The camerawork here is challenging, following behind the characters, often from an over-the-shoulder perspective that, while not unusual to arthouse audiences familiar with the work of the Dardennes brothers (The Son), may tax mainstream audiences until they adjust to the rigorous style. The effect is to give the film a documentary-like immediacy.

The effect is to give the film a documentary-like immediacy, but it’s not without showy moments that may remind viewers of modern American cinematic classics: In one, we follow Robinson down a long corridor as he enters a new kind of ring with its own challenges. It’s similar to a lengthy shot in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, as Henry Hill enters a swanky club and introduces his girlfriend to the glamorous side of gangster life. But in The Wrestler, Robinson’s new world isn’t an arena filled with screaming fans, nor an exotic entry into a new profession. It’s a long walk through a corridor that leads to a grocery store deli counter, where Robinson hopes to work after a health scare forces him to consider retiring from the ring.

Viewers won’t be surprised to learn that Robinson has a hard time leaving wrestling behind. “The world don’t [care] about me,” he explains to Cassidy before he enters the ring, against his doctor’s advice. Then Robinson addresses the crowd, giving a speech about professional purpose that might just as soon have come from Rourke the actor.

Christians who have put an old way of life behind them will be able to relate to Robinson’s struggles to do the same on a professional level, and to his attempts to atone for the wrongs he has committed against his daughter. They also will see the wreckage his absence has caused in her life, and what the seeds of mistrust have sown in their relationship. To Robinson, wrestling is his one true love, even as he recognizes that it’s a type of prison from which he can’t escape. It perpetuates his inability to function in the real world, and it provides an outlet for the disappointments in his personal life.

In showing Robinson’s struggle against something he can’t conquer—but without demonizing him for his weakness—The Wrestler provides a lesson for all who have watched loved ones flail and fail in their emotional and spiritual battles. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is honest and heartbreaking.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; foul language; crude references to sexuality and female anatomy.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Wrestlers are frequent drug users, and are shown buying, injecting and snorting drugs.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Bare-chested male wrestlers; multiple scenes of strippers at work; a picture of a topless woman is taped to a wall; store manager watches a porn movie in the back room; Randy engages in casual, noisy sex in a bathroom.
  • Violence/Disturbing Imagery:  Wrestling violence, much of which is staged, but which also involves cuts with razors and glass, body blows of all sorts; cuts are stitched up; vomiting; chest scar from heart surgery; a man cuts his hand on a deli cheese slicer.
  • Religion:  A stripper draws a parallel between a wrestler’s life and Jesus’ life, as portrayed in The Passion of the Christ; she quotes Isaiah 53 and says the wrestler has “the same hair” as Jesus.