30 January 2011

Blackest Swan

There has been too much talk about The Black Swan starring Natalie Portman and directed by Darren Aronowsky. Brilliant acting, they say. Academy Award quality, they say. Complex themes, they say. 
Pshaw. I found the movie uncomfortably absurd; I thought it ugly and meaningless. Ostensibly, the film is about Nina’s obsession with the part of the Swan Queen in the new production of Swan Lake, but really it is about her obsession with the Black Swan: sexual, passionate, and alluring. The film is about her terrifying and violent transformation from the White Swan into the Black Swan; a necessity her director demands she must make for the principal role. Of course, in the process the director attempts to bed her and teach her sexuality—all, of course, in the service of the performance.  Why she is given the role in the first place given that she lacks the character to properly dance the part the film never attempts to answer. Nina moves through the world fantasizing about sex and sexual encounters, but her repressed psyche prevents her from acting on her Desires, and her domineering (and resentful) mother keeps her out of engagement in any world but that of formal ballet. How she ultimately achieves this transformation is suggested by her doppelgangers. The first is an aging ballerina whom she is replacing in the role. Denied the role, the veteran walks out of the reception and into traffic—permanently crippling her legs and disfiguring her face and body. Nina makes several visits to the hospital room but confronts only violence and ugliness. She can offer there no sympathy and she receives none. 
Her second alter ego is another young dancer, Lily, who tries in honest friendship to offer Nina some release from the tensions of the dance. This second dancer is sexual, passionate and alive, which is why Nina is both attracted and repelled by her. Indeed, on the one hand Nina fantasizes an erotic encounter with her, but also in her fantasy kills her to protect her role in the ballet. Of course, it is not Lily that Nina murders but herself. Finally, I guess, sexuality, passion and allure are necessary and destructive. One can perform but not live under their influence. 
Oh, the reviewers say that in the film none of the characters are who they claim to be, or at least cannot be trusted to be so, but I say ‘pshaw.’ The motives of the characters were all too obvious—and the plot all too predictable. I was appalled by the violence and befuddled by the plot. Who cared, finally? There was nothing about any of the characters that intrigued me. 
I wonder if it is the romantic portrait of obsession coupled with the violence that accompanies this obsession that makes this movie attractive to the public. We are a polarized society—a society obsessed with its own ideologies—and from those extreme positions take shots intended at elimination at the opposition. From this derives much of the extreme violence in our society. The violence that stems from our obsessions are romanticized and legitimated. And films such as Black Swan make obsession seem productive even though it be destructive. Nina’s final words describing her performance as ‘perfect’ speak to the value of her obsessions destructive though they be to Nina. Black Swan is a dark film suitable for these dark, dark times, and there is nothing redemptive in the film. I felt soiled when I left the theater, as I feel soiled when I have to listen to our politicians, hear the news or read the newspapers, or when I overhear the violent chatter of the crowd in the next booth at the restaurant.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


07 February, 2011 03:53  
Blogger James said...

I agree with your observations regarding the polarization of society & how it made you feel leaving the theater; however, these very things about the film, are why I loved it so much. I am only 25, but perhaps it is that I am from these modern times rather than having a perspective on them, that I felt the story was representative. And rather than feeling soiled, I felt at last that a film told of how far our generation feels it must go to achieve the illusion of perfection, the illusion of the "dream." If this is truly an aspect of my generation's culture & identity, then it seems also logical that "The Black Swan" is an accurate story of a single life, that embodies & illustrates to the viewer the very anxieties & disgust so prevalent in our world today. It tells us about ourselves, by forcing us to unknowingly watch ourselves in Natalie Portman's character, only to discover in the end(perhaps that soiled feeling you felt), that our lives are not so different from this character we had thought so crazy & pathetic the entire film.

I could go on about why perhaps someone my generation feels this way having not experienced the vibrancy of the 1960s, sexual revolution, etc., and instead trading it in for a stable middle class life of yesterday that is as unlikely to exist as Natalie Portman's character was as unlikely to be cast as the Black Swan... but I digress.

Enjoyed the read! Enjoyed writing this post. Fellow UW-Stout employee, new hire in the Advisement Center, glad I stumbled upon your blog after reading about Gen. Ed. Proposal.

17 February, 2011 16:16  

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