Editor’s note: Travis Barrett of the Kennebec Journal is ranking his top 10 sports movies of all-time. No. 10 on the list is “The Wrestler,” a 2009 film starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, and can currently be streamed via Amazon video services. Rourke earned a Best Actor nomination for his performance.

What’s in a name? For Robin Ramzinski, it’s the symbol of all his failures as a functional, meaningful human being in a society where curveballs from family, from work, from personal relationships are hurled at you over and over and over.

Most people don’t know who Robin Ramzinski is. That’s the given name of the protagonist in Darren Aronofsky’s 2009 “The Wrestler,” one of the grittiest sports dramas ever produced. For Robin, he’s just fine with the outside world never knowing who he is.

The person Robin wants you to know is Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a formerly decorated professional wrestler who carried championship belts, graced the covers of magazines from coast to coast and had his image recreated thousands of times over as action figures and other collectibles.

The Ram is intoxicated by his legacy — as well as plenty of booze and pharmaceutical cocktails aimed at keeping up the facade — inside his insulated wrestling world.

Why wouldn’t he be?

Though that world of his has shrunk considerably by the time we first meet The Ram, once numbering thousands in giant arenas and now dwindling to a few dozen inside old American Legion halls. Smaller scale, perhaps, but The Ram is beloved for his ability to appear larger than life, to both inflict and absorb punishment to a long overtaxed body, to inspire the adolescent dreams of anybody who wanted fists of fury to rise above whatever oppressed them.

Outside of those confines, however, Robin Ramzinski is a disaster.

His adult daughter won’t speak to him, a relationship brutalized over the years by Robin’s prioritizing his pretend world over the real one of family and commitments. He returns from wrestling at a show that paid him only a few dollars — fewer still, after the promoter pays him less than promised when only a few people showed up to watch in a local beer joint — to find his landlord has locked him out of the mobile home he rents because of he’s lagged behind. Despite knees that hardly bend and a heart that’s giving out from decades of punishment and abuse, Robin continues to wrestle against his cardiologist’s warnings.

So disgusted by his real name and his very real-world problems, The Ram becomes miffed at being forced to wear a name tag reading “Robin” for his job behind a supermarket deli counter — a name ripped straight from his W-2 paperwork, according to his boss.

Robin Ramzinski isn’t the only person who’s name is a disguise in “The Wrestler.”

Cassidy, played so expertly by Marissa Tomei, is an exotic dancer at a club The Ram frequents. The two befriend one another, with The Ram regaling Cassidy with stories of his wrestling life (albeit slightly aggrandized) and her dancing along for money as he does.

On a daytime date to a local vintage clothing shop, a reluctant Cassidy insists on being called by her real name, “Pam,” while the two are out. It’s a staggeringly simple scene, but one which eloquently sums up the differences between the real world Robin and Pam struggle to navigate and the make-believe one where Cassidy and The Ram make their respective livings.

There is no happy ending to “The Wrestler,” befitting a film that is extremely difficult to watch at times with its beautiful brutality shot almost documentary-style to lend it an added layer of gravitas. 

As his life falls apart, The Ram decides he’s going to lace up the boots again for a 20-year reunion match with the arch-nemesis of his 1980s wrestling heyday. The very real possibility exists he will not survive, because his heart is simply holding on by a proverbial thread. Dying to the roar of a few hundred people holding onto a bygone era, just as he is, is a better option than living the dull life of Robin Ramzinski — and it’s one he cannot face.

Sports doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Life doesn’t always have a happy ending, either.

What “The Wrestler” forces you to face is whether it’s better to die under a false pretense, a “fake” wrestling battle, or to live with the struggle that comes with growing up, growing older, and having to say goodbye to your past.

Pam comes to the realization that she’s willing to live as her true self. In self-deceptive fashion, The Ram believes his true self is the character he created in a fictional universe.

At the end, it’s all about his name. He doesn’t have much else left.


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