Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Black Swan


Black Swan, A

In Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Prince Siegfried falls in love with a woman who is cursed as a white swan by day. He (thinks he) falls in love with her and decides that he will make her his wife. Later in the ballet at a ball, he mistakes a similar looking woman dressed in black as his love. He pronounces this black swan, as his future wife. Because of this mistake, Siegfried and the white swan can’t be together in this life. They decide the only way to be together is through death; they jump into the lake and drown. 
Darren Aronofsky recreates this tale in a stunning and even more tragic way. He acknowledges how truly alone both the Prince and the swan are. In Swan Lake it feels romantic that they die together, but really it’s devastatingly tragic, as Prince Siegfried couldn’t even recognize “the love of his life.” They don’t really die in the name of love; they die out of embarrassment, shame, and loneliness. In Aronofsky’s tale, a young ballerina becomes the prima ballerina in a new telling of Swan Lake in which both swans are played by the same dancer. This creates the cliché doppelganger of our innocent fragile vulnerable state and our lustful dark side. The main character Nina is in spirit still a child, living with her mother and striving to be her perfect little girl. Her room is decorated pink with stuffed animals and even a Swan Lake jewelry box. In the film Nina matures mainly under the supervision of the ballet’s director Thomas Leroy, played with binding power by Vincent Cassel (Irreversible, Ocean’s 12). Leroy controls even the camera from the very first moment he enters the screen. The camera is operated to near perfect by cinematographer Matthew Libatique, whose camera is also intimidated by Leroy, paralyzing the viewer as Nina is. Nobody in this story seems to be in control except for Leroy. The film feels like it’s being directed by Leroy and not Aronofsky. The only person in the film who is free is Beth, the former prima ballerina. Beth is a tattered old former Swan Queen who represents what Nina will inevitably become; she is broken and old, so she is no longer of value to the ballet company or to anyone. She lies in a hospital alone, where she probably will die. 

This movie re-imagines the horror genre in a way modern filmmaking has lost touch with. It elicits the same feelings of fear, horror, and pure disgust in a more subtle way that doesn’t involve cheap shock tactics and obvious deathly props like a saw, claw, or chainsaw. By the end of the film I was shaking and I still can’t quite articulate why. The film teases your unconscious lusts for sexuality, blood, and even terrifyingly to admit, death. Aronofsky uses subtle self-mutilations like her unrelenting need to scratch herself to create this extreme anxiety and fear. He also uses Clint Mansell’s disturbing recreation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake compositions. By the end of the film your heart feels like the frail porcelain doll Nina begins as, which is then shattered to an extremity that feels like rape. 
One of the most uncomfortable scenes is when Nina’s rival dancer Lily takes her out partying to a club. Aronofsky shows the scene frighteningly fragmented and unnerving through the lens of what feels like a red strobe light. This creates this foreboding sense of danger that is unshakable. At this point, the exquisite and absolutely genius Natalie Portman begins her descent into her inevitable horrifying and brutal suicide. 
At its heart, Black Swan is a coming of age story about a girl who loses her innocence. Her inevitable demise is really a rebirth. As she bleeds out of her stomach, she is not really dying but getting her period for the first time or maybe losing her virginity. The way I view the film, this is just her first death, the death we all experience. She finally come to terms with the fact that the people we admire, our parents, teachers, and superiors are just as fucked up, alone, and disturbed as everyone else or that teachers actually want to (and often do) have sex with their pupils or that mommy can’t really take care of you and inevitably you will die and that death will be alone. This film is about our first death, in which we come to terms with the fact that often times the world and the people within it are brutal, seductive, and tragically terrible. After this we are reborn like Beth, aged and scared. Unlike Beth and Nina however, most of us make it out alive and ready to search for happiness.

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