Perfection Proves Tricky in Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’
My love affair with film goes way back, so I’ve indulged in some thoughts on Black Swan, mainly because I couldn’t help myself. Hope you enjoy.
An audience’s perception and interpretation give such great diversity to an artist’s work. Something I’ve found particularly interesting about reactions to Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. Many I’ve chatted with have commented on its visceral, disturbing and horrific nature, while most have nothing definitive to say about the film at all. Likely a symptom of the film’s lack of closure after an emotional journey through Nina Sayers (Portman) transformation into artistic director, Thomas’ (Cassel) rendition of the popular ballet ‘Swan Lake’ and its Swan Queen.
I’m not a film reviewer, just a lover of film and the ability of cinema to encapsulate the complexities of humanity. Something I thought Aronofsky did quite well in Black Swan, specifically in his portrayal of the pursuit of perfection and its ramifications to the human psyche. I LOVED this central theme. And I LOVED, as with all his films, Aronofsky’s raw and somewhat grotesque, yet calculated and lovely approach to depicting his characters and their stories.
Early in the film, Thomas says to a desperate and awkwardly hopeful Swan Queen candidate (Sayers),“Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence!” This is where the film truly begins, as the next 90 minutes vividly illustrate Sayers’ calculated exploration and volleying of dualities in order to reach her pinnacle, or more importantly the pinnacle she perceives to be her own. Sayers inherent pressure from her mother, which had clearly manifested and contributed to her distorted view of self, paired with that of the ballet world and her director made for a lovely canvas to create Sayers “transcendence.”
Post film, I couldn’t help but think about how often this theme plays out in real life; how often I have observed this very thing; with others and in many cases myself.
I’m not talking about hallucinatory transformations from a White to Black Swan, but rather the sacrifices and deliberate detours we can make from our true character in order to achieve some ideal, usually an unrealistic one — that when obtained never produces the feeling of satisfaction anyway.
Sayers had to completely reroute herself in order to accommodate the entirety of her pinnacle. She was the perfect White Swan but was so obsessed with the prospect of being Thomas’ Swan Queen that she abandoned the few truths she had and becomes terribly lost.
It is so easy to fall into a trap like this. To forget where our gifts and talents lie, and become busy (and sometimes obsessed) with achieving something that is unobtainable within natural bounds. It is a very American way if you ask me. A notion somewhat embedded in our cultural fabric, manifested in our children and perpetuates from there. It is definitely (sorry dudes) more prevalent in females and something that I see happen across women’s roles in this country. I could wax on about that for a while, but I’ll spare youJ. I’ll leave with this thought:
This film really made me thing about how pinnacles — deemed by us, or others — can cause integrity breech, effect the decisions we make, dictate the view we have of ourselves and potentially shift the structure of our character, much like Aronofsky’s White Swan did in order to embody the Black Swan.
Of course this is just my brief interpretation of an artist’s work, so I ask you, what are your thoughts? How did you interpret this film? And what did you take away, if anything at all?
P.S. Portman’s performance is stunning, and she will take home and Oscar.