Mickey Rourke’s loss at the Oscars was not a surprise, but it had nothing to do with his much-criticized decision to work at a pay-per-view for a wrestling company that he himself has disparaged for not allowing its performers to unionize, among other issues. Rather, Rourke’s loss was all but guaranteed because the film he starred in had nothing to do with the prevalent social agendas of the day in Hollywood. The flavors-of-the-month this year at the Oscars were curry and milk, mixed in with the corpse of a dead actor.
Rourke is in good company with his loss at the Oscars to an actor who put on a far inferior performance in an overrated film. Rourke joins the likes of Morgan Freeman, whose powerful performance in The Shawshank Redemption lost out to the flavor of the ’90s, Tom Hanks, in a film that has not stood up to the test of time, Forrest Gump (Hanks also won the year before, beating out another person Rourke should consider himself to be in good company with, Liam Neeson, for Schindler’s List). From an earlier era, Rourke can stand proud with the spirit of the late Peter Sellers, who inexplicably lost for his triple role in Stanley Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, while Rex Harrison won for My Fair Lady.
Indeed, Rourke can stand proud next to his co-star, Marisa Tomei, who was overlooked for her performance in The Wrestler, against an actress who certainly did a good job, Penelope Cruz, but whose performance came no where near the acting triumph of Tomei.
Since the ’90s, the Oscars have ignored some of the most important films and performances in cinematic history. Most famously, the Oscars all but ignored Pulp Fiction in 1994, while handing out the majority of the awards to Forrest Gump. Today, the majority of film historians agree that the Tarantino film had a far greater impact on filmmaking in the world than the Robert Zemeckis formulaic trite did. The losers at the Oscars are far more influential these days than the winners, so Rourke can take pride in that, as well.
Rourke and Tomei were not pinned to the mat by superior talent; they lost out to political interests, of which Oscar voters have always prostituted themselves out to. Wrestlers and strippers are not politically correct professions, but they are a part of our society, whether the Academy likes it or not. Characters like The Ram and the countless professional wrestlers that Mickey Rourke channelled through his compelling performance are just as much heroes to millions of people as any assassinated city councilman are. But Oscar voters do not like having their stereotypes challenged. This can be seen in their embracing of Slumdog Millionaire, a film that perpetuates the negative stereotype of India as being a land of starving street urchins who can only survive in the World’s Largest Democracy by winning a game show, and through cheating, at that. The Oscar voters could never accept that India is one of the world’s most important economies, and that President Obama himself has acknowledged it as a world power to be courted. Hollywood spotlights a film that portrays another nation as full of unemployed slumdwellers, while turning a blind eye to the rising unemployment and new slums on the rise in their own city, let alone country. The respected Times of London columnist Alice Miles called it “poverty porn.”
She is right: the singing and dancing in Slumdog Millionaire is just a smokescreen to cover up these questionable portrayals of India, just as the singing and dancing in Disney’s Song of the South tried to cover up the racism of that film: it should be pointed out that the songs in that never-to-be-spoken-of film were just as catchy in as they were in Slumdog Millionaire.
The Wrestler just could not compete, as it was neither a politically-correct film, nor a film that perpetuated cultural stereotypes. All it was was an honest film. Both the film and Rourke were up against those things, and a lot more (including the fact that he wasn’t dead, like a Jonas-brother clone who won for an overhyped role). As in most years, this year’s Oscars were as rigged as a professional wrestling match, and there was no way Rourke would win the title. Again, he stands in good company, if one looks as other wrestlers who were denied the World Heavyweight Title in major matches: Rowdy Roddy Piper, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, the late Owen Hart, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, and many others. If Rourke can be compared with men like Piper, he can go home knowing that his name will be remembered for decades to come, transcending the need for any Oscar (or Heavyweight Title) to put him over, while Sean Penn’s undeserved win (for Milk) should be rightfully compared to the wrestling championship title reign of David Arquette.