While I would not consider myself a diehard professional wrestling aficionado (I can’t detail past matches, tell you minute details about every personality or even keep track of who is who nowadays), there was a period of time in my life when I did follow what was then known as the WWF. My personal heyday of wrestling was long enough to involve personalities like the Undertaker, Macho Man, Sgt. Slaughter and Hulk Hogan, but ended before the real glory years of the Rock or Stone Cold were exploding. I wasn’t there for the very beginning of Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ career, but I saw a significant chunk of it.
As I got away from my wrestling fandom, however, the fates of these wrestling personalities became a mystery. Sure, you knew what Hulk Hogan was up to thanks to reality TV, but the lives of many an ex-wrestler became rumor (read up on the Ultimate Warrior for some examples). While I never really knew what happened to Jake the Snake, I’d heard that his life had taken a turn for the tragic and sad at some point. Honestly, if pressed prior to seeing Steve Yu’s The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, I probably would’ve guessed him dead.
Which would not have been all that far off. His body damaged by years of wrestling, drugs, drinking and generally hard living, the Jake the Snake we meet at the beginning of this documentary is a shell of his charismatic self. Save for the mustache and gravely voice, it’s hard to tell that the guy you’re looking at used to be one of the most electrifying personalities in wrestling. He can barely move, and his mind is a mix of self-doubt, self-delusion about his problems and the ever-present memories of both better and worse days.
But then his friend, and former protégé, Dallas Page, checks in on him, and offers Roberts the opportunity to train and get clean with him at his new home in Atlanta. Roberts takes him up on the offer, and begins the journey back to health. As the film shows, however, it is a long road, fraught with setbacks and turns.
Roberts has his good days, when his personality shines and you understand why so many were drawn to him, and he has his bad, where he’s falling off the wagon and bullshitting anyone who will listen about it. His chaotic emotional journey is matched by the tribulations of his physical self; shaping up and getting healthy is not easy when your shoulder is busted and your hip is betraying you. But he powers through, with the help of his friends.
Which is of major importance in the resurrection and redemption of Jake the Snake. While the overly cynical might see this as a feature-length infomercial for DDP Yoga (the main exercise method Page utilizes to help bring Roberts, and others, back into shape), even that view can’t discount the caring and brotherhood that exists that made Page reach out in the first place. And it’s not an isolated incident, either, as Page also reaches out to ex-wrestler Scott Hall, in similarly poor mental and physical condition, offering the same help that Page gives Roberts. For all their self-improvement to work, Hall and Roberts have to be heroes in their own story, but so too is Page heroic throughout.
From an audience standpoint, the film can sometimes feel repetitious as Roberts succeeds and fails depending on the day, but that is because it so accurately reflects the trials of addiction. Every day is different, some will be far better than others, and that battle will continue until death. The hope, as someone who is now firmly in Roberts corner rooting him on, is that he will remember, just like his story didn’t end when he originally stopped wrestling in the WWF, that the personal strength he re-discovered through this process won’t also cease to be when the cameras associated with this revival disappear.