robertisenberg

The Role of a Lifetime: 4

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Photograph of Eric Donaldson, actor, musician and stand-up comedian; Dave Wheeler, musician.

Or take The Wrestler, where Mickey Rourke is also a broke outlier who spends his only cash on booze and strip-clubs. His body is a wreck, he’s hard-of-hearing, his daughter is estranged (and grows to hate him even more as the movie proceeds), and the only thing that keeps him going is a hackneyed career in pro-wrestling. As if living in a van in a New Jersey trailer-park wasn’t enough, Randy “The Ram” Robinson staples himself, smashes his head with windows, and pumps his veins with steroids, all for a little scratch. The lesson: It’s better to die gloriously in the ring than live as a loveless, part-time deli clerk.

These characters have a lot in common: They once lived “well,” but they made terrible mistakes, and now their lives are effectively over. Like Ben Sanderson, they all struggle with addiction and their bank accounts are empty. They have failed, and unless they make some critical decisions, they will keep failing. When we meet them, they’ve been clinging to the end of their rope for some time.

Let’s be blunt: The Roles of a Lifetime are inherently un-American. These people are whiny, clingy, desperate, and irresponsible. They have no marketable skills and they wallow in self-defeat. The Role of a Lifetime explores failure, which is the very thing Americans most abhor, and we’re asked to empathize with ugly strangers, which is doubly off-putting. We’re loathe to watch a vivid portrayal of someone crashing and burning – but this is why Roles of a Lifetime are so revered. The actors live out our biggest fears, with incredible realism, on a large screen, in the dark. They prey on our discomfort, the way horror movies tinker with our disgust. We don’t want to show sympathy for freaks and antiheroes, but we do. And that’s why we praise them.

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