During the late 1980s and early 1990s, my brother and I (and later my youngest brother) counted ourselves as rabid professional wrestling fans, not differing much from other boys in grade school and junior high at the time.
Wrestlers were–and, in some ways, still are–cartoon characters, acrobats, carnival barkers, outlaws, and court jesters all rolled into one. They were superheroes and supervillains in the flesh. No amount of brutality, no amount of damage could keep them down.
Professional wrestling is fake. The matches are planned and scripted. As children, we knew this. Adults would love to scoff at the matches on television and remind us of that fact. Did we care? No. The ability of wrestlers to enchant an audience and dispel its disbelief with characters and stories testifies to the performers’ skill as craftsmen and the inexplicable power of the medium itself.
When the WWF rolled into the town, our father would take us to the Erie Civic Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. All the males in the household—our father, my two brothers, and I–would pile into the car and make the two-hour drive to that struggling former manufacturing hub on the shores of Lake Erie (You might ask or add: Which one? There are so many.). We saw many of the great wrestlers of the era: Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Ted Dibiase, the Hart Foundation, the Rockers, just to name a few. However, we never watched one of the more magnetic and influential figures in professional wrestling: Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
After his heyday in the 1980s, Jake Roberts succumbed to alcoholism and addiction. His physical and mental health unsurprisingly deteriorated. He grew isolated and lonely. Then, an old friend came calling and helped Roberts pull himself up and find a purpose to his life. This is the subject of the recent documentary The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.
Former wrestler-turned-yoga-guru Diamond Dallas Page (DDP) and his business partners tracked down Roberts to his modest home in Texas. Roberts was overweight, drinking heavily, using various drugs, and estranged from his family.
DDP offered Roberts a room in his house, colorfully named The Accountability Crib, in Atlanta, Georgia. Then, Page began training Roberts in his yoga program, getting him to eat right, helping him raise money for health insurance, and building the structure for him to address his psychological problems and addictions. Not surprisingly, Roberts was not always the ideal student. DDP caught Roberts drunkenly wandering through the Atlanta airport; DDP’s younger partners found themselves entangled in heated, almost violent altercations with Roberts.
The documentary largely follows the template of fall and redemption established by VH1’s Behind the Music. However, it does offer something far beyond that and something not just for wrestling aficionados.
As the narratives unfolds, DDP opens the Accountability Crib to another grizzled, beaten wrestler, Scott Hall. Roberts lends a hand in the reform of Hall. At this moment, the crux of the story becomes clear. This is not about the seedy underbelly of professional wrestling or the sick voyeurism of watching a human train wreck. This is the story of a band of aging, broken tough guys coping with the loss of their fame, celebrity, and physical prowess and their struggle to find new meaning in their lives. How do you define or envision a future once you’ve lost your long-held cherished identity? We shall all face this challenge at one or several points in our lives.
While bunking at the Accountability Crib, Roberts designed and planted a flower and kitchen garden for his fellow residents. In the above video, Roberts describes his passion for gardening and its gift of peace to him. The Amish believe that tilling the earth provides one with a glimpse of Eden and of God himself. Maybe Roberts found that as he tended his garden.
At its heart, The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is an unusual look at a group of friends propping up each other through the failures, disappointments, and tragedies inevitable throughout life and discovering that joy and possibility still remain. Isn’t this what we all should wish for?