Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sex and Violence & "The Wrestler"

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sex and Violence & THE WRESTLER

Most porn is about as titillating as a Yule log on a loop, which is why I never watch it. Except if I happen to be flipping channels on a Friday night, when World Wrestling Entertainment broadcasts its “Friday Night SmackDown,” a steroid-enhanced, S&M-laced, hard-bodied orgy of enormous proportions. It’s long been my fantasy to sit ringside, to smell the virile sweat and gape in awe at the blown up muscles, so freaky they’re sexy, akin to any porn star’s massively inflated tits. The homoerotic, dominant man on dominant man action, each bulging star vying to become the ultimate top, to slam his rival to the mat and make him his bitch, drives me wild. To this day The Rock’s “The People’s Champ” still ranks right alongside the remake of “Casino Royale” as my favorite gay porn.

So naturally I breathlessly awaited the press screening of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” starring Mickey Rourke – who decades ago honed his S&M chops in “9 1/2 Weeks” – as Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Suffice to say that Aronofsky is gonna do for Rourke’s career what Tarantino did for Travolta’s – regardless of the fact that Penn most likely will win the Oscar for “Milk” – in spite of the film’s melodramatic mediocre script, so heavy-handed it makes Dustin Lance Black’s unsubtle “Milk” seem nuanced. Robert Siegel’s Screenwriting 101 predictable writing is livened up only by Aronofsky’s playful, often handheld, camerawork (and high-flying editing, though that too is coming close to turning into a humdrum Aronofsky tic). Fortunately, Rourke’s performance is both believable and respectful of the professional wrestling world. And yes, that ripped, sweat-and-steroid-built bod is as hot as The Ram’s one-night-stand’s firefighter fetish (which I share – if not her penchant for beefcake, “Firefighters like it hot!” posters on the bedroom wall).

But Aronofsky and Siegel missed a lightning rod opportunity to make the film both sexier and deeper by neglecting to use the character of the worn out stripper Pam, a.k.a. “Cassidy,” (played by the go-to actress for worn out cougar roles, Marisa Tomei) as a cautionary mirror to Rourke’s past-his-prime wrestler – showing that those who make a living off their bodies, the pleasures of the flesh, for too long eventually sell themselves off piece by piece. In fact, “The Wrestler” would have a stronger, much more realistic and engrossing story at its heart if Pam suffered from what’s termed “pole addiction.” For the truth is that most women still hustling at Pam’s age are “stuck” doing so as a result of their overwhelming need for the spotlight as much as for the money – i.e., the same affliction suffered by The Ram. After all, the thrill of exhibitionism inherent in both professions is one and the same, a point completely lost on the filmmakers.

For pro wrestling is just another part of the “spectacle of flesh” industry – its choreographed violence, set to a thumping soundtrack and performed by near-naked bodies in the ring, every bit as outrageously carnal as near-naked bodies writhing to loud music on a tittie club stage. So it should come as no surprise that those attracted to both lines of work are lured for similar reasons – as are its audiences. The semi-simulation of both violence and sex is so gloriously taboo that those who dare to do it are (devil?) worshiped, the recipients of ego-stoking adulation – if only for a night. But then one night of the ultimate aphrodisiac is more power than most people experience in a lifetime.

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