Black Swan

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

black swan

black swan

black swan

black swan

black swan

black swan

black swan

black swan

I finally saw Black Swan yesterday and I loved every minute of it. It’s one of those rare films that actually does live up to all the hype surrounding it. Watching it though, I actually thought it’s more about the idea of the artist than about ballet itself. And it is, in my opinion, a perfect example of Romantic philosophy. By “Romantic”, I’m not referring to romance as such but to the kind of artistic philosophy developed by the Romantic poets in the nineteenth century. To me, the film explored some of the most dominant ideas associated with Romanticism.

Such as ...

Artistic spontaneity: the idea that artistic creation and the artist’s identity come from within, rather than from without, is partly owed to the Romantic poets. When they were writing their poetry in the nineteenth century, they were also developing an artistic philosophy that went against the standard norm of their day. They came from a background of aesthetic theory which dictated that rules, structure and discipline were paramount to the creation of art. The artist created for an audience and his/her influence came from external forces rather than from within him/herself. The Romantics rebelled against this idea and initiated what is perhaps the most commonly known idea of artistic identity: inner subjectivity and spontaneous inspiration. The most perfect encapsulation of this philosophy is William Wordsworth’s famous saying that poetry is the “spontaneous overflow” of feelings.

The battle between discipline and spontaneity is basically what drives Black Swan as much, or perhaps even more so, than the battle between innocence and experience. It is also a dialogue about what an artist is supposed to be: is Nina’s disciplined dedication a full expression of artistic identity, or is the creation of art more than that? In the end, I’m pretty sure the film answers this question quite explicitly and beautifully.

Madness: Romanticism has always linked madness with artistic creation and genius. This idea that you must tap into an altered consciousness and state of being in order to create something of real artistic worth. Of course, this is totally dramatic, but I do find it interesting. In Black Swan, we’re constantly wondering whether the excellence that lurks within Nina is inherently linked to her growing madness. To me, this raised all sorts of questions about how far we're willing to go for the sake of art – that is, how much of yourself do you have to sacrifice in order to create?

Desire: for the Romantics, desire often propels art. It’s also a symbol for the inner self. When I was watching Nina’s need to transform her discipline into desire, what occurred to me was the fact that this is often not done through a female artist in other films: it’s the man who gets to perform desire, while the woman is usually the thing that is desired. This film is provocative in many ways, but I actually think one of its most provocative challenges is the one that has gone largely unnoticed. Black Swan doesn’t only break the mould of the “good-girl” image for Portman, but also, for the female artist.

Okay, so if you’ve endured my academic babble about the film so far, can I conclude with a truly girly statement and say, Natalie Portman’s white dress in the party scene: I want one!


SJ said...

after reading this, i looked up session times for my local cinema and i'm going to go see it tonight.
i had been thinking of waiting till it was out on DVD but this has made me want to see this very second.
great post.

Mariella said...

It's an interesting perspective Hila, I love the connection you made between Nina's expression of her art, dedication, commitment and the romanticism. I watched Black swan and loved it as well, I found the story being very striking and powerful and natalie portman (as well as other actors' such as Cassel) performance outstanding. Not to mention the fact that at times I found it terrifying and quite disturbing. The costumes? Absolutely amazing.

Wishcandy said...

Extremely well said. Romanticism is my favorite period in art as well as literature.

I do wonder how far we'll go to create, to achieve perfection and greatness.

I can't wait to see this film again. There are a lot of fantastic sublime and grotesque moments. There is a fantastic balance of naivety and darkness, the juxtaposition i love most (and use in my own work).

odessa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
odessa said...

hila, yes to all your points. i tethered between love and like after watching Black Swan. and still to this day, can't decide which one. maybe i need to watch it again. or maybe i just like my films to be a little less dramatic and more subdued and meandering. i'm not quiet sure. but its definitely a feast for eye.

and to add on your girly note, i want Nina's pink coat! also, why is Vince Cassel so sexy? ;)

Emily Vanessa said...

This has to be one of the best reviews of Black Swan that I've read because I feel you go to the heart of what the film is really about. Some people are critical, saying ballet isn't really like that but to me, it's more about being an artist and what drives you, entering into the darkness of someone's tormented mind where you don't know what's real. I hadn't connected it with the romantic philosophy but can now see it pperfectly. Great shots from the film, I too want that white party dress.

StarletStarlet said...

I love this movie and what a well put review!

"The battle between discipline and spontaneity" ... absolutely brilliant and I think is a constant challenge for myself in being creative.

amy said...

oh i saw black swan yesterday too! it was completely mesmerising. and your words sum it up so perfectly, as always. x

fabriken said...

this is a great review. i wasn't that interested in it, thinking it was "just a ballet movie". but now i kinda have to see it

skeletaldreams said...

this is an amazing review, dear. i watched it the other day and reading this made understand the inherent ideas behind the film further (than what i had interpreted it initially). thank you!
natalie portman is just so wonderful in it as well, not to mention beautiful.
thank you for your lovely comment


MANDY said...

I loved it too !!!

Design Elements said...

you've done a great review!

If Jane said...

oh me kicking imaginary dirt---i haven't seen it yet...but i get the feeling i will like it as well...i like how you deconstructed it here...merci! ;))

Sarah said...

i LOVE the black swan! it's disturbingly brilliant for me, and though some scenes were a little disturbing, i still found the movie to be amazing. it was genius!


lizzie said...

i haven't seen it yet, but you're awfully convincing.

jessie said...

i absolutely loved this film, completely amazing in every way. Oh and I want that dress too!

anabela / fieldguided said...

Oh, I'm so glad you loved it. I was dismayed to read this piece:

The ballet dancing was almost besides the point, I thought, so it was rough to read all those criticisms of an actress' dancing. Although if I spent every minute of my life practicing an art I might be defensive myself...

The above fore-mentioned. said...

i loved this film, it was beautiful and dark and as everyone has said above, natalie portman was wonderful. i am glad you reviewed this film and that your review has delighted so many and caused them to want to see it!

Miss Moss said...

i have to say that i came away from the film feeling incredibly ill at ease. now i can't look at a hangnail without thinking about that scene in the bathroom. i may have to watch it again soon, just because i was so on edge throughout the entire film waiting to see what was going to happen that i didn't appreciate everything else about it.

as for everyone criticizing her dancing, the film required an actress who could portray a character that was losing her entire grip on reality - not a dancer who could do a perfect swan lake. as you said, the ballet was besides the point.

Niina said...

your review on this film was so good that I am afraid to go see this film when it eventually reaches Finland. I stumbled upon your blog just a couple of days ago and immediately fell in love with your writing (since the topics I already did). It´s striking to see that someone has found almost the same film stills captivating. What makes me really glad is to know your posts will keep coming now on. Truly, all the best.

natalie said...

I will definitely have to see this now. I was a little apprehensive because I am not one to ever see a horror-type film, but I love Natalie Portman and ballet, so I will give it a go. :)

Fantastic review! You're always so insightful.

haze said...

Aww... i love her... <3

Tana said...

love your amazing review

Kristen said...

While I appreciate your introduction of Romanticism in relation to Black Swan, it's important to note that it functions on a paradox and that's exactly why we call it "romantic", which you perfectly embodied in this statement,

"Artistic spontaneity: the idea that artistic creation and the artist’s identity come from within, rather than from without, is partly owed to the Romantic poets. When they were writing their poetry in the nineteenth century, they were also developing an artistic philosophy that went against the standard norm of their day. They came from a background of aesthetic theory which dictated that rules, structure and discipline were paramount to the creation of art."

Romanticism would never had occurred had it not been for the strictures that dictated the "norm", which, if we get technical, really renders "spontaneity" as null. The Romantics were far-sighted, no doubt, but remember that most of them also thought themselves capable of "free will", which, is absolutely a myth. But enough of that.

In the case of Black Swan this struggle enters in her technical training / mother / environment, etc. There is no other option but to comply or rebel. Of course, she rebels (this is very "romantic").

Part of the reason why the film fell flat for me, aside from the cinematography, was just that the story was far too basic. A crazed artist who dives off the deep end? Well alright. No doubt, there are many issues to explore and the film was presented in a way that was able to make these compact but central. However, I think that if Arronofsky had made this as gritty as Pi it would have been so much more hard-hitting. I think I just honestly had a hard time "buying" the story with Natalie Portman playing the lead.

Molly said...

Absolutely beautiful review, my favorite that I've stumbled across regarding Black Swan. I was greatly moved by the film, it is one I'll truly never forget.

hila said...

Kristen: hi there, I appreciate your different opinion on the film, but I'm afraid I totally disagree. Sure, we are products of our environment, but I don't think this renders spontaneity or free will null, or a myth. That's an opinion, not a fact. I think you also somewhat simplify the romantics' notion of themselves and their work.

We have a choice as to how we react to our present conditions and what we build from it. That's the part of ourselves that is free and gets to decide. That's also the part that affects those conditions within which we live. I'm sorry, I just don't prescribe to this formless idea of lack of personal responsibility and ability to function as someone with a free will. I know a lot of die-hard postmodernists do, but postmodernism is itself a philosophy, not a system of inherent truth.

The romantics knew they functioned on a paradox and that their philosophy hinged on it. In the very same sentence in which Keats discussed the idea of an internal self for example, he also described how the artist is essentially null and void and subject to his immediate conditions. Part of what makes them interesting too me if their contradictory nature. This doesn't mean I can't appreciate the more "simpler" aspects of their philosophy.

I enjoyed the film, and Portman as the lead, so I guess we're not going to agree, but I don't think a film should necessarily be dismissed because of its lead actress. It is a very basic story, but there's nothing essentially wrong with that. And complex storylines don't always mean complex intentions, or results. I think you just have to accept it on its own terms, which for me, was an exploration of romanticism at its most basic level. Sure, things could be more complex, but you could say that about 90% of the films out there - so what? Sometimes you just have to appreciate things for what they are. I think I was just trying to convey why I liked the film and basically steer it away from the boring "but Natalie Portman isn't a ballet dancer" critique. It's your prerogative not to like the review, but this is how I saw things.

Thanks for offering such a thoughtful response though! I have to admit, I had the same argument with a friend of mine over the film :)

Marinka said...

I agree with you it really reflect romantism in its artistic sense! I loved that movie so much she deserves all the recognition

Sarah said...

hi sweetie!

hope you've been well! my girlfriends and i are gonna have a movie day in, watching black swan, again! hahaha. :D

oh, and just thought i'd let you know that i'm hosting my first giveaway. :D would be wonderful if you'd be a part of it! xx

Silvia said...

What a cool review! I read the wikifor this film before I saw it and a critic said it "wasn't entirely satisfying". Yet I thought the end of black swan was exactly what Portmans Character-in her twisted little world-wanted.

Carolina said...

Loved this review. So insightful!

tywo said...

I simply adore this movie.
You have done it justice!
I wish you a good weekend.


CloudyKim said...

Wow, I'm so glad you reviewed this movie! I had been in a "I need happy films" mood when it came out, so that's why I didn't go run off to the theaters to see it. However, I would like to rent because it seems like such an amazing movie, and all the reviews and hype has continued to make me intrigued by it. I love ballets, and I'm aware of the cut-throat competition that does define being a ballerina. But, ah, the outcome! Well, I cannot wait to see it, and I loved reading your opinions on it.

Des said...

I still need to see this film, so I appreciate your review here. It sounds so intruiging. I hope darren aronofsky continues to make these kinds of films.

gracia said...

Reading this post on a quiet Sunday evening and now I wish to see Black Swan. Perhaps early tomorrow. Perhaps I'll go the pictures and dive into another world.

Thanks for the beautiful reminder of "William Wordsworth’s famous saying that poetry is the “spontaneous overflow” of feelings", and for every little thing. I really enjoy your posts, Hila. Of late and always.

P R I M O E Z A said...

i also loved this film and enjoyed reading your review on it. i agree it's refreshing to see a story about a woman's struggle with her artistic work rather than being confined to relationships/the domestic environment.

hila said...

Sj: I’m glad this convinced you to go see it in the cinemas, it’s not quite the same with dvds, you need to feel this film on a large scale, in the dark.

Mariella: yes, I agree, disturbing and beautiful all at the same time.

Wishcandy: yes, and I also think there is a deliberate play on stereotypical binaries and juxtaposition – ironically, this is part of the reason why certain critics have attacked the film.

Odessa: I like both meandering and dramatic, so I wasn’t at all bothered by the style and drama of the film. And yes, his damn sexiness is too much!

Emily Vanessa: thanks! Yes, I’ve read all those reviews about the ballet side of it and they are so boring and beyond the point.

Starletstartlet: me too, it’s a tough life creating, although I don’t think we have it quite as bad as Nina :)

Amy: thanks amy, I’m so glad you liked it, I thought you would.

Fabriken: yes, please, do go see it.

Skeletaldreams: thanks for saying so :)

Mandy: yes!

Design elements: thanks!

If jane: hope you get to see it soon, I tried not to include too many specific plot spoilers.

Sarah: yes, it was quite disturbing in parts. And good luck with your giveaway!

Lizzie: aw, thanks.

Jessie: I know, I was so impressed by that dress.

Anabela: true, maybe they have a bit of a right to be defensive, but still, I found the whole idea of that article pointless. I mean, they don’t interview authors to ask them what they think of a portrayal of poetry or writing in a film, do they? It’s a film, it has its own logic and themes, it’s not a documentary about ballet. Oh and my other half is a ballet dancer, he thought the film was brilliant.

The above fore-mentioned: oh thanks!

Miss Moss: yep, totally agree. I’m also amused by the amount of viciousness spewed out against Portman because of this film. It’s all starting to sound like a bunch of catty girls picking on her. I wish people would just let it go and try to be a bit more creative and less literal in their approach to the film.

Niina: thank you, that’s incredibly sweet of you to say.

Natalie: thanks! It’s not really a horror film, more like suspense. I really don’t like horror films either, so you don’t have to worry about that aspect of the film.

Haze: me too :)

Tana: thanks!

Kristen: I wanted to add, my friend now thinks you’re awesome.

Molly: thanks so much!

Marinka: I agree, and I hope she wins the Oscar!

Silvia: ah critics, sometimes I think nothing will please them :)

Carolina: thanks!

Tywo: thanks, I hope I did.

Cloudykim: I hope you like it when you see it.

Des: me too, he needs to make more.

Gracia: right back at you, lovely friend.

Primoeza: absolutely, I wish there were more films that explored this.

Kristen said...

I'm definitely not simplifying - I brought my stance back to the movie just to say as a whole, I liked it, but didn't think it was particularly incredible. It was affecting, but just not as gritty or possibly heavy as his other films. The point of the comment was just to say your stance was interesting.
I wasn't making an argument for good will, nor stating an absolute "truth". I think obviously we are going to differ because defining terms is still yet unresolved as a whole. What I was merely stating is that the Romantics believed they could overcome their conditions, create, etc. They wanted to push boundaries and to say that they knew every single limit they had would be false as of course, there were so many scientific discoveries to be made on the horizon. What they did do was basically insist on pushing boundaries that obstructed their freedom, but again I don't think this necessarily illustrates 'free will'. This whole concept surfaces again with the existentialists and caves in on itself when Sartre can't even defend himself.
So, what I was trying to say was just that it's interesting that you brought this up. But I think what's interesting as well as that Portman's character shows my point as well - that's there's only so much her body can take.
'Free will' is just as much physical as mental, that is basically what I'm trying to convey. I can only make certain decisions if I am aware of them, I can only act within my limits. Again, not a truth. The conditions have to be right for both to even exist, much less be able to be theorized about.

hila said...

fair enough, I see what you're saying better now. I still think we fundamentally disagree about free will, and possibly, the romantics, but I won't put forth my opinions yet again as we'll end up going in circles - which is fine face-to-face, but incredibly frustrating on the internet. This makes me just want to talk to you in person as this conversation is interesting. Ah well. I will add though that I do think there's also an element of satire involved in the film, which would add a whole new meaning to this debate.

Kristen said...

It's an unresolved issue still, each stance has so many great points to continue to develop - I merely wanted to ground the review in something physical. The Romantics had a tendency to become lofty idealists and let's not forget for some this is exactly why they couldn't see their impending physical demise which is as "real" as it gets. It's a careful balance to be maintained and considered. The way we frame things is crucial, it always seems to come down to perspective, (and what is that?). That's all.

hila said...

yes, I agree. I suppose I'm more sympathetic to the romantics' penchant for loftiness, and perhaps view it equally "real" as the physical, because I have those tendencies myself. Personality is personality. But it's a sympathy and empathy I've developed over the years out of very difficult "real" situations in my life, so I'm not coming from a position of wide-eyed naiveté or innocence. I'm not suggesting that this is what you're saying, I'm simply stating where I'm coming from. But you know what: I've also come to the conclusion that whatever your position, you need someone to challenge it every once in a while, otherwise it becomes rigid and uninformed.

Gosh, I feel sorry for anyone attempting to read my comments here, I think I'll give it a rest!

See Hear Say said...

i just LOVE this movie

hila said...

me too Laura.

urie / ur said...

one question: why does it end in death of the artist (Natalie Portman)?

hila said...

I don't think I can answer that question, or, I'm not even sure that there is only one answer to it. My personal interpretation is that she dies because she consumes herself through transcendence.