Friday, December 24, 2010

The Black Swan

Films choose particular arenas or settings in which to establish their plots. Baseball and basketball are the backdrops of Field of Dreams and Spike Lee’s He Got Game, respectively. The famously haunting Kubrick film of the ‘50s, The Killing, was about a heist at a racetrack, and then there were Airplane and Airport and Wall Street, and The Devil Wears Prada. But no setting is as conducive to portraying the human body as the world of ballet, where the discipline of muscles and the regimen of eating and exercising become a kind of narration apart from the choreography of the works performed. The necessarily obsessive nature of the ballerina’s concern with body image is one of the themes of Darren Aronofsky’s The Black Swan, and the disorders that the movie presents, from cutting and biting to bulimia, are often associated with a search for perfection that the body eludes. The other element that the movie powerfully underlines is how we do to ourselves what we fantasize doing to others. “Perfection is letting go,” Thomas (Vincent Cassel) tells his newly anointed star Nina (Natalie Portman). But how does a ballerina whose whole life is predicated on control gratify such a diametrically opposed impulse without becoming victim to the kind of schizoid state that the film ultimately depicts? The melodrama of the plotline might easily be discountenanced if it weren’t for the way the film employs it to call attention to this confusion between the inner and outer worlds. Many of the scenes in which terror results from the labile nature of the reality are reminiscent of the stomach-churning suspense in films like The Shining and William Friedkin’s masterpiece of supernatural horror, The Exorcist, in which the world literally seems to be on fire. 

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