The Sacrificial Ram

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In one of the early scenes of The Wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) shows off his scars as Cassidy the stripper (Marisa Tomei) responds with sympathy by whispering, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brings us peace is upon him and by his wounds we are healed.”

“What’s that all about?” says Randy.

The Wrestler“It’s from the Passion of the Christ.  For the whole two hours they throw everything at him and he just takes it.”

“Huh.  Tough dude.”

If it wasn’t clear before this scene, it’s in that moment made plain that this is a movie about much more than simply the comeback of an aging wrestler.  Like director Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, it’s a hard film to watch.  It’s about guilt and self-destruction and the often horrible emptiness of being human.

Rourke’s character is a man that’s hard to look at but equally difficult to look away from.  He’s scarred and bruised and wrecked by a lifetime of pro wrestling.  Drink, drugs, and steroids have all taken their toll and now he’s a failure, living in a trailer, unable to pay the rent, unable to maintain relationships, and looking to salve his loneliness down at the strip club.  Yet he’s a legendary wrestler with his own video game and action figures, and he’s humble, likable, and so often noble and gracious that I found myself desperately wanting him to succeed.

It’s this spark of genuine goodness in the character that makes it so difficult to watch when Aronofsky shows us his wounds.  He cuts himself in the ring, he lets another wrestler use a staple gun on him and tear him with barbed wire and through it all the “Ram” comes up smiling as if with each cut and each drop of blood he can somehow atone for his disastrous life outside the ring.

In the ring he’s Randy the Ram but outside it he’s reduced to grocery store clerk, Robin Ramzinsky—his real name.  His life is a constant struggle to bring those two aspects of himself together or to keep them apart and his belief that wrestling defines him is the central lie of his life even though he can’t see it.  When he makes mistakes and things begin to fall apart, his answer is to retreat to the ring to hurt himself and those around him until in the end he believes that the only place he can find salvation is in his own pain and destruction.

It’s heartbreaking to watch him fall, both in the ring and out, but it’s even more painful to see him get back up because he’s the saboteur of his own life and we know it.  As he climbs into the ring for the big match at the end of the film I wanted to plead with him to stop, to make him understand that he doesn’t have to do it anymore.  He doesn’t realize that no matter how much he bleeds it will never be enough.  He doesn’t know that someone else has already been cut and pierced and bled and suffered so that he can live in peace.  The Gospel of “The Lamb” is that Randy is an illusion and Robin Ramzinsky never needs to go back into the ring again.

The ultimate tragedy of the film is that Randy the Ram wants his sacrificial rite to be seen as an act of courage when the reality is that he’s running from his life rather than owning it.  He’s giving in to the clamor of the crowd because he’s not strong enough to let himself or anyone else try to forgive him.

Aronofsky has crafted a brilliant work in The Wrestler.  It’s a moving and authentic look at the things we do to ourselves and to those around us when we can’t reconcile who we are with who we want to be.   When the theater lights come up, we are, each one of us, like Jacob, and even Randy the Ram, wrestlers of conscience and identity.

I recommend this film with the greatest praise but I also have to caution you that it is certainly not for everyone.  Not only is there a lot of disturbing bloodshed in the ring, but Marsia Tomei’s stripper is portrayed very frankly.  There is a lot of nudity and while it’s every bit as important to the film as Rourke’s exploitation in the ring, it is definitely going to be distracting to some viewers.

If you can handle it, don’t miss it.  It’s a film for the ages.

wrestler

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


29 Comments

  1. Joanna

    Thank you for this review. I recently saw this film and felt similarly about it. It was devastingly sad… so frank, so honest, so in touch with the essance of human failure… it was impossible to watch without feeling the mirror turned on oneself and the various arenas in which we each fail stubbornly and repeatedly. Thank you for engaging the culture and for a well-crafted and insightful review that looks beyond potentially offensive moments for the striking truth this film revealed. Its worth a viewing, for sure.

  2. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    “The ultimate tragedy of the film is that Randy the Ram wants his sacrificial rite to be seen as an act of courage when the reality is that he’s running from his life rather than owning it. He’s giving in to the clamor of the crowd because he’s not strong enough to let himself or anyone else try to forgive him.”

    Agreed. This gets to the point of the film. And man, what a film. Pi is still my favorite Aronofsky film, but The Wrestler isn’t far behind. Like Requiem for a Dream (probably the hardest film to watch I’ve ever seen), I don’t think I’ll be watching this more than once every couple of years. But, like Requiem showing the destructive power of addiction, The Wrestler illustrates powerfully other ways we try to avoid really living, other ways we try to make our own atonement.

  3. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Thanks for the spectacular review, Pete. The angle you fleshed out (pun unintended), using the Passion of Christ quote as a means for interpreting the rest of the film, is perfect. Well done.

    The Fountain was a beautiful film but didn’t succeed like The Wrestler or Requiem for a Dream (which I viewed in an indie theatre that is now, sadly, boarded up). Darren Aronofsky’s work is always fresh and compelling. Pi was another great film. And he’s just getting started, really.

    I respect those that heed your warning to avoid this film if their sensibilities might be offended. It is difficult to watch. The scenes with his alienated and angry daughter or the scene in which—starved for companionship—he begs the neighbor kid to stay with him to play video games, are almost as hard to watch as the barbed wire and staple gun scenes (that’s gotta hurt). The physical pain The Ram suffers is like the emotional pain Robin Ramzinsky suffers outside of the ring, inflicted by others, but also self-inflicted. It shreds him and he bleeds. Mickey Rourke is probably a long shot to win the Actor in a Leading Role, but he deserves it as much as anybody.

  4. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    I’m taking it for granted that Rourke will easily win the Oscar. I’m not sure what it means to win anymore, but I do think it’s his year. If Heath Ledger could be in another category besides Supporting Actor, then I’d wonder. (Dark Knight was Heath’s movie, after all– wasn’t it?) But as things stand, I’ll be shocked if the powers that be award the Oscar to anyone else.

  5. Matt

    The buzz is actually stronger for Sean Penn in some places than Rourke, but it’s one of the two for sure.

    And this was my favorite movie of the year by a longshot. Or by a body slam. Whichever applies.

  6. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Pete wrote:

    You really think he’s a long shot? I thought it was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

    Rourke’s performance was easily one of the best of the year, if not the best. But remember that the performance is only part of the equation. It’s not a pure choice on the part of the Academy. Politics and the bottom line are also major considerations.

    First, don’t count out Brad Pitt. He’s the star of a big studio release with twelve other nominations. Momentum, influence, and money might give him assists. And Sean Penn plays a gay character in Milk (a spectacular performance, I might add). Forgive me, but gay is hip—almost politically correct—in Hollywood these days. How many Academy members want to see Sean Penn give that speech? Not to mention, the Academy often favors chameleonic performances over those of actors who embody (not mimic) their characters. I’m picking Sean Penn, but hope I’m wrong.

    We’ll see.

  7. Todd Hollback

    Friends …
    “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

    “…for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,” saith the Lord, “and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” — II Corinthians 6:14-18

    We do not “engage the culture” by going to movies. We engage the culture by speaking the Truth into other lives, one heart at a time.

  8. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    “One for the ages” is right. The Wrestler is truer to the spirit of Greek tragedy than any movie I’ve ever seen. Randy the Ram is Samson Agonistes, the washed-up strong man who destroys himself for the entertainment of a leering mob. Pete, you’ve done a great job capturing the essence of the movie. As you say, it’s extraordinarily carnal (in every sense of the word). I considered writing a review, but I only got as far as the title, which would have been “The Way of All Flesh.” I’m glad you succeeded where I failed, Pete.

  9. Seth H.

    Just got back from seeing the movie for the second time, and it was just as astounding as the first. There’s not much I can add that you didn’t touch on in your review (which was spot on), but I did notice this time that The Ram has a tattoo of Christ’s anguished face on his back. I didn’t pick up on it before, but it certainly plays into the same themes that you were talking about. All of Aronofsky’s films involve a spiritual journey of some sort, and this one is no different. Definitely the best of the year for me. Glad you loved it as well.

  10. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

    That’s an excellent list of reasons why I recommend this film so highly.

  11. d.d. ritterbush

    After reading your review above, I found myself quite interested in seeing the film as I am always interested in writers/directors who use art to instruct and not merely entertain. But after reading descriptions of the film elsewhere and learning more about the images it contains, I can’t really see the benefit of putting all of it together in my mind.

    If I may ask, how do you all quantify the benefit of films you watch? What does this film supply one’s soul, which cannot be gotten more purely elsewhere?

    Forgive me if these are questions placed in the wrong portion of this page…forgive me, too, if they seem pointed. I just hate to think we may be swallowing a little (or a lot) of poison just to taste the regurgitated questions of an untrue world…questions we have been given the Answer to. I also wonder if we forget how saviour depictions in stories and films might be taking away from the reality that is Christ Jesus, rather than somehow adding to it.

  12. Jonathan Rogers

    Hey, D.D.–
    I don’t know if Pete has seen your questions, so I thought I’d address some of them. You’re right to ask them…it would be a mistake to go blithely (and unreflectingly) into a movie like this one. And, as Pete said, this movie isn’t for everyone; I feel a little self-conscious defending it.

    Like you, D.D., I’m extremely leery of Christ figures in movies and books. Rarely do they contribute to anybody’s understanding of Christ. But Randy the Ram isn’t a Christ figure in this movie. There are obvious nods toward the suffering of Christ (nobody who has seen both The Wrestler and The Passion of the Christ could miss the parallels between Randy’s bloody staple gun/barbed wire match and the scourging of Jesus in Mel Gibson’s movie). Nobody is claiming, however, that Randy’s suffering and humiliation has any redemptive purpose. It’s just suffering and humiliation, and the comparisons to Jesus serve to exaggerate its emptiness.

    The purpose of tragedy, according to Aristotle (wasn’t it Aristotle?) is to arouse pity and terror. The Wrestler arouses more pity than any movie I’ve ever seen–and probably more terror too. That’s not all it arouses, of course, but I have to say that even Marisa Tomei’s bumping and grinding is more tragic than titillating.

    You may ask, D.D., whether tragedy is a worthy use of our time and emotional attentions. That would be a fair question too, but perhaps not one we want to delve into in the comments section. If you share my assumption that tragedy–in its arousal of pity and terror–is useful, then that’s where I would start making the case that The Wrestler is a good use of your time. The movie doesn’t offer answers (though Aronofsky seeks more than entertainment, I wouldn’t say he uses art to instruct), but it does portray big existential questions that people ask, and even though I, like you, believe in an ultimate answer to those questions, it still did me a lot of good to see what the world looks like from the perspective of someone who can’t see that answer. It was terrifying and pitiful, and it enlarged my heart to look at the suffering–even the self-inflicted suffering–of a washed-up wrestler and an aging stripper.

  13. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    It’s my hope that the Rabbit Room is precisely the place for those kind of questions and no one ought to shy away from asking for answers to things they don’t understand or don’t agree with.

    My answers may be of the long and rambling sort so bear with me and if anyone else has something more or different to add I hope they’ll do so.

    How do I quantify the benefit of the films I watch?

    The best way I can tell you that is to tell you how I watch movies (or participate in any form of storytelling). When the lights go down, I empty myself of all my preconceived notions of the story I’m about witness. Storytelling is for me something very spiritual. I wonder if stories are not the most sacred form of communication. After all God’s primary form of communication for most of human history has been in the form of storytelling. Even Christ himself chose stories (parables) as a prime part of his ministry.

    Some people who have been to the movies with me can attest to the fact that when the lights go down and the show begins, I get misty-eyed, I’m hungry for it, desperate for it, stories nourish my soul like no other art form.

    But a story well-told isn’t enough. The nourishment needs to be fulfilling, it needs to be healthy. It needs to edify. Everything is permitted but not everything is beneficial, right? So I try to open my mind to what the film-maker is telling me and I have to weigh the import of the message I’m receiving with the method in which it is conveyed. If I feel the subtext (meaning) of the film isn’t healthy but the grammar it’s using to communicate is relatively harmless, I may stick it out and try to ignore the underlying message of the film. A good example would be something like maybe V for Vendetta–it’s a fairly well made film and more or less harmlessly entertaining but I disagree with some of its politics, ergo, I wouldn’t recommend it but I also wouldn’t care much about persuading people away from it.

    Sometimes films mean absolutely nothing and for this type of film I have very little tolerance for offensive use of the medium. A good example is Shoot ‘Em Up, a well made but absolutely base film with no redeeming quality. I wish I had walked out of it, I should have walked out of it. It’s to my discredit that I didn’t.

    You also have films that are wonderfully crafted and are accessible to almost anyone–films like Forrest Gump or Wall-E.

    Some storytellers, however, betray their story by sacrificing the integrity of the narrative to reinforce what they are trying to say. Films like Rendition, or The Day After Tomorrow, or Facing the Giants. Nothing turns me off to a movie more than finding the writer or director’s political or religious bias stamped across the narrative. Even if I agree with his position, he’s tainted the story and that’s a very difficult betrayal for me to get past. Whatever it is that the storyteller is trying to say must, must, must be intrinsic to the world, voice, and lives of the characters.

    Then you have movies conveyed with very powerful and sometimes offensive images and words. This is where we find The Wrestler, amid company like Magnolia(profanity and some vile characters), Gladiator (violence), Dogma (profanity and a slew of other issues), Requiem for a Dream(drug use, sex, profanity), even Gran Torino(profanity, racism). While receiving any story I’m constantly making a judgment on whether or not I trust the storyteller enough to let him take me somewhere I’m uncomfortable with in the hope that the journey will be worth the struggle. If I’m not willing to trust that the journey is one worth taking, I stop watching, or never watch in the first place. I’ve never seen Brokeback Mountain although I have no doubt that it is an excellent film. Why? Because I’m not convinced that it is a story I need to hear.

    Now the amount of trust that a person allows a storyteller is something that’s going to be different for everyone. It’s going to vary based on their fluency with the grammar of film. It’s going to vary based on their level of maturity (kids vs. adults). It’s going to vary based on their relationship and understanding of the Holy Spirit. One may eat meat while another may not. I have a close friend that, out of respect for his wife, will not look on the image of a naked woman. I think that’s beautiful and I honor the limit he’s placed on himself. Everyone has to come to terms with their own limits through prayer and relationship with and the discernment of the Holy Spirit.

    Personally, I find many images of nakedness incredibly beautiful. I think we honor God’s creation by considering the wonder of the human form. But there is certainly a line. Pornography isn’t honorable to anyone. The point at which nakedness becomes pornographic though is not easy to define. For some people it’s undoubtedly better for them to avoid the dilemma completely. For others, otherwise. As Christians I believe we need to extend a certain trust to one another that our often differing levels of acceptance of certain things are honestly come by through prayer and discernment. By all means we ought to ask questions and rebuke one another when necessary as well.

    So what does this film supply to my soul? I can tell you in great earnestness that more truth was revealed to me and my need for and love of Christ was made more clear to me during the two hours of The Wrestler than I’ve known in most of the church services I’ve been a part of.

    Now this isn’t going to be the case for everyone. God has wired me in such a way that stories, especially ones like this, speak to me in a very powerful way. They illustrate clearly how broken we are and what great need we have of Christ and in the case of The Wrestler what terrible lengths we go to in search of atonement when we cannot bring ourselves to forgive ourselves and be forgiven and redeemed by the blood of Jesus.

    When I see Cassidy the stripper, a woman of dazzling beauty, debase and cheapen herself and then through the experience of being simply loved realize that she is more important and valuable than the cash thrown on the stage, I’m moved and I remember that even the most lost of us are worth loving. And it is also important that this is a case in which the director of the film very successfully communicated that the scenes of nudity are not sexual in nature, but are a demonstration of the self-loathing and self-destructive nature of the character’s actions. The scenes are not sexy, they are sad and heartbreaking.

    For me, there is no purer way of communicating than through the telling of a story. A story speaks in a way that a lesson plan or a sermon or sometimes even a bible verse cannot. It is no mistake, I think, that the Bible is filled with great stories. It is no accident that we call the Gospel of Christ, the Greatest Story Ever Told. The biblical text is filled with tales of the most terrible and hurtful poison. Rape, murder, incest, genocide, lust, the list is endless. But we don’t study these stories just because we think they are true, do we? We study them because we learn from them. We learn about ourselves, about our God, about our world.

    I hope I’ve been clear. I want no one to think that I take lightly the depiction of the sinful nature of man in film. But I’m also very aware that each person has different boundaries and it’s very important to me that I do not cause another brother to stumble when I recommend a film. If you doubt that the frank nature of this film would be something beneficial for you to see, then by all means avoid it.

    But I also hope, that if you have read some of my posts, and film and book reviews and have agreed with me and have a similar love of story and film, that perhaps you will extend your trust when I recommend a film like The Wrestler that you may otherwise have shied from. I hope that if you choose to see it, that you will see in it what I have and that you will be edified by it and built up and grow deeper in your understanding of the importance of the blood of Christ.

    And if you choose not to watch it, then I honor your discernment.

    There have been some discussions of similar topics here in the past that you may find interest in.

    Andrew Peterson on the use of foul language in film and otherwise:

    http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=600

    Ron Block on sin in movies:

    http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=605

  14. Caroline

    Pete,

    Thanks for this review, and for your reasoning on why to see such a film.

    While your review paints an epic picture, and the film sound worthwhile, I think I will sit this one out as I am not sure I would be able to handle the violence. Requiem for a Dream was very, very difficult for me to watch, and I’m not convinced that I took away any benefits (I certainly didn’t need to be convinced that addiction is unhealthy). It still disturbs me when I think about it.

  15. kevin

    It is stuff like this that makes me come back to the RR time and time again. Real discussion. Thinking. Tis a beautiful thing.

    Let me throw my hat into the ring by speaking to only one aspect of the film, the aspect that would certainly keep me from seeing in it’s full form, and specifically to Pete’s rationale about it. The sex/nudity.

    “Pornography isn’t honorable to anyone.” Don’t you love it when somebody quotes you and then uses them against you? I do mean this in the kindest way. If the scenes of nudity are of stripping, or sexual, what is the difference between that and porn? My guess is that “The Wrestler” just isn’t as cheesy or as graphic as a porno flick, but that’s it. The point is still the same.

    Sex is different than language, which really is relevent to the “meat” discussion. The NT meat and bad language, with likely exceptions to God-references, really are just cultural. Some could eat meat because there really was nothing wrong with it, but if they thought there was, it was wrong to them. The sin would be disobedience, not the eating. Profanity is the same, s*^t is not inherently evil in itself, it’s just got a cultural taboo. Sex is not so.

    I think we take a huge chance when we watch a sex or stripping scene and call it appreciation because the scene itself is tainted. Modern movie scenes are not the same as the OT accounts, they are far more graphic. It’s like we are standing there watching the scene, and there’s almost no difference between us watching it and actually being there. I doubt anyone would say that it would be ok to observe the agony of a stripper’s life by going to the club and watching her do it. Nor do I think the OT writers would have suggested that we observe visually Tamar’s rape in II Samuel 13. Knowing that it happened and reading about it briefly are different.

    My suggestion and practice is this: If I can, I avoid films that have female nudity. (shoot, if I wanted to see a naked man, I could just look in the mirror.) Depending on the length and type, and the film quality, we may try to determine when it happens, and then look away while fastforwarding, next chaptering, or more likely, avoid it altogether. We watched 300, and my wife fastforwarded the stinky parts while diverting. (Wasn’t worth it.) Specifically though, I don’t think it’s worth what you’re soaking into your head to see the futility of a stripper’s life. You can get that idea from the rest of the movie when she’s not stripping.

    I’ve always thought the whole idea of Christian liberty/deference if the most difficult for the guy who doesn’t think the other guy should eat the meat. That’s because to him, it’s not a matter of Christian liberty, but right and wrong. In this area, I don’t think it’s a matter of personal preference. We should do what we can to avoid watching sex scenes. Everybody.

    Of course we all have to make decisions on this stuff, and we all do make those decisions, I just think you’re playing with fire, brother.

    PS- How cool would it be if these discussions could be had in person? But really, I so thank the collective YOU who post here. I don’t have anything like this where I live.

  16. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    First let me be clear. There is no sex in The Wrestler. I largely agree that ‘sex scenes’ are unnecessary to the film medium and there’s rarely anything beneficial to gain from seeing them.

    300 is a perfect example, that scene was completely gratuitous, it added nothing. All it accomplished was to make me uncomfortable.

    Where I disagree with you is in equating sex with nudity. There is nothing inherently wrong with the naked human body. Any sinfulness associated with it is something that we bring to the table with our own sinful nature. Note that I’m not calling sex sinful, it’s not, the misuse or misplacement of it is.

    So this is where people’s limits are going to be different. Seeing Marisa Tomei acting the stripper was never at any point arousing to me, it didn’t tempt me. What I took away from it was the story (I’m very critical of the use of such imagery and if I thought the movie would have been better without it I’d say so, I think the movie would have suffered without it, though). That’s very different from sitting in a strip club where the supposed goal of being there is arousal. As I said, some people ARE going to be aroused and tempted merely by the sight of nudity, and for those people it’s undoubtedly wrong for them to indulge that.

    “My guess is that “The Wrestler” just isn’t as cheesy or as graphic as a porno flick, but that’s it. The point is still the same.”

    I don’t see the comparison at all. What separates pornography from art, I think, is intent, on the part of the creator, and the effect it has on the viewer.

    The Wrestler satisfies neither of those things, it’s very clearly not intended to be arousing and it certainly doesn’t have that effect on me, nor on many others. For those it does affect that way, it’s not a movie they should be watching, hence my warning.

    There are a lot of cultural issues that complicate the ‘nudity’ question like why is it ok to see it in art that’s three hundred years old but not in art that’s three years old, or why do other cultures not regard nudity sexually, or why is it okay when it’s a black women in africa, but I don’t have time to offer any thoughts on that. It’s time for me to head to work.

  17. s.d. smith

    Great discussion. I know we’re likely all at different places, but it’s nice to have a forum where thoughtful, considerate people can discuss it.

    I tend to agree with Kevin, that there are no circumstances under which I should be viewing the actual, personal nudity of a woman (who is not my wife), whether by means a of a camera, or in person. Written descriptions are quite different, in my view.

    And briefly on that point: I don’t want to be so accustomed to seeing nudity in a non-sexual way that it becomes a canvass to portray many other emotions/themes (like tragedy, horror, sadness, etc). I think we lose something there.

    There is a glory there which I think is best left inside the glorious arrangement it is designed for: marriage alone. I don’t say this as a prude (as I don’t think this is God’s intent) but as the clearest avenue to the glory of God and our deepest joy (which are always, eternally, linked).

    I humbly submit these thoughts as some one who does not have it all figured out, and still prays for discernment in this area with great regularity.

  18. Pete Peterson

    I have to make a correction. There is a brief sex scene in the film. It doesn’t involve Marisa Tomei so I wasn’t thinking about it.

  19. Tony Heringer

    Pete,

    Thanks for the review. This story jumped out at me when I read about it and saw the previews. I think Mickey Rourke is perfect for this role. I don’t know if I’ll see it – uncut that is. While we may disagree over film choice, I greatly appreciate the clarity you gave on your position for choosing film.

    You framed your position very well. I agree with the power of story — especially in this culture. That could be a post off by itself – wait a few months a repost it under the title “Is Blog Recycling Green?” 🙂

    You reminded me of a book I’m taking some guys through: “(Re)Thinking Worldview” by J. Mark Bertrand. In it the author talks about “Engagers and Discerners”. These are generalizations of the Christian community in America, but they are good ones and hold up for the topic at hand. Here’s an excerpt that would support your comments on film choice:

    “The Engagers are all about getting involved with what’s going on around us, and they typically look for ways to appreciate and understand the world in Christian terms. The Discerners are all about measuring cultural expressions against Christian norms and are usually searching for ways to screen books and films for objectionable or uplifting content.”

    [Both] trajectories can carry you into uncertain territory. Engagers can try so hard to find redemptive themes in a culture that they end up christening some pretty questionable stuff. Discerners, on the other hand, can flip out over the bath water and forget the baby, calling things unclean that God would not. Some critics guard against these predilections better than others. I think it is safe to say that each pole sees its opposite in the ascendant. Engagers think discerners are calling the shots in the evangelical world, while discerners see themselves as the lone knee that hasn’t bowed to Baal in a subculture full of engagers. (These fears, in part, are what draw thinkers to the fringe of either category.)”

    That last line is parenthetical to the book but a perfect sentiment for the Rabbit Room. This place is inhabited with discerners and engagers who are being drawn out to think and appreciate why it is important to be both discerning and engaging.

  20. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    I too would like to commend you all in this discussion. This is one of the only respectful conversations on where the lines should be drawn for the Christian that I can remember reading. It’s hard to live in a broken world and tell the truth about that brokenness well. This conversation is a good example of this being attempted with dignity.

  21. Mark L

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I did attend Summerslam a few years ago in Boston. There was a match between Mick Foley and Ric Flair with thumbtacks, barbed wire and similar malicious paraphernalia. It was amazing and it was sad. There were two washed up wrestlings taking harder bumps than I could imagine. I wondered why they would put themselves through it all and if they really needed to prove what it was they seemed to be proving. I wonder if part of the reason they subjected themselves to such torment was because they were willing to do whatever it took to stay in the spotlight. Maybe being bodyslammed into a bed of thumbtacks was their way of securing a legacy. As one line from a song puts it, maybe they’re scared we’ll all forget them when they leave. And maybe we will forget them. We’ve forgotten most of the other dead wrestlers. All men are like grass and their glory fades. How can you hold onto a mist or vapor?

    This is a bit off topic, but isn’t it kind of funny (or sad) how so many discussion places on the internet turn into insult slug-fests. I’m sure that part of the reason is because it is easier to tear people apart online than to their face. I mean, if it is to their face you have to more easily realize that it is a real person with real hopes, dreams and hurts that you are going after. I, too, appreciate the empathy and effort to hear each other out before speaking. It is a good example of what can and should differentiate discussions of Christ-followers.

    Pete – I don’t think my eyes can handle the same things that yours can, but I am glad you posted this review and look forward to reading whatever you put out. I love getting your fresh, rather than regurgitated take on things. Even though we’ve never met, I consider you a good friend. You may enjoy this similar article on the Wrestler topic as well: http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?section=magazine&id=3773747

  22. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    The description you give of “Engagers” and “Discerners” to me sounds a whole lot like my next “Two” post.

    In both mindsets the solution really is having a deep relationship with Christ – Christ who indwells us and is available to us at any moment, for anything we need.

    For Engagers, the question isn’t so much, “Should I do this” but really “Is this who I am – God’s definition of me?”

    For Discerners, I think the question is similar but more pointed: “Am I reacting out of fear – fear that I can’t be of the world nor live in it? Do I really believe Christ lives in me and is my Keeper? Do I rely on His keeping power, or am I trying to keep myself – and keep others by Law-ing them, by putting big fences in a 400 foot diameter circle around a particular sin?”

    I have been both.

    The power of sin is the Law. Like Last Temptation of Christ, sometimes Christians drive others to go see a movie rather than stay away from it. Seems the only ones who pay attention to the fence law are others who are interested in fence laws.

    Either way we lose. Legalism, or license.

    Righteousness is by grace alone through faith alone.

    Ron

  23. sd smith

    Thank you all for all the thoughtful comments. I am benefiting from hearing from you.

    I agree Ron, there is a deeper heart and identity issue at stake. But would you differentiate between building a fence around a sin, and building a fence directly where sin is?

    For instance there are numerous, explicit commands of particular sins to avoid in the NT. I would call fences at those points necessary.

    Of course we are often helped by fences further out where we are particularly weak, and most men (everyone I have ever known) are very weak with sexual temptation. Like armor at our weakest points, we should be wise knights. But we do want to be mature enough to be less dependent on those fences to help us as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord. And we want to be able to not have those very helpful fences for us become measures of the righteousness of others (something I see many brothers here doing with great grace and kindness extended to one another). Raging, violent drunks should probably avoid beer altogether, and that’s not the end of the world. That is simply using wisdom.

    But obedience to law as an avenue of grace is poison to the Gospel-centered person. That is legalism. Legalism is not simply keeping rules -or even loving/valuing rules. For instance: “I am going to eat more vegetables! –a good rule. Legalism is riding obedience apart from faith as a way to gain merit with God, a way of gaining personal standing. This is the danger.

    Rules are good. The RR has some rules, and so does every family, every church, every functioning group and individual on earth. Rules are like anything else, a good thing with potential for danger. Like sex, beer, music, the Internet, and even the Bible.

    I think the recent fad of being against all rules, or seeing all rules as legalism, is behind a dangerous contempt for the authority of God as it flows in all its manifestations of authority in our lives. We are too often rebellious and idolatrous, believing our autonomy is prime.

    The Gospel is humbling news…with beautiful ramifications for the submissive hearted with no standing of their own. God be merciful to me.

  24. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    Cross posting? Is that allowed? 🙂 I’m looking forward part 2 of “Two” but I don’t think these two subjects are exactly related.

    The terms from Bertrand’s book, they seem to describe the sentiment articulated by Pete in explaining how he chooses films. It’s not cut and dried when it comes to engaging our culture. Discerning when to put up a stop sign or advising others to do so is a big deal. Pete made it clear that he is not being frivolous in his consumption of film. That made me think of that section from “(Re)Think Worldview.”

    I don’t see these terms as necessarily negative. I think we all fall into these two camps at one time or another and likely for one area of life or another. None of us, in this life, is perfectly mature but growing toward maturity, if in Christ. In other words we are discerning and engaging at differing levels and that leads some to sin (miss the mark) and others to trespass (to go beyond what God requires). That’s all I had in view here.

  25. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    S.D.,

    Speaking in an optimal sense – for the faith-centered person, God’s Law becomes promise. The Thou-Shalt-Nots that command become the Thou-Shalt-Nots of promise – God keeping His word to us, in us, through us. Thus Christ in us becomes the answer to every temptation. If tempted to lust, He is our Purity; if tempted to impatience we thank Him for being our Patience.

    When I see Jesus in the gospels, I see a man without fence laws. He doesn’t seem to recognize sin as having any power at all, nor does He seem to give a rip what the neighbors might say. He doesn’t stay away from loose women. He doesn’t run away from wine; in fact He goes out of His way at the request of His mother to turn water into that alcoholic substance. He hangs out at parties and with swearing, bragging fishermen; He lets all His anger loose upon the self-righteous.

    So, when I see this optimal Christ-ian, I don’t see Him reacting to rules. I see Him walking in the Spirit because He knows as a settled fact that of Himself He can do nothing. Now, we Christians go around saying how we’ve got to “imitate Christ,” but I don’t see a lot of imitation of that attitude: “I am totally helpless without God living through me, so I’m not going to trust my finite human self to keep itself; I’m trusting Him to keep me and live through me.”

    It is precisely this attitude the Church in general is lacking – the attitude of actually faith-ing in the Biblical statements of our real identity in Christ, and stepping out in that total faith attitude.

    If God says I am dead to sin, I am dead to sin. If God says I am dead to Law, I am dead to Law, meaning I no longer have to “do good and avoid evil” by my own effort. Instead, I am to walk in the Spirit, to abide, to enter His rest, to totally trust Christ in me to live through me as if it were me living – but it isn’t me living, because I am dead and my life is now hidden with Christ in God.

    So what that means for me personally is I take situations as they come. I don’t log onto R-U-A-Real-Christian.com to determine how many cuss words, nude scenes, and heresies are in each movie so I can prayerfully determine whether or not it will damage my relationship with Christ (I’m exaggerating for comedy’s sake). Instead I look at a movie, and if it looks like a story that is beautiful, inspiring, or funny, but may have a Legally-questionable scene or two, I’ll watch the movie. If I sense that certain scenes are going to awaken elements of my flesh that I’d rather keep asleep, I can forward. I did that with Beowulf (a movie I wished I hadn’t wasted my time and money on). What I don’t do is make one rule for everyone.

    And another thing I don’t do is keep telling myself every day what an awful sinner I am and how hard it is not to sin and oh these besetting sins are so hard to kick and man, I’m just a sinner saved by grace.

    Because it really is totally easy not to sin. It isn’t even a secret – it’s openly proclaimed in the Word. All we do is abide – rely on Christ – rest in Him – see Him in the mirror. “He that abideth in Him sinneth not” says 1John. That abiding will guide our actions in relation to any movie we watch.

    So I don’t need a fence even around the sin. There were potential sin-pits all around Jesus and He walked right over them just as if they didn’t exist, like walking on water. He refused to recognize sin as having any power over Him whatsoever, and it just vanished every time. That’s the thing that freaked the Pharisees out all the time; they were so damned sin-conscious that Jesus drove them nuts acting like that.

    And yes, definitely an AA member doesn’t need to be having a beer at a party; as a friend of mine says “God did give us a brain.” There are times in our lives where we use crutches until damaged legs heal.

    Of course I’m not telling anyone to dump their fence laws and go watch porn for Jesus. What I am saying is for anyone who hears me to get so in touch and in tune with that powerful Savior and Lord that lives inside each of us as believers – the Christ that we are filled full of, and complete in; the Christ who has washed, justified, and sanctified us – the God who delights to use us as His assets. When we begin to really know like Jesus that in our human selves we can do nothing, and that the God who created the universe now lives inside each one of us, and then trust Him to be our life, He does it. When we abide there we walk on water. “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

  26. kevin

    To be clear here:

    I did not mean to come across as saying that Pete is sinning for watching a movie with nudity in it. I am saying that I think it is poor judgement to watch a nude scene in a movie when you can easily avert your eyes. I just don’t see the need can possibly outweigh the dangers.

    Sure, Jesus hobnobbed with the prostitutes and sinners, but did He hang out in the temple in Corinth where the prostitutes were plying their trade? What we see is that the sinners got His message and felt their need of it, and the Pharisees didn’t.

    To Pete’s authorial intent: I haven’t seen the movie, so maybe this whole discussion could end depending on the presentation of the scenes. I agree that there is something to be said for intent. There is a difference between a topless native, a 500 year old painting and a sex scene. I’m operating on the assumption that a movie about a washed-up wrestler and a stripper probably doesn’t have the neutral kind of nudity or sex scene in it. That’s why I said I don’t see how the nudity would be different than a porno. (And native or old painted nudity can be a problem too, but that’s not what we are talking about.)

    We have to use our brains about this, I agree. My brain is just on the side of avoiding something that has potential disastrous consequences and really doesn’t have any fruitful meaning. I can easily avert my eyes or fast-forward, so that’s what I do and would suggest.

    Good discussion.

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