Friday, March 8, 2019


Chloe Zhao’s Rodeo drama The Rider has a lot in common with Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Both films center around athletes who can’t let go of their respective dreams even at the behest of their doctors.

Hell - there’s even a few identical moments in both movies...

The Wrestler / The Rider
In the above images we see our protagonists having to resort to working at a supermarket in order to make ends meet (neither film paints retail/supermarket work as “less than”. It’s just a shock/wake-up call to go from having thousands of people cheer for you to ringing up groceries). There’s also that element of not knowing how to do anything else besides the sport you’re good at and having to adjust to “normal” life.

Both Rodeo & professional wrestling have a quite a bit in common on a basic level. While wrestling is a bit more popular (and sometimes more lucrative), both sports are dangerous and on the outside of the traditional world of Basketball, Football,Baseball & Hockey.

Watching The Rider unfold reminded me of a very specific (and very real) pro-wrestling story...

Daniel Bryan
In 2014, Daniel Bryan was forced to retire from the WWE (in his early 30’s) due to too many head injuries (much like Brady in The Rider). What hurt so much about Bryan’s retirement is that throughout his career he was told that he was too small and that he would never make it (Bryan’s physique is very different from traditional wrestlers like The Rock, John Cena and Triple H). Right at the very moment that Daniel Bryan proved everyone wrong (he won multiple world titles and was loved by casual fans & internet wrestling marks), he was forced to retire so he wasn’t able to really enjoy the spotlight that he worked 15 years to attain.
After getting clearance from various doctors outside of the WWE system, Bryan is now wrestling again (he’s the current world champion) and back in the spotlight. This worries me because he wasn’t given clearance to wrestle from various doctors for years and suddenly he’s able to compete again? What’s even more worrisome is that Bryan continues to take moves to the head. Am I the only one who thinks that’s a problem? If you weren’t able to wrestle for years due to head injuries, why would you go back to being dropped on your head? I think wrestling fans are so excited to see Bryan return that they haven’t thought about this. Or perhaps they have thought about it (I mean - how could you not?) and are just ignoring it because they want to be entertained.

Note the move Daniel Bryan takes at around 5:05 (keep in mind - this was a person suffering from too many concussions & head injuries prior to this moment)

and about a month ago - Bryan was on the recieving end of a botched move directly to his head (fast forward to about 2:04)...

Unlike Bryan, Brady has stitches and a metal plate in his head from years of abuse as a rodeo rider (this is established early on in the movie). As an added touch of realism - the metal plate and stitches in his head are very real as Brady was a former rodeo competitor who had to cut his career short for the same reasons as the character he plays in the movie. So while The Rider is a fictional film, it’s also damn-near autobiographical (Brady’s sister, father & friends in the film are played by his real sister, father and friends from the rodeo circuit). Also similar to Bryan, Brady has friends ( friend) who can absolutely no longer compete in the rodeo due to severe brain damage (Lane). True - Daniel Bryan doesn’t have any close friends with severe brain damage but there are quite a few wrestlers from his class/era that he came up with that can no longer compete because of permanent injuries.

The Wrestler
Daniel Bryan is, to some degree, on his way to being the real life Randy “The Ram” from The Wrestler. Both were given orders to not wrestle again. In Randy’s case he ignored the doctor’s orders and met his (probable) demise at the end of the movie (sorry but you’ve had 11 years to see The Wrestler so I’m not sorry if I spoiled it for you). In Daniel Bryan’s case, it was a difference in opinion from a few other medical professionals that allowed him to get back in the ring. I hate to harp on this point again but - if you’ve had a number of concussions to the point where you weren’t cleared to wrestle anymore - why would you get back in the ring (and take dangerous moves no less)? I’m not a doctor so maybe someone can shed some light on this for me.

Daniel Bryan (L) performing the same move as Randy in The Wrestler (R)

I understand it’s difficult to give up something you’ve worked so hard for. And I’m sure being in the spotlight with thousands of people cheering your name is also hard to let go. But at some point you have to stop and be realistic. Daniel Bryan has a daughter, a beautiful wife, money and lifelong fans. Why risk all of that to wrestle for another 10-15 years and potentially not make it out of your 60’s (for those of you that don’t know - making it out of your 60’s is somewhat of a rarity in the world of pro-wrestling).
Look at The Undertaker. I can’t be the only wrestling fan who gets worried every time he takes a hard bump in the ring (yes - The Undertaker still wrestles part time after two hip replacement surgeries and various other injuries from the last 30+ years).

Brady (The Rider), is still young (early 20’s) and has the opportunity to live a full-ish life outside of The Rodeo (I say “full-ISH” because no matter what - there will still be some medical issues he’s going to have to deal with later in life given the fact that he already has various brain injuries in his 20’s).
Instead of following down the same path as his friend; Lane, Randy “The Ram”, Daniel Bryan and countless others, he has the opportunity to step away from the sport that could very well kill him.

Outside of the rodeo angle, The Rider is one of the few films to represent Native Americans in a non-traditional way (Brady, both the character and real person, are part Sioux). We all know Natives don’t have much of a voice/representation in film. But they have even less of a representation in the world of sports. Think about it - White men are the face of the Rodeo. How many films show Native American athletes in a non-patronizing and/or offensive way?

The Rider is also subtly beautiful with shots that call back to both Terrence Malick and even Andrei Tarkovsky...
Solaris / The Rider

Badlands / The Rider

While The Rider is an excellent movie, it's one of those projects that can easily fall in to obscurity quickly (director Chloe Zhao is moving on to bigger projects as I write this), so if you haven't had a chance to check this out I highly recommend it.


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