Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Analyzed: Black Swan

Movies are a big part of who I am. Some weep at the statement, while others know what I mean. I can't be quite sure of this, but I think I'm more interested in movie analysis than I am in movie reviews (great Jason, yet one more decision that makes you less marketable). I thought I may as well put all these hours to even more use, so I vowed to myself that I would blog every movie that I watch. SPOILER ALERT: Since I am primarily concerned with WHAT the movie is saying, I will be talking about the entire story, plot twists and all.

To what extent does perfection require death? Is perfection desirable, or, perhaps better put, do we know what we're asking for when we want to be perfect? Those are the main questions I was left with after watching this film, though I have many more. To a large extent I don't know what to do with the images and themes the movie has presented me with, so I just have to do my best to name and describe them.

Portman plays a ballerina who has been striving for years to be the lead dancer. She knows little else in her life besides that striving, and it finally pays off as she is handed the lead. But pressure and paranoia mount as she prepares for opening night. We're treated to a strange ride as fantasy and reality assert themselves with verve and confusion as we progress to our harrowing conclusion.

Now, to delve into the perfection question(s): Everyone in this movie who strove for perfection on the dance floor (all women, and a man who manipulated them into it) ended up dead (if you disagree that the mother character is steeped in a living death then you and me have a fight on our hands.) So I'm thinking, "Ok, is this a vicious jab at ballet, or is there a wider application here to the general pursuit of perfection?" I can't say for sure, but probably the latter. But you are watching Portman sacrifice her body and her social life to be excellent at ballet, it brings to mind the perfection of the Olympian, and I feel like the question is begging to be asked—is it worth it? I personally think not, but then again I'm not all that ambitious.

So I went down this perfection road, but I was left thinking, to what extent am I missing the point? Is this what Aronofsky (the director) wanted me to be dwelling on? I'll let that sit for a moment, and move on to what I thought was the second biggest component of the movie.

Whoa there is a lot of sex (in the broadest sense of the term), but it is the most interesting use of sex that I can remember in a long time. The sex for the most part isn't sexy (some adaments have already disagreed with me on that fact), and anytime you have unsexy sex you must ask what is it doing there—you will usually get interesting answers. Most sex we get on screen has been given in order to titillate and entertain—any deviation from this norm is fraught with potential commentary on America's Favorite Subject.

Portman, by being an elegant and beautiful dancer, naturally would be an object of desire. Yet she is dangerously out of whack with her own sexuality and what in the world she should do with it. To what extent is this something to dwell on, a perennial object of desire being hopelessly lost in the sexual realm? Her mother being in the room as she gets, well, familiar with herself, is a perfect corollary to the ingrown, tiny life that she is living as she pursues her dream. She gets invited out by a friend for a drink and in a few hours has screwed a couple of guys (real or imagined I'm not quite sure, I lean towards the latter)—she's not relating well to this whole sex thing. Why are we given these facts about her life? Is it mere Freudian hand wringing, or is there something really there for us to grab hold of? Let's see, pursuit of perfection leads to deterioration in the rest of her life, but especially when it comes to sexuality . . . I'm really just not sure what I'm supposed to do with that. Please understand this is not to say that I think the movie fell short or anything like that, I just don't want to be afraid to say, "Well I'm not exactly sure why thus and such happened, but I put that more on myself than I do the writer/director."

Sometimes I struggle with artsy movies that are hard to follow and you're not sure exactly what they're saying; this was not one of those. I enjoyed the ride thoroughly. It left me pondering and I appreciate that. The question I always ask is, "Was this just a bunch of shit that I couldn't really understand unless the director was sitting next to me, or do they really have something to say and it's worth digging to find out what that is?" With all of the David Lynch films I've seen I go with the first, but this movie makes it into the priveleged second camp.

I don't feel that I've even started to do the film justice, but what the hell, I'm just getting warmed up on this whole movie analyzation thing.

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