My wife and I watched "Black Swan" at Salem Cinema a few days ago.
Most movies fade from my mind in much less time, but this engrossing flick has stuck with me as I ponder the question that often pops into my mind as the closing credits of an artsy film start to roll:
What the fuck was that all about?
Now, I considered substituting "#@$!*&" or "f__k" for the fully expressed word, but this would be at odds with the main meaning Black Swan left with me. In short...
Questing for perfection ultimately leads to a decidedly imperfect life.
When we got home after seeing the movie, I fired up my laptop and read Roger Ebert's review. Since he's my favorite reviewer, and I admire his personal philosophy of living (as expressed through Ebert's entertaining blog), it pleased me that we were on the same Black Swan meaning wavelength.
The tragedy of Nina, and of many young performers and athletes, is that perfection in one area of life has led to sacrifices in many of the others. At a young age, everything becomes focused on pleasing someone (a parent, a coach, a partner), and somehow it gets wired in that the person can never be pleased. One becomes perfect in every area except for life itself.
Thumbs up to that. This resonates with a post I recently wrote on my other blog, "Dance, and live, like nobody (even God) is watching."
Lots of people believe that God or some other higher power is watching everything they do, along with knowing all that they think and feel. This is much more anxiety-producing than wondering if other dancers are dissing your moves. But there's a commonality between secular and religious "dancing."
In both cases, there's no need to worry about what you look like to someone else. What's important is how you look (or feel) to yourself. You can't dance well, in life as a whole or on the hardwood, if you aren't confidently enjoying what you're doing.
Dance. Like nobody is watching.
In Black Swan, Nina drives herself crazy -- literally -- because she's fallen under the spell of being A Perfect Ballet Dancer. The head honcho of her ballet company, Thomas, wants to cast her as the lead in "Swan Lake."
After watching part of Nina's audition, he tells her that if all she had to dance was the White Swan persona, she'd have the part. But now he wants to see her Black Swan, which requires her to project a darker, more sensual, sexier, edgier Nina.
The rest of the movie is an intense, sweaty-palmed, edge-of-the-seat exploration of how an artist's commitment to perfect technique needs to evolve into a higher form of art. A philosophically inclined reviewer of the movie interpreted this as the distinction between Nietzche's Apollonian and Dionysian art.
Could be. I don't know, not being much into Nietzche. Or, art.
However, we're all artists of a sort, since daily, hourly, minutely, and momently we're creating our own lives. The basic question Black Swan raised for me is whether we do this mechanically, logically, detachedly, and drivenly -- or flowingly, intuitively, absorbedly, and relaxedly.
Either way could lie madness (at the extreme, as Nina manifests; mild to moderate craziness is a more likely side effect of overdosing on Artistic Expression).
All I can say is that perfect sweet little Nina's transformation into the sultry decidedly flawed Black Swan moved me deeply. I was inwardly cheering her on, even as it became more and more obvious where she was being led.
More accurately, where she was taking herself. In one passionate scene, Thomas and Nina get it on during a private rehearsal. She lets herself go, sexually. Then Thomas turns away, barking "You were letting me seduce you. You need to be the seducer!"
And so she does, with fascinating consequences.
Rather than letting bitchy Perfection rule her life, driving her crazy with endless "You can do better than that" criticizing, Nina dives into the deep end of her artistic pool, where alluring yet dangerous Imperfection lurks below the surface.
I left the movie applauding her choice.
Yet I understand why people are afraid of leaving the shallows. I'm also torn between staying mostly neatly, cleanly dry in the wading pool of life, and getting drippily, messily wet in the boundless sea where the Wild Things prowl.
White Swan. Black Swan. In a way we're all auditioning for the part Nina sought. It's up to us to decide what we're willing to sacrifice, or embrace, to express our inner artist.