So a week or two ago (or maybe three or four ago) I decided that I was going to sit down and watch The Wrestler. I sat there not quite sure what I was making of it all until it ended and I suddenly found myself strangely intrigued by the film and particularly by the two main characters.
Mickey Rourke plays this old Wrestler who used to awesome and is now old and touring round these little wrestling places with a few people watching as he seeks to trade on past glories. He's pretty incapable of letting go. His identity is found in his past Wrestling glories and he continues to love Wrestling. Money is tight now but Wrestling continues to be his great passion. He decides to try to make it back to the big time and goes on a regime so that he can recreate his great grudge match 20 years after the biggest fight of his career.
During this time he makes friends with a stripper. She refuses to build relationships with men as it interferes with her work but she starts to get to know and like Mickey Rourke. The problem is that as far as she is concerned she is a stripper and relationships are not on the cards.
In the midst of all of this Mickey Rourke has a heart attack and is told he shouldn't wrestle any more. What happens now is Mickey looks for meaning elsewhere in life specifically in family. he tries to rebuild his relationship with his daughter and to build a relationship with the stripper. Now that he can't wrestle he needs to find meaning, identity and pleasure elsewhere.
After a slightly lengthy plot description here is what intrigued me about the film. The film is ultimately about people's search for meaning, identity and pleasure in life.
The Wrestler finds his identity in wrestling. In being the best, in being famous in hearing crowd cheer.
The Stripper finds her identity in being attractive to men. In being successful, in being beautiful.
The problem is that these identity's fail to last. They both grow old. The Wrestler becomes to old to be the best. The crowds wane and he ends up trying to live on past glories. The Stripper becomes old and ceases to be attractive to the clubs clientele. She struggles to know what the next step is if she can no longer attract and interest men through taking her clothes off.
So they both look elsewhere. They look to relationships. The problem is that these prove to be equally unreliable. Mickey Rourke proves to be incapable of being the kind of family man he longs to be and successfully hurts both his estranged daughter and the stripper as he seeks to build positive relationships. The stripper finds it hard to relate to men and pushes them away before finding that actually Mickey Rourke is more committed to the adulation of the many than any relationship with her.
The film ends with Mickey Rourke, unable to find meaning anywhere else, in ring wrestling his arch nemesis as crowds go wild and his heart finally explodes. Unable to find any identity outside of wrestling he is effectively willing to die to maintain that sense of meaning and elation which that moment brings.
You see this is what we do. We say finding identity in wrestling is stupid. Finding identity in family is good. Finding identity in stripping is bad and we grade the things we pursue and the things we allow to motivate and mould us. What 'The Wrestler' does brilliantly is it shows the unreliability and destructiveness of all these things.
We live for Wrestling and our body fails us and we are left with nothing
We live for Stripping and our attractiveness wanes and we are left for nothing
We live for family and we sin against them and the relationship is poisoned
We live for family and they sin against us and the relationship is poisoned.
We live for family and we die or they die and the relationship is over.
We live for the adulation of crowds and the crowds get bored.
We live for the adulation of crowds and we pursue destructive measures in an attempt to keep it.
We label these things respectable and unrespectable when actually they are all just insecure and often destructive ways we strive for some identity, some meaning, some purpose, some sense of importance, some sense of joy and like the Wrestler in our film even though they fail us we can't leave them behind. We continue to pursue them despite the fact they have not brought us all the things we so desired and hoped they would.
As I look at my life I see a man who finds it easy to pursue things which bring me a buzz, which energise and excite me, which make me feel important but which I know have failed me many times in the past and will fail me in the future. Jesus' promise is that identity, meaning, importance and joy are found in him welcoming us into his family. We now are his children and ageing and death and even sin cannot destroy or damage this. Society might think Family = Good, Stripping/Fighting = Bad but the truth is all too often these are both hopeless attempts at seeking identity in things which cannot cope with the rigours and reality of the lives we lead. If you would take a few minutes to look at those things you run round after I wonder if they would be up to the life you are going to lead?
Clear the Stage
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