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February 18, 2009

Did We Miss the Religion of 'The Wrestler'?

S. Brent Plate of 'Religion Dispatches' apparently thinks so

In a commentary for Religion Dispatches, S. Brent Plate writes that our review of The Wrestler missed the film's religious references.

"How did reviewers from the New York Times to Christianity Today miss the obvious religious references in this Oscar-nominated hit? Did they blink and reach for popcorn at the images of a tattooed Jesus Christ on Randy's back, or was it more about the myth of modern individualism and body-soul dualism?"

But Plate's not done yet. He's just getting started.

"That many major US film critics (Ebert, Turan, Hoberman, Scott, et al.) praised Rourke's performance and ignored the religious dimensions shows how little, again, the news media has any clue about religion, except when something like Mel Gibson's Passion is stapled to their foreheads. Stranger still, even reviews published in explicitly religious venues - Christianity Today, Hollywood Jesus, Catholic New Service, and Plugged In - scarcely noted the religious symbolism teeming in the film.

"Catholic News Service seemed more concerned about the blood and pole dances than anything else, while Focus on the Family's Plugged In review was also startling in its absolute devotion to the sex, violence, and drugs of the film. Christianity Today's review makes one wonder why they even reviewed it in the first place, as it seems to indicate the film has nothing to do either with 'Christianity,' or 'today' for that matter."

Plate goes on to call Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky "one of the greatest living religious filmmakers."

Related Tags: Aronofsky, religion, The Wrestler


For what it's worth, one of the first reviews of this film that I came across was by SF Gospel blogger Gabriel McKee, and he makes a number of interesting points, such as this one:

It's not stated explicitly in the film, but the match against Necro Butcher is a "Bring Your Own Weapons" match, a staple of CZW (Combat Zone Wrestling) events in which fans provide the tools with which the wrestlers mangle one another. The barbed wire, forks, and thumbtacks that nearly kill the Ram are provided by the audience; this is participatory violence. In this context, the audience's chanting takes on the audience's role in a Passion play. "Crucify him!" is replaced by "F--- you Necro," but the end result is the same: the audience makes the violence possible (and necessary).

Marisa Tomei explicitly compares Rourke's character to Christ, running her fingers over his scars and commenting that "by his wounds, we are healed."

That Mickey Rourke did not get an Oscar for his truely outstanding 'being' a wrestler, will be an everlasting shame on whoever decides on who should win.