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!