattled cinema screens with leading characters in the 1980’s with: Angel Heart, Nine ½ Weeks, and Barfly. Considering Mickey Rourke’s real life experience as a competitive boxer, you can either say that his acting career needed a comeback title bout, or that his Oscar-nominated role as down-trodden middle-aged fallen celebrity wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler was just the championship match that he had been training for his entire career.
The Wrestler plot summary from IMDB:
A faded professional wrestler must retire, but finds his quest for a new life outside the ring a dispiriting struggle.
Having been admittedly seduced by the colorful Hulk Hogan era of WWF wrestling as a kid, I totally bought Mickey Rourke as an 80’s wrestler – Hulk-A-Mania bleached locks and purchased tan, combined with his sharing of Randy “Macho Man” Savage’s first name and eye-blinding neon tights. Seeing his character “The Ram” have his own action figure and star in a Nintendo video game also helped create an authentic 1980’s nostalgia for me as well.
Seeing this protagonist cling to every last drop of his former steroid-fueled fame, while living completely alone in a trailer park that he can barely afford, is instantly heartbreaking. When he is not in the ring making himself bleed on purpose in a minimum wage “cut and paste” wrestling league, “The Ram” is just plain old Randy, swallowing his pride for a paycheck at a local grocery store. The guy’s past glory is such a non-factor at work that he can’t even get a nametag with his name spelled correctly.
When a heart attack and a doctor’s forbiddance against continuing his career of body slams and headlocks can’t even keep Randy out of the ring, we begin to realize that he is without his A-game and without a Plan B. He may live in a trailer home physically; but psychologically, mentally and emotionally the only comfort zone he will ever have is the wresting ring. “The Ram” is butting heads with ageism, his own mortality, hopelessness, isolation, desperation, debt, and most importantly – the brutal guilt and shame of abandoning his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
Randy may have be the painfully typical deadbeat dad that has turned Father’s Day into a virtually invisible holiday in America. But the honesty and gut-wrenching truth that Mickey Rourke elbows us with is a reminder that watching a grown man cry is still one of the hardest things to witness. Randy’s tears generate sympathy for the unworthy.
Even an aging ex-famous superstar wrestler should be able to at least have an also aging stripper drooling all over his biceps right? Not so much for “The Ram” though. Charm, compassion and good old-fashioned blue-collar sincerity is still required. Especially when it is a stripper that is aging as gracefully as the one played by the red hot, timeless sex symbol Marisa Tomei.
In a brilliant metaphorical exchange about music written by screenwriter Robert D. Siegel, Randy’s heyday in the 1980’s as a pro wrestler is mirrored with the MTV-approved arena rock “hair bands” of the same era that were also out to party – not to vent in a brooding fashion like “The Ram” is currently. It is almost like he is blaming Kurt Cobain, and the grittier new wave of rock, for raining on his parade and making his festive marching band sound like an outdated orchestra.
RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON: Goddamn they don’t make em’ like they used to.
CASSIDY: Fuckin’ 80’s man, best shit ever!
RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON: Bet’chr ass man, Guns N’ Roses! Rules.
RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON: Yeah!
CASSIDY: Def Lep!
RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON: Then that Cobain pussy had to come around & ruin it all.
CASSIDY: Like theres something wrong with just wanting to have a good time?
RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON: I’ll tell you somethin’, I hate the fuckin’ 90’s.
This further proves that “The Ram” is still living in the past, unable to except his limitations in the present. The same goes for Randy feeling like an alien when faced with understanding his daughter, her lesbian lifestyle, fashion trends and most other modern developments. If it doesn’t involve pinning someone down for a 3 count – it is a completely foreign concept to him.
RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON: The only place I get hurt is out there. The world don’t give a shit about me.
Like most of us, Randy would rather die in a world that would show up for his funeral. He would rather collapse in his own private community, enclosed in ropes and turnbuckles, than to prolong a lackluster life in retail service. Being polite and puckering up when customers give him their ass to kiss is not quite in Randy’s skill set.
RANDY “THE RAM” ROBINSON: When you live hard and you play hard and burn the candle at both ends… in this life, you can lose everything you love, everything that loves you. Alot of people told me that I’d never wrestle again, they said “he’s washed up”, “he’s finished” , “he’s a loser”, “he’s all through”. You know what? The only ones gonna tell me when I’m through doing my thing, is you people here. You people here… you people here. You’re my family.
With this monologue, “The Ram” is not addressing his fans; he is pledging his allegiance to his closest family members – those that love him for his flaws, his elder statesman status and his rugged unpolished demeanor. For his aggressive drive to find a real connection to the outside world, that he had been running away from and his unrelenting belief in the power of redemption – Randy “The Ram” Robinson is one mighty GREAT CHARACTER.
If you want a poster boy for the proverbial Protagonist with character flaws, Randy “The Ram” Robinson is your guy. What do you think of this character? See you in comments to discuss.
Thanks to Jason for this terrific analysis.