all about the body / by mrm

I know that all my news is old news, but I just saw The Wrestler. I think that unflinching is overused as an adjective at the moment, so I'll settle for calling it extraordinarily clear-eyed, or perhaps unblinking.

Yes, the acting is fantastic and the film is entertaining and suspenseful - that's all well and good and true and I don't want to belittle any of it for a moment - but I'd like to take that as read, and move on to what truly fascinated me about this film. I don't know much about professional WWE wrestling that I didn't learn from the film, but the portrayal of gender behaviors and expectations, of American youth-worship and celebrity culture was what I found surprising and insightful.

This isn't the only film about men fighting in rings that I've seen recently; a few weeks ago I saw Fat City, which I enjoyed for its gorgeous washed-out color, its spot-on acting, and rambling yet well-crafted dialogue. It was not particularly generous towards its female characters, however - while it exhibited a profound sympathy for the tragedy of masculinity, the impossibility of maintaining the standards of the hyper-masculine ideal with age, it seemed unwilling to extend an equal regard to the women of the film. The Wrestler, however testosterone-fueled it may be, is well aware that the conformity and inflexibility of strict gender roles ultimately benefits no one. Furthermore, it shows that the achievement of the gender ideal is like the line on a bell curve - some points may be closer than others, but it will stretch out to infinity without meeting zero. Perfection is tauntingly, terribly, eternally out of reach. The film illustrates the despair this creates, the impossibility of any outcome besides failure. It also critiques the frantic USAmerican chase after youth and youthfulness, our cultural rejection of aging. It portrays the desperation, the almost-groveling willingness to please that stems from a sense of the feminine that is based exclusively on sexual attractiveness to men. Finally, it depicts the transience of fame, and the almost helpless, heedless, and oddly heartbreaking pursuit of celebrity that seems to guide so much of contemporary life and culture.

Talk about your pleasant surprises.