The themes of Holy Week are powerful. But we have heard this story of cross and empty tomb so many times that its power can sometimes be blunted. God gave artists gifts that enable us to see new things in these old, old stories. Here’s a work of art that can help bring alive what Jesus did for us on the cross: the 2008 film by Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler. This film is the story of Randy “the Ram” Robinson, a washed-up, has-been wrestler who is now wrestling on the weekends in small venues for small bits of cash, while working in a grocery store during the week days. Randy has mangled his relationship with his only daughter and is virtually unconnected to anybody.
Except for a stripper named Cassidy (or Pam in real life). They have befriended each other and share a genuine affection for each other. The film’s parallelism in the portrayal of their two worlds–the strip club stage and the wrestling ring–is impeccable. The violence and nudity are not for everyone, but I for one appreciated that there was nothing leering about the portrayal. Rather, I found myself wincing, recoiling, and mourning the deep loss of humanity each character experienced. For Pam, there is the mangling of God’s created intent for her femininity and her beauty as she parades across the stage. For Randy, there is the loss of God’s created intent for him as a masculine warrior. Both cheaply sell some of the deepest aspects of the masculine and feminine soul. The most precious parts of their humanity become a commodity to be bought and sold.
Still, they share a few real moments. Something authentic. They both advance toward it and pull away. The difference between the real and the fake is clear but we as human beings are often drawn toward the familiar, even if it is far worse, even if it is frightening, even if it disfigures who we are meant to be.
Early on in the film, Cassidy looks at Randy’s wrestling scars from the mangling he has received in the ring and she begins to quote Isaiah 53,
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.
When Randy asks Cassidy what that is all about, she tells him she has seen the movie The Passion of the Christ and that it is about Jesus taking a beating through the whole movie and not responding to the violence but just taking it. They agree that Jesus is one tough dude, something along the lines of the toughest wrestler of all time.
Carrying the Fallen, Violent Urges of Humanity
But I was struck by what this movie told me about our fallenness as human beings. It is so hard in this day and age to explain to people why Jesus had to come. But Randy and Cassidy/Pam show us the reality of fallenness to the depths. They show “we are in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves.” They try to move forward and make changes but find themselves reverting to their familiar brokenness.
But here’s what really struck me: Randy takes upon himself the violent inclinations of all of his fans. Because that’s what wrestling is about: the fallen, violent urges of sinful humanity being poured down onto two people in the ring vicariously. The weight of these violent inclinations is a crushing load, which is why wrestlers get into steroids, have their lives revolve around violence, fail at personal relationships and so on. No human being can carry the weight of all of our violent inclinations just as no woman can carry the heavy weight of our misguided sexual desires. These loads are heavy and too much for anyone to bear.
Why Jesus Had to Come
This is why Christ had to come. Our destructive urges, our sins, our fallenness, our bondage must be carried by someone with the capacity to carry them, to be crushed by them and to rise again from beneath that load of death and sin. Jesus Christ is the one who we mangled and crucified. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. In Jesus Christ, we have freedom from all that binds us. Because He carried the weight of our Old Adam fallenness in His body, we are made new…we have become the New Adam. Hallelujah. Amen.
Photo credit: IMDB.com