The Wrestler and Religion

Where's the meat?
Kelly Baker

Over at Religion Dispatches, S. Brent Plate wonders why didn't movie reviewers pick up on religion in Darren Aronofsky's film, The Wrestler. In "Pop-Eye: Meat the Wrestler," Plate argues that secular and religious reviewers overlooked religion because religion was material in the film. The spirit-body dualism that many take to be at the heart of some religions obscured obvious religious symbolism. Randy is meat. The body is where his religious suffering and devotion occurs. Plate writes:

More specifically, it’s curious how few religious-oriented reviewing outlets were able to see possible symbolic references to, say, Abraham and Isaac, Jesus, or others. So, I’m left wondering, did the reviewers blink their eyes, reach down for another bite of popcorn, at the images of a tattooed Jesus Christ on Randy’s back? Or the “Job” (pronounced with long “o”) inked into the skin of his middle finger? Or the white fleece vest he wears on his entrance into his final fight?

A couple of reviewers did pick up on Cassidy’s heated endorsement to the blissfully-ignorant Randy of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, exclaiming, “Dude, ya gotta see it! They throw everything at him: whips, chains…” to which a confused Randy replies, “tough dude.” Cassidy sees Jesus as a real wrestler, showing both her investment in the fiction of the violence, but equally her invested belief in Randy as a tough dude. Theirs is a physical Jesus, a body that could take it, á la Gibson’s Christ; unlike Gibson, Aronofsky’s tale is disinvested of tacky teardrops falling from the sky and cheap-trick resurrections.

The reason reviewers passed over the religious is not simply, I suspect, because of religious illiteracy, but because of the received wisdom of late-modern culture that continues to dwell on a body-soul dualism, with the soul in power, the body a mere marionette. Several of the religious-oriented review sites described Randy’s body in metaphorical terms: Randy’s heart attack was really a comment on his loneliness, a broken heart over his daughter’s estrangement and the utter lack of any other community. Reviewers persisted in maintaining this dualism, that the double identities Randy and Cassidy both share ultimately want to get to some core non-physical identity, some materially transcendent spirit, some individuality that is more about the myth of modern individualism than about anything religious. Therein they miss the (religious) point.


Anonymous said…
Hey Kelly
Thanks for the thoughts... I wonder what you see as being the proper way to understand religion materialistically... I find it much easier to forge a critique of dualistic thinking than to construct a more material approach.


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