Darren Aronofsky directs disturbing films, and it isn't always clear that the disturbing bits have any real purpose other than to disturb. In The Wrestler, I've found a purpose, but I'm not sure it's the purpose Aronofsky intends, if he intends one at all.
Consider his first full-length film, Pi. It's a masterfully-made film, so good I thought it might be a fluke until Aronofsky's next film was even better. And yet the climax — and I'm sorry if you've not seen it, because I'm going to spoil it — involves a man drilling into his skull with a power drill for relief. It's an uncomfortable scene, and what does it mean? What does it tell us about how we live our lives? It may not be meaningless, but it is difficult to find two people who agree on what it means.
Then came Requiem for a Dream, one of very few movies that has caused me to leave a theater mid-showing. The meaning may be more direct — drugs suck! — but it's again, very disturbing.
The Fountain is thought-provoking and disturbing in a different way. Instead of being grotesque, the film challenges beliefs that are so deeply held, we don't realize we hold them. Our cosmology is stood on its end and then tipped over. If you don't find that disturbing, I encourage you to watch it again!
And now, The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a wrestling superstar 20 years past his prime. Marisa Tomei is the aging stripper Randy wants to love. Later in the film we meet Evan Rachel Wood, playing Randy's estranged daughter. The stage is set, and my chief question was how Aronofsky was going to toy with expectations and disturb me.
It turns out that aging wrestlers push themselves to stay in the game. The most visually disturbing sequence is a series of flashbacks, as we cut back and forth between a much-bloodied Randy and a depiction of how he earned each bit of torn flesh. This same sequence sets up the conflict that carries us through the end of film.