Black Swan Darren Aronofski (USA 2010) Natalie Portman
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 1st Feb 2011; ticket: £7.85
Adrin Neatrour writes: the view from inside the bedroom
The cinema was full, ok it was the small screening theatre, but full of 18 to 23 year old women. This was their movie and anticipation was palpable. I wondered what had they come to see?
They had come to see Desire.
The triumph of Desire
Fixated on the close up of the face (mask?) as the key index shot, Aronofski’s (DA) movie Black Swan (BS) takes its form from Madison Avenue’s key understanding about how to sell: adverts link personal success to product. Aronofski’s film replicates (BS can also be seen as parody) the key elements of this advertising form in Nina’s (Natalie Portman) quest for success and perfection in her journey from home via the subway to work. As in soap opera these spaces are linked through the face which is realised as an expressive mask. This mask is the medium, an emoting plastic object through which the audience participates in the movements and cross currents of desire. We see Nina’s face travel not just through space, from home subway work, but also through a series of trials by ordeal as her desire is tested in a series of inner conflicts before her final assertive triumph.
In the Madision Avenue version, the use of the right product leads to the object of desire: success. We follow the face of an actress (or actor – but women’s hair is a particularly strong visual fetish of success) as she is transformed from being unremarked to being remarked: some attribute of the body attains an expressive public perfection, allowing self to attain completion.
DA takes the advertising premise of an outer transformation leading to success and inverts it. Success comes through a series of symbolic inner ordeals ( many of them fashionable) which create a psychic justification for the narcissism which is the pivot of flaunted contemporary lifestyles. The self centred world is validated on its own terms.
Nina the protagonist the Black Swan, instead of having something simple like a zit cream to thank, is symbolically loaded with an incoherent jumbly rattle bag of psychic states which somehow (thanks to the wondrous filmic possibilities of shot juxtaposition and editing) simultaneously inhibit, amplify and contribute to the final perfection of her Desire. Borrowing heavily from better film makers such as Polanski Powell Russell, using the visual tricks and clichés from schlock horror school of filmmaking, DA symbolically attaches to Nina every intra personal affliction in the book. The Vampire mum, hallucinations triggered by predictable objects (mirrors!) and situations, altered physical states, paranoia, self mutilation, cutting, bulimia, anorexia and a few more I shouldn’t wonder. Heavy handed editing and shameless homage ( lets be kind) make anything possible as DA loads these ‘states’ onto Nina as casually as Dietrich drops a hint.
These tribulations do not deflect or inhibit the Desire. They are part of the truth of the desire because the Desire only has internal referents. There are no external referents in the movie. It takes place in the solipsist world of the adolescent girl’s bedroom. Ballet functions as a site of the projection, a useful one because of the costumes, the haircuts, the masks etc which generate image, but the site of projection might be any world: sport, music biz, fashion, opera etc. The backdrop’ selected is just a site onto which project the fantasies reflected back from the bedroom mirror.
As intimated BS is crudely shot mostly shot reverse shot and acted out as a soap experience. This is no more than was either necessary or demanded as we are watching a crude narcissistic fantasy, different in content but not in form from run of the mill pornography. The desire reflected in the mirror of solipsism is the desire of the crippled mind to retain it’s crippled nature, secluded in its crippled world and yet able somehow to achieve the dream. The desire that the bedroom door never be opened, that the world outside the door not exist yet everything outside the door be possible.