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Interview: Darren Aronofsky

Ring cycle
By PETER KEOUGH  |  December 24, 2008

081226_darren_main

Review: The Wrestler. By Peter Keough.
Darren Aronofsky might deny it, but he almost died for a metaphor.

At the end of the shooting of the director's The Wrestler, in which Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Rourke insisted that Aronofsky and everyone else in the cast and crew imitate his character's trademark move, the "Ram Jam." It involves diving — arms outstretched in a cruciform position — from the top rope of the ring onto one's prostrate opponent.

Aronofsky did so, and the result was a visit to the ER. But, injuries aside, isn't the maneuver a reference to the Crucifixion? And isn't the film itself a messianic parable, with Marisa Tomei's stripper love interest a not-so-veiled Mary Magdalene?

Ever coy, Aronofsky, who has played the cinema-metaphor game in Pi (1998) and The Fountain (2006), isn't saying. Or is he?

What happened with the "Ram Jam?"
On the last day of shooting, Mickey was like, "You got to leap over the top ropes," and after 35 days of shooting, I was all stiff and cold and out of shape, but I just did it. Ran back, hit the ropes, came running, leaped, I made it, except for about that much of my boot, hit the rope, and went straight down to the ground. I got an MRI, but I'm fine now. It was some type of neck thing.

Speaking of pain: is that guy with the staples [a gruesome scene involving a staple gun, barbed wire, and broken glass] an actual . . .
Yeah, that's the Necro Butcher. I highly recommend everyone YouTube him. He's kind of this underground American cult hero. He's a top-billing marquee name in this world, and he's just known for doing crazy stuff. Most of which we never even showed.

Are those real staples going into Mickey Rourke?
Can't give away movie tricks.

Is it safe to say, though, that the Ram suffers for our sins? You have the reference to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. And there's the Christ tattoo'd on the Ram's back.
Well, the Christ tattoo is just a tattoo that Mickey actually has.

Nonetheless, there seems to be a religious sense in the film.
That's for you to say, my friend. But there are definitely some Christ references going on in this one.

How about the Marisa Tomei character? Why is she a stripper? Couldn't she have been a dental hygienist or something?
Believe me, you know, when you've got an independent film and you put a stripper in it, a lot of red flags go up. Not only because it's difficult to cast but because it could easily be a cliché. But the more we looked at it, the connections between a stripper and wrestler were just so fascinating. They both have fake names, they're both up on stage, they both create a fantasy for the audience, they both wear spandex. And more important, time and age are their great enemy. Eventually, they're going to have to stop doing it, because their bodies can't do it anymore. There's this whole line between the real and the fake. Mickey doing something fake in the ring, but that's become his real world. Marisa, meanwhile, is really strict about keeping her real world away from the fantasy world at the club. And the way Mickey's character mixes it up and Marisa's character is fighting to keep it straight was just an interesting counterpoint, or whatever you call it.

Plus he's alienated from his child and she isn't.
Right. So there was a lot of that, and it just made a lot of sense and kind of worked, and so even though we looked for something else to do with it, there was just nothing that worked. And in reality, most wrestlers when they're done with a gig go to the strip club.

On the other hand, strippers don't go to wrestling matches when they've finished their work.
No, they don't, unless they're performing in them, because there are actually a lot of strippers who work the wrestling circuit.

Both performances are objectifications of the body for the purposes of a spectacle. One's an objectification of suffering and the other is an objectification of pleasure. I'm sure you've read Roland Barthe's two essays on wrestling and on the striptease, and that's what inspired you.
No, I never read them.

Is there going to be a Wrestler 2?
We'll see how this one does.

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  Topics: Features , Darren Aronofsky , Mickey Rourke , Marisa Tomei ,  More more >
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