Wrasslin’ With the Dying Fall


Last night was a movie night at home, and the late show was The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. The film garnered Rourke a best actor Oscar nomination and Tomei a best supporting actress Oscar nomination, and has been hailed as Rourke’s comeback role, and Rourke’s performance certainly deserves the acclaim it received.

I had wanted to see it since seeing clips of it during the Oscars a year ago. From the clips I recognized the film’s literary roots: it has a Raymond Carver-esque tone and theme. It concerns Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a professional wrestler resembling some cross between Hulk Hogan and Dog the Bounty Hunter, who saw his heyday in the eighties, and now only wrestles on the weekends. His slide from fame has taken him from celebrity to working as a stocker and at the deli counter of a grocery store.

The movie has all the elements of a Carver short story. A bleak wintry setting. (I was never quite sure where the movie takes place, although apparently it’s Elizabeth, New Jersey.) Trailer parks. A working class bleakness as Randy struggles to get by with the money he makes at his job and weekend wrestling gigs. Familial estrangement. In this case between father and daughter. Randy tries to redeem his relationship with his estranged daughter after a heart attack ends, or should end, his wrestling career.

The movie’s most noticeable literary element, though, is the “dying fall” that ends the movie. As the narrative moves along in the film it seems to be moving toward a Rocky-for-pro-wrasslin’ resolution, the sports hero/entertainer making a comeback when Randy quits his grocery store job and goes back into the ring for a triumphant bout. Tomei’s character even follows the wrestler to the ring. Tension builds. Will he go through with it though it may kill him? Or will he throw in the towel? Randy enters the ring. He battles his nemesis. He begins to clutch at his chest. He climbs the ropes. He leaps to finish off his opponent. Fade to black.

The dying fall, I understand, comes from music — it’s an abrupt fade out of sound. And it has been adapted to literary forms, including film.

My favorite fade to black is from Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which the wounded hero Robert Jordan awaits his fate:

“Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”

The novel ends. Just like this blog post . . .

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2 thoughts on “Wrasslin’ With the Dying Fall

  1. Great linking of that movie to literature, Todd. It makes me want to see it again. (I recall that Sean Penn beat Rourke for the Oscar, though, for Milk.) But it is a hard movie to watch because Rourke is so down and out and it so seemed to mirror his own life.

    • Thanks, Richard. The Wrestler was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, largely because of its literary elements. And Rourke’s performance was great.

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