“Black Swan” is a fairly intense psychological thriller. The picture to the left says it all. The image is not a naturalistic photo. It’s a painting, an idealized image…except for the crack. Black Swan is certainly ”not” a dance movie in the normal sense, just like Darren Aronofsky’s last movie “The Wrestler” was not a sports movie in the traditional sense. Since Natalie Portman won an Oscar for best actress 2011, you may have heard of the film.
During the course of the movie, a ballerina named Nina becomes so set on playing the perfect swan that it causes a personality split within her self. The movie is mainly very naturalistic, but there are some neat effects which blend in seamlessly. For example, Nina starts growing feathers under her skin, at least in her mind.
There’s a great cast assembled here. Vincent Cassel, mostly known internationally for tough-guy roles, plays the ballet instructor quite differently to the stereotypes we know from other movies. I always thought Mila Kunis projected a gutsiness rare of anyone her age. In Black Swan she gets to show it. Winona Ryder has a small part as the departing star of the company, Nina’s predecessor, who has difficulty coping with the situation and puts a tragic end to her career. Barbara Hershey plays Nina’s over-protective, controlling, ex-ballerina mother. Aronofsky must have a talent for working with actors because they are all great in ways you have not seen them play before. He even coaxes out new things from the older actors.
Nina plays both the White and Black Swan. The two swans do not stand primarily for good and evil, at least that’s not the focus in this film. It’s more about desire and sexuality, and to what extent they are lived or repressed. In practical terms it means the white swan is ”virtuous” and ”pure”. Both terms are euphemisms for restrained sexuality. The Black Swan is the opposite. She grabs what she wants, the Prince. The White Swan loses.
Nina’s repressed sexuality is linked to the main theme in Black Swan, that of striving for perfection. Nina’s dance instructor tells her that perfection is not achieved by control alone. Through the entire film her instructor is trying to teach her that in order to occasionally achieve perfection, she needs to just let things happen sometimes, to let go of the reigns. Click continue to view the trailer.
Her dance instructor may have ulterior motives, but those motives are in fact also serving her performance. He tries to kiss her and tries to provoke her and make her angry. To make her lose control and show some of that misbehaviour which she requires for the role of the Black Swan. He says That was me seducing you, when it needs to be the other way round. However, her upbringing won’t let her give in to those desires. Nina denies it and tries to conceal her feelings, but Mila Kunis’ character tells Nina she’s hot for teacher. So basically, the only one she is fooling is herself. The audience knows it too.
Nina believes that being a good girl, according to the way she was brought up by her extremely controlling mother, is the way to achieving the perfection she seeks in her performances. She already is the White Swan, the good girl. Nina will not let her other side out, the Black Swan, the girl who seeks and takes what she desires.
Nina’s main problem though is that she is no longer having fun. You could say Nina’s road to perfection means she doesn’t have a life outside dance. But is that an argument for artists? Nina is an artist. Her art is her life. Nina’s problem is one of obsession.
She is so obsessed with attaining theoretical perfection, that it takes control of her. The irony, and paradox is that by disciplining herself and exercising full control over herself she actually loses control.
If you grip the steering wheel of a car too tightly, or the handlebars of a bike, you lose the feeling for steering. You cannot feel the feedback from the road you are travelling on. Nina’s grip is so tight that she loses her feeling for what’s going on around her.
Question: Do you think the notion of perfection is overrated or at least misunderstood? Leave a reply below.