Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Wrestler and Slumdog Millionaire

As I mentioned in the last post, I've been busy getting ready for the coming semester. Even though classes haven't even started, work has been surprisingly stressful. Therefore, as usual, I've watched a lot of movies.

The Wrestler

This might be the best movie of last year. Don't get me wrong, The Dark Knight is still my favorite, but The Wrestler is one of the best pieces of cinema I've ever seen.

Superficially, the story is very simple. A former wrestling superstar is offered a chance for one last big match. However, this isn't Rocky II, not by a long shot. The Wrestler is one of the most frank depictions of professional wrestling and the cost of entertainment I've ever seen.

Throughout the film, we see wrestlers planning their matches and discussing how to manipulate the crowd. At the same time, we also see the physical toll these matches have. In one particularly disturbing sequence, we see the aftermath of a brutal hardcore match in which both wrestlers involved are left broken and bloody, their bodies full of staples and shards of glass.

The main character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, is so consumed by his need to hear the roar of the crowd that he has lost everything else. Played spectacularly by Micky Rourke, you can see the profound physical toll that years of wrestling have taken on Randy. Even after suffering a heart attack, Randy can't give up wrestling. His daughter hates him and he spends his meager pay from working in a grocery store on steroids, painkillers, and fake tanning rather than his rent.

What makes The Wrestler even more profoundly depressing is how real it is. The characterization of broken down entertainers, used up and discarded by society is sad enough, but even worse is the fact that the wrestlers and promotions depicted in the film (aside from Randy) are all real. Dylan Summers, who wrestles in the hardcore match in the film, does the same thing in real life. Some promotions are even touting the fact that they have wrestlers just like Randy "The Ram." As if that is a good thing.

I'm going to try to see The Wrestler again and I'll certainly buy it when it comes out on DVD. But while its amazingly well done, I don't think I'll be able to watch it very often. If you see this film, and I really recommend that you do, go on a nice sunny day and with a lot of friends. Alternatively, do what I did and see a much more uplifting movie right after.

Slumdog Millionaire

If any film could be the diametric opposite of The Wrestler, it would be Slumdog Millionaire. Probably the most uplifting film of last year, I am amazed that a film this good could be made using Who Wants to be a Millionaire as the basis for the narrative.

It's really difficult to categorize or summarize Slumdog Millionaire. Basically, its the story of a street kid named Jamal going on a game show to find his lost love. Flashbacks to Jamal's childhood and adolescence demonstrate how he comes to know (or not know) the answer to each question. In addition the film comments on classism, the emergence of India as a global power, and what people do in order to survive. While Jamal's story is incredibly compelling and dramatic, the film can also be genuinely funny such as the sequence where Jamal and his brother pretend to be tour guides at the Taj Mahal.

Despite dealing with a melange of topics, crossing multiple genres, and incorporating elements from two very different film industries, Slumdog Millionaire holds together really well. When I first heard about it, I thought the story sounded absolutely ridiculous. But it really works the result is one of the most vibrant and uplifting films I've seen in awhile. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Plus... there is a dance sequence at the end.

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