"The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits." G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Black Swan - A Lyrical Vision of Madness

In this stark and surreal creation Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz through their screenplay weave an intricate analysis of a obsessive compulsive disorder evolving into a fully fledged psychosis, as Darren Aronofsky masterfully gives the viewer the uneasy privilege of experiencing this evolution through the very eyes of the protagonist who is undergoing it.

In her late twenties, frigid, gentle, soft spoken, shy yet determined and ambitious Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), knows only too well that getting the main role of playing both sisters - The White Swan, and her evil twin The Black Swan - in the new adaptation of the Swan Lake choreographed by the renowned Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) may be her last chance at stardom. Thomas eventually, but reluctantly picks Nina. Despite immediately judging her rendition of the White Swan as perfect - which reflects Nina's virgin like nature and personality – his reluctance lingers due to her inability to convincingly portray the evil seductress - The Black Swan. Finally a hint of visceral and wild determination dormant within Nina, convinces Thomas to give her the role with the hope that the "evil" spark will develop into a flame of desire allowing Nina to convincingly portray the evil twin. He doesn't take a passive role in this transformation, and aids Nina with all the possible ways a professional French maestro could offer. He fails to predict however that this flame will grow out of control and eventually engulf entirely the pure spirit of the young dancer.

Witnessing her transformation the viewer may experience frustration and confusion since the boundary between what is a psychotic and delusional vision and what is real slowly dissolves, as Nina progressively develops the required alter ego. Those feelings of cognitive discomfort should be seen as hallmarks of Aronofsky's skill in giving the viewer a glimpse into Nina's world, since undoubtedly confusion and frustration are in the least what she experiences. It eventually becomes apparent that the only way this subtle and gentle young woman can successfully and absolutely embody the Black Swan is through equally absolute madness - effectively splitting her own personality by allowing the alien, dominating and destructive Black Swan alter ego emerge and eventually engulf her.

The technique of offering a subjective vision of a delusional protagonist is not entirely original. However here, strongly intertwined with Tchaikovsky’s powerful musical theme (adopted by Clint Mansell) and suggestive dance sequences the film can be interpreted as an original postmodern rendition of the ballet.

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