What one notices first about the film is the consciousness which is borne from the stripped-down cinematic style---the grainy, hued, hand-held, and gritty look that Maryse Alberti (one of the first females ever to be nominated for a Best Cinematography Academy Award) gives to the story to create that raw human emotion which breathes life into this motion picture.
In the opening scenes, the audience is not given the privilege of seeing the Wrestler’s (Randy “The Ram” Robinson [Mickey Rourke]) face. Instead, in an obvious documentary fashion, the audience follows “The Ram” through doors to the dressing room, out to the ring, into his van, and to his trailer, etc. The audience’s curiosity builds up: Just how old and used up does this guy look?
The creators behind this movie, Darren Aronofsky (the director) and Robert Siegel (the screenwriter), take a risk in the first section. For the most part, the audience is not allowed into the world which “The Ram” inhabits until after one of the most brutal scenes ever filmed on camera takes place---a savage scrap between the Wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), and Necro the Butcher.
By now, it is known that “The Ram” struggles to pay rent, sometimes lives in his van, continues to wrestle in community centers because it is what he knows how to do for pay, knows someone who can give him work for a little pay but not a steady job, has a past with a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) at a strip club which he regularly goes to, and is alone in his existence.
Knowing that the wrestlers discuss backstage before the match what they will do to each other to create the best show, it’s a bit nerving to hear the word “staples” when Necro responds is asked by “The Ram” about plans for the match. Before it can fully sink in that the upcoming match is a match far different from the classic wrestling matches of the 80s which “The Ram” owes his notoriety to, a bloody, gut-wrenching match involving glass, steel, staples, barbed wire, and more takes place.
The masochism is piled on as the editing sequence shifts from the ring to “The Ram” being cleaned up by a medical team afterward and back to the ring several times. If one can see through the bloodshed to the pain and anguish of the scene, it’s one of the most human moments of the film. Every gash, every cut, every gush of blood, and every fall twists you.
Is it empathy or sympathy one feels as “The Ram” staggers away from where he was being treated and trembles by the locker? The audience is at the peak of “The Ram’s” painful but sometimes glorious existence for a strung-out moment before he collapses and is found in a hospital bed and it is revealed that the peak of his painful existence may be experienced again and again but from now on without the glory.
He has had a heart attack. “The Ram” looks on with fear and dismay. A man whose life may have been shattered before is now truly shattered. Doctor tells him he can no longer exercise like he has been, he can no longer take all the drugs or enhancements for his body that he takes regularly, and he can no longer wrestle.