Monday, 2 January 2012

The Black Swan

I have watched a number of films over the season most of which were disappointing and did not engage as I had hoped for, I decided against going to see the Black Swan when it was released because the theme did not appeal to me. Given the attention to the performance of Natalie Portman who won the 2011 Best Actress Performance I decided to view when the film was recently premiered on Sky. It was not a good experience and I wonder who would appreciate the film but have to admit it is reported to have been made for $14 million and grossed over $300m.

It was branded as a psychological thriller. The psychological is accurate but there are no thrills just an accumulating and depressing darkness. I like the story and the music of Swan Lake although watching others dance has rarely engaged, Flamenco does and also Irish dancing is small doses. I first heard the music at a Promenade Concert and bought the record. I have seen productions of the ballet on TV including from the Royal Opera House. Although my mother took me to experience Opera as a boy she took a cousin to see Swan Lake.

It is essential to know the story of the Ballet as although the film about professional dancers preparing to dance in a new version of the Ballet at a main ballet company/House in New York they are also assigned roles of some of those in the story of the Ballet.

The Prince (Siegfried) has been ordered to marry by his parents and produce an heir situation but he is a romantic and believes in ongoing passionate love. He is also a typical aristo who has been raised to kill animals for sport and in this instance he and his cronies go off to shoot some Swans. He comes across a swan with a crown and is intrigued and then as night falls the Swan is discovered to be a beautiful Princess Odette who is the subject of an evil spell by the Sorcerer Von Rothbart who is represented by a bird, usually in black.

The Prince and the Swan Queen stay together all night but she returns to being a swan with her companions by day. The Prince can break the spell by declaring his love for her and for no other which he declares and invites her to attend the Ball which his mother has arranged for him to choose a bride. Odette then explains that should he chose another she will be doomed.

The Sorcerer understands this and attends the ball with his daughter both in disguise, his daughter in the form of Odette. The Prince is delighted and declares his love for her with the consequence that the real Odette who arrives late can only witness the deception at a distance. She returns to the Lake to die and the Prince realising the deception ends his life with her. The climax of the Ballet is for the two lovers to ascend to heaven.

The central plot of the film as such has Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers who wishes to become the new Principal ballerina in company and play the role of the Swan Queen in the next production after the enforced retirement of the current principle (Winona Ryder) in her role of the Dying Swan.

Nina lives with her mother Barbara Herschey in her role as Erica the dominating Queen. Erica was also a lead dancer with ambitions but at 28 she was seduced giving birth to Nina who she wants to succeed where she failed. While professional ballet dancers enjoy sex in real life it is true that few if any leading females can continue once they have given birth. The issue of keeping their figures, guarding what they eat and have a different lifestyle from others including contemporary street dancers is one aspect of the second dance movie experienced over the season, Street Dance, made as a vehicle for 3D and shown by the BBC on their HD channel on New Years Day.

In the instance of the Black Swan Nina is portrayed as a sexual innocent because of her mother’s experience and attitudes. The company’s artistic Director hits on the idea of having the same Ballerina playing the White and Black Swans in the ballet and while he chooses Nina he berates her because of her natural inability to project herself as the bad swan because of her sexual inexperience. In this respect he prefers her rival for the position of Principal Dancer Mila Kunis as Lily, The Black Swan who puts it about as they say and in this respect willingly offers herself to the Artistic Director in the effort to get the title and new role.

Although the film appears to concern the narrow lives of those engaged professionally in ballet dancing it can also be argued that the main story is about the relationship between Nina and her mother, the guilt the daughter is made to feel about “ruining the life of her mother” her drive for perfection and to be better than her mother and the extent of the obsession which leads to self abuse. In such situations whole some parents live their lives through the success of their offspring, as sports personalities or performing artists following their careers first hand attending every performance, sometimes acting as managers their is also jealous at their success and proprietoral control which prevents and at times obstructs a child leading separate lives with a partner.

The Director of the film complicates what could have become an ingenious switching between the day to day lives of the cast and their roles in the Ballet by also incorporating a story about understudies and doppelgangers as in the Dostoyevsky’s work- The Double. He had also achieved success with his film The Wrestler, which I avoided because professional Wrestling is a skilful but joke activity which like professional boxing also has significant criminal involvements. The Wrestler also involved an in depth examination of the life of a professional needing athleticism and a high level of body self control.

In the Black Swan Beth, the former lead is incensed by the decision to offer Nina the new role is seriously injured in a car accident which the Director believes was a genuine suicide attempt (The dying Swan).

Nina becomes intimately friendly with Lily suggesting the development of a Lesbian relationship which the artistic director approves if this releases the passion in her which he know Lily possesses but who lacks the technical precision of her rival, part of the paradox that can one become the best of the best at whatever but find it difficult to lead a conventional normal life with partner, children, extended family network, participating also in local, regional and national community life, and vice versa.

Because Nina appears to have commenced a relationship with a male admirer, her relationship with Lily cools but one evening Lily arrives and suggests a girl’s night out which she agrees against the wishes of her mother. Later Lily returns with Nina and the two spend the night together. During the evening Lily appears to have slipped Nina a capsule so she oversleeps and is late for rehearsal and arrives to find Lily dancing her role as the official understudy. She accuses Lily of plotting and betrayal but Lily explains that she was out on her own clubbing and spent the night with a man she had met. Nina appears to have made up the whole situation in her mind, which is not the first time her day and night dreams, fears and fantasies have become merged.

The first night approaches with her mother increasingly concerned at the behaviour of her daughter saying that the pressures of the role have become too great and suggesting she drops out. They fight and mother appears to have successfully restrained her daughter contacting the company to say her daughter is ill. Nina however escapes and presents herself at the theatre. The performances goes well but Nina has a hallucination and falls from a lift so that as the second act commences Nina finds that Lily has been instructed to play the Black Swan and is transformed physically into herself. The two fight. A mirror is shattered and Nina kills Lily with a shard of glass. She therefore performs the part of the Black Swan and transmogrifying into a creature with wings playing the role with great passion and acclaim startling the artistic director with a passionate kiss. Previously he had attempted to kiss her and she had bit his mouth drawing blood.

Lily arrives to congratulate Nina and then Nina realises she has experienced another hallucination except the mirror is shattered and she has stabbed herself. She completes the third act and in doing so sees her mother in the theatre weeping with joy and pride. She throws herself of the cliff understage onto a mattress to thunderous applause. When the cast go to congratulate her they find her dying covered in blood whispering Perfect, it was Perfect.

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