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.

1 comment:

Steve Will said...

It's doubly clear now.

I. Must. See. This. Film.