Saturday, March 12, 2011

Notes on Black Swan

Black Swan (2010) / Darren Aronofsky
  • Aronofsky has a continuing interest in the human body. But it is interest akin to Poe’s, and not to Allende’s. As such, he is not fascinated by its perfect symmetry, but intimidated by it. Therefore, it is imperative that he employ, in each film, a human body whose symmetry undergoes a devastating transformation, more or less to assume a form that Aronofsky can endear himself to more easily. Good-looking (in the traditional definition of the phrase) actors must populate an Aronofsky landscape, because it is corporeal perfection that he wages an artistic battle against. It is easy to categorise his cinema as ‘body horror’, also because he easily sacrifices metaphysics for materialism.
  • No matter how profound the topic of the film, Aronofsky can only discuss it at its most literal. There is no subtext, or the image is its own subtext. Thus, Aronofsky is the filmmaker whose aesthetic is the most rooted in ‘pop culture’ – because what you see is the only artifact. If a guy abuses narcotics, he must have his arm amputated sooner or later/ if a wrestler with a condition cannot stop fighting, he will die of a heart disease eventually/ if a dancer becomes the black swan, she really will sprout wings. There is no place for philosophy in an Aronofsky film, because for Aronofsky, a film shows and philosophy is read.
  • Both The Wrestler and Black Swan sprout the notion of personal art, i.e. art whose definition might be constituted differently for different people; which is to say – ‘to each his own art’. The films, however, are not about obsessive pursuit of art, but obsessive pursuit of art as a getaway route. Art as a refuge from the dreariness (in case of The Wrestler) or suppression (in case of Swan) of ‘real’ life. Both the ‘performers’ thus, treat performance as a means to escape from ‘reality’.
  • There are instances in all of his films of physiognomy. There are close-ups, both in The Wrestler and in Black Swan of ‘additions’ to the human body that enhance its owner’s performance in their respective vocations – in the former, his skin gets impaled with weaponry of the primal sort; in Swan, feather follicles emerge from her scars. The ‘body’ takes precedence over all else (as point a) says), but only in Black Swan do the effects of such precedence manifest in Aronofsky’s aesthetic. There are perhaps (excluding the final on-stage performance) six long-shots in the entire film. Most of it is conducted in close-ups or mid-shots, done, presumably in long lenses. Such proximity to the human body is uncomfortable, and psychologically disorienting, because of the inherent claustrophobia of the arrangement, but also because it makes us more privy to a character’s physicality than we should be. This aesthetic is very similar to Polanski’s first, Knife in the Water, which sacrifices (like Aronofsky) any discussion of metaphysics to focus, instead, on the human body as the setting of the story.
  • Black Swan is about a girl ‘transcending’ her mother’s supervision of her and growing into a fully functional adult – the moral crisis also at the heart of another very similar film, The Exorcist (Max Von Sydow does Cassel’s role in that one). The film also employs Bergman’s idea of the colour-coded morality. Ofcourse, Aronofsky’s not one for sophistication, and he is a frequent prey to his own pedantic sensibilities – so going for ‘effect’ becomes the first goal and the film suddenly becomes a horror film with much too many ‘boo-moments’. The relevance of the aforementioned Polanski-inspired aesthetic steadily dwindles as it is used in the most generic manner – because everything is in the close-up, not much of the area is accommodated. Which in turn means, there is a lot to hide; as soon as the camera pans, something new enters the frame, accompanied by a loud swoosh – alas, a ‘boo-moment’. Aronofsky can’t but help induce a lot of this nonsense into the film.
  • Regardless, Aronofsky really is ‘dark’. He was slated to reboot the Batman series. If he had, we would’ve probably been ashamed of how easily we term Nolan’s comic-book accomplishment ‘dark’. Aronofsky would really have made Batman dark. He would’ve shown how it is really done; which is why the studios would never really let him do it.

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