What I like about this film are its moments of raw, human desperation. This is certainly something typical in Aronofsky’s other films, like Requiem for a Dream (2000), which I’ve mentioned in a previous post. I think the strongest examples of this raw, human desperation in The Wrestler, have to be found in two scenes: first, the flashback to the 14-minutes-ago scene in the wrestling rink when The Ram was going up against the Hillbilly-looking wrestler with all of the ladders, staple guns, tacks, barbed wire, and glass; and second, when Randy-as-‘Robin’ reaches his breaking point in the Deli.
In regards to the wrestling match, I will hand it to Aronofsky for ‘preparing’ the viewer for the brutality by showing a prior match where The Ram cuts himself on the head so he will bleed, and so the match will appear more real. Well, it was real blood, so it was real, but there was still an element of staged spectacle in that match. Nonetheless, it was real blood, and it was a precursor to the later, more brutal scene with the Hillbilly. Even before the actual scene comes, Aronofsky once again attempts to prepare the viewer for what’s to come by having the Hillbilly ask The Ram if a staple gun is okay to use during the match. So the viewer is thinking it’ll just be a staple gun. But, it isn’t. It’s much worse. And the lengths to which both wrestlers were willing to go for the spectacle (or in The Ram’s case, for the love of his audience) are truly pitiful. The viewer gets the same feeling about this scene, as he/she does with some of the terrible scenes in Requiem for a Dream when we get to witness the lengths to which Marion (Jennifer Connoly) will go for her heroine. Both scenes show the exploitation of the body for a gain in some way. Both scenes show moments of human desperation. Both scenes invoke, in the viewer, a sense of pity for the character(s) involved. Marion exploited herself for heroine and The Ram exploited himself for audience admiration. I mean, that’s fine and all, if that’s your thing, but to watch it unfold should remind the viewer that life isn’t all peaches and cream for everyone.
The second scene, in the Deli when Randy-as-Robin is recognized by the customer and he is going back and forth getting the potato salad amount perfect for the old lady, is a reminder to the viewer that Randy is self-destructive by nature. His willingness to go to the extreme of slicing his own finger on the meat-cutting machine as a rebellion against his past submission to the ridiculous authority of the grocery store manager (thus, as a metaphor for trying to hold down any real job) is a reminder that Randy The Ram is pretty much cut out for the wrestling circuit and all its self-destructive demands. It was icing on the cake that in classic The Ram style, Randy smears his own blood all over his face as he’s tearing his way through the store, making himself fierce, a fighter. This is reminiscent of something you might see in Homer’s The Iliad with Ajax/Aias or Sarpedon blazing their way through a jungle of bodies, mowing them down, and wearing their victims’ blood as trophies. In Randy’s case, his own blood is his trophy. A striking image, actually.
But! I think Randy submitting to the authority of the sleazy grocery store manager (who clearly has a Napoleonic complex of sorts) is ultimately the same as submitting to the nature of the audience’s authority that a wrestler must accept when his impetus for success is ‘win the audience at all self-inflicted costs.’ Both are humiliating in their own ways, and both remind the viewer that there’s maybe no escaping getting caught under this machine.
Ultimately, it’s sad that Randy tries to reconnect with his daughter and she severs their relationship. And it’s sad that despite all the work it took Randy to get closer to Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), he still felt abandoned by her at the end: he looks up to see her, to seek acknowledgment from her, but she’s ‘always already’ gone (in his mind). He had nothing to live for but his fans and if he goes out in a blaze of glory, then so be it.
Aronofsky has made a lot of films that make you feel sorry for people, for their lives, for their decisions in life, for the predicaments they’re in. He shows you moments of desperation that are believable. He shows you the struggles of real people. I have a hard time believing there are real Jason Bournes or Mr & Mrs Smiths out there, but I can surely see the Randy The Rams out there, struggling day by day, trying to be happy and good, but falling way short and failing miserably.