Friday, January 21, 2011

Black Swan

Last night saw the amazing new film by Aronofsky, Black Swan. I have enjoyed previous Darren Aronofsky films, and this was no exception. It rose above mere entertainment to engage the viewer in an intimate psychological and artistic pas de deux. The film succeeds by mixing and coalescing the levels of narrative, symbol and psychodrama to transport the audience into a sublime moment of epiphany as the character of Nina transforms into the Black Swan.

Nina Sayers is a repressed young woman of 28 who lives with her mother in a NYC flat (obviously rent-controlled). Nina's mother is cloying, possessive and obviously has transferred her own ambitions onto Nina. Nina's bedroom is pepto-bismol pink, and full of toys and stuffed animals; the room of a 12-year-old. When Tomas, the artistic director, asks Nina if she's a virgin, we believe that yes, Nina is probably a virgin. Nina's sole obsession is to be perfect, to have perfect technique. Tomas tries to "loosen her up" in order for her true artistic spirit to shine through. That is the essential narrative. Juxtaposed against this story of artistic growth is a hint of mental unbalance as Nina begins to experience haunting, provocative and terrifying visions.

But Black Swan works on more than just the level of narrative. Nina's pursuit of perfection is played out as psychodrama, with her desire for perfect technique emblematic of her EGO-based desire for total control, juxtaposed with her subconscious repressed urges, her Shadow-Self, yearning to be set free, to be expressed, symbolized by the Black Swan. Nina sees doppelgangers of herself on the train, on the street, these are visions of her own Shadow, which is alluring to her on a deeply emotional and sexual level.

It also works on the level of pure symbol. Everyone experiences the sometimes painful, always confusing, often fearful, transition from adolescence into adulthood. Often that means sacrificing the treasured innocence of childhood in favor of the experience of the world as it is, including one's sexuality, one's ambition, one's innate ability to be satisfied with the self without external validation from others. The movement from innocence, in which the personality is formed by the parent and the parent's values, to an individual with values chosen and won by experience is difficult and I've known many people personally whose lives pitiously ended prior to success. For Nina, fully integrating her Ego and her Shadow selves is a symbolic death.

Finally, Black Swan does work on the level of pure narrative. In order for this to work completely, however, one must believe that Nina, at 28, is experiencing adult onset schizophrenia, which progressively worsens through the course of the film. But that interpretation alone would make this a movie-of-the-week, and Black Swan is as far from that mode as it is from romantic comedy.

No, Black Swan is a genius alchemy between narrative, symbol and psychodrama, and by far the best film using the world of the dance as its milieu since The Red Shoes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fantasy Thematics

Fantasy: stories about power and how it’s found, lost, and used.

In Low fantasy, characters have no struggles with power (Conan the Barbarian) they are always confident of their powers (like superheroes) and rarely question themselves or their powers. Sword & Sorcery. Their struggles are against more powerful beings, not themselves or their own weaknesses. Frodo, being half the height of a man, and thus a much less powerful being than the Men or Elves he hangs around with, gains ultimate power over Sauron. Though the necessity of Gollum there in the Cracks of Doom, is an ironic flourish.

Horror is a subgenre of Fantasy. Thus it also is concerned with power. But the most prevalent theme in horror is fear. What scares us, to some extent is also what renders us powerless. Acrophobia, is the fear of giving into a sudden and overpowering impulse to jump making us doubt our power over our own actions. Claustrophobia, is fear of being in a tight, confined space, where the power to move is greatly incapacitated, making us doubt our ability to function to breathe on a physiological level.

The New American Gothic (S. King, Danse Macabre) is a story in which the character's morbid introspection drives the plot. Rooted in narcissism and anxiety (the self-centered fear of Alcoholics Anonymous), the new American Gothic concerns the inability to see beyond the horizon of the self. This closed minded, compartmentalized, blinkered, bracketed cognition on the part of the protagonist is the impetus for horror. Constantin Stanislavski's "Circles of Attention" reduced to a fierce, laser like dot of light in the center of the self. These characters have axes to grind, fierce prejudices to overcome, preconceived notions to abandon, malevolent childhoods to rise above, addictions to accept.

Also, the New American Gothic protagonist is different from the noir protagonist because their fears are existential rather than actual. The perfect example of a New American Gothic protagonist is Jack Torrance from The Shining.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Violent Nation

We live in a democracy, but to believe the television, it is a democracy teetering on the brink, where mainstream politicians can use the rhetoric of violence against one another with impunity, until an act of violence occurs and such people recoil in feigned revulsion and crocodile tears.

Certainly speech didn't put a bullet through Congresswoman Giffords' head, that was a young man with "a head full of bad juice," as one of my favorite characters would put it. So, in a fundamentally uncivil society what is the rational response--forget civility, that's tres passe.

We are left with the "Chicago Way" from Brian DePalma's film, the Untouchables:
You wanna know how you do it? Here's how, they pull a knife,
you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his
to the morgue.
That's the Chicago way...

And so, we wring our hands and come to the conclusion that being forearmed is the only way to negotiate a society in which the police cannot be counted upon to maintain law, order and peace, we must arm ourselves.

In a society in which guns are prized above the lives of 9 year old girls, federal judges, ladies of small consequence, and political aides, the only rational response is to murder in return. Therefore, I announce that my 25 year principle against the death penalty officially ended. If summoned to serve on a jury in a capital case, I will unhesitatingly be able and willing to vote to put to death a person capable of this kind of violence. Especially, ESPECIALLY! if he uses a handgun to do it.