black swan & pleasure

by Feng

I’d been wanting to see Black Swan for a while. And I’ve been reading Montevidayo a lot and loving it,  and then I saw that M. Milks wrote something about The Wrestler and Black Swan and I wanted to be able to read it… so I went to the movie on Xmas eve with my brother. Then I came home and read the article.

Great movie. The effects that made Nina’s psychological trauma a “reality” were my favorite part. Like Milks, I felt like there was something about the film that left me unsatisfied. Milks isn’t convinced that the self-destructive Nina was motivated by her own character or the “real horrors” of her world… I’m not on the same page. I see both the White and Black swan as representations of oppressive identities. Nina is tragic because she has no character… she is smothered/controlled by her mother, lives in suspended childhood, and has no life outside of the ballet company, within which she has no social connection. She wants to be perfect in all the clichéd senses of the term, and along with this comes the expected “disorders” in diet and self-harm. She wants to be Perfect and please everyone, but when her tiny world of music boxes and pink solitude is ruptured, it is her lack of a self that makes it impossible for her to please anyone. Perfect is an ambiguous term and is not definite. For Thomas, it is passion, or reigned eroticism/chaos. Nina doesn’t understand passion and Perfection to her, means pleasing others (fear of disappointing others)… this becomes a problem when there is a diversity of expectations of what she should be. She is uninterested in pleasing herself, which makes the moment when Thomas tells her to go home and “touch herself” interesting because she must be directed towards a self that doesn’t exist. Yet. This point is where the film becomes interesting.

Art that moves comes from within, and she has no within. Nina’s dancing is flawless, but impersonal. It is only when real feeling enters that she gives the “perfect” performance. Her heart is actually broken. She actually feels jealousy. She actually feels her own pain. She actually feels lust. Feels resentment, hatred that is her own. She is, at the critical point, violent and ruthless towards others… and finally the white swan.  (Thomas tells her that the only way standing in the way is herself.) The mistake is that she believes him. When she self-destructs in the end, the moment was flat because it seems to end up being the old fight between black and white, this and that, self and other… though in Nina’s case, she is mostly a channel through with the desires of various others war. The point at which she finally gets a tenuous sense of self, of selfishness, is also the point at which she must die. Kill the selfless self. This makes sense, is necessary, because Nina’s entire existence is dependent on the wills/desires of (m)others. Not even at the top of the ramp at the conclusion of Swan Lake does she have any idea why she doing what she doing or what she wants, except that she had felt Perfect for once in her life. Perfect, in this sense, as selfish. Unrepressed. Acknowledging her own will / lust / drive. Her doll shell cracked, she is able to do something other than idolize others. She can finally empathize, as shown in the scene at the hospital with Beth, the other suicidal dancer destroyed also by Thomas. The tragedy of Black Swan is that Nina does not reach that outlet that Lily provides (Lily, the self-pleasing, successful, lustful)… she does not get to live/dance as an individual, (let alone dance for the sake of dance, which can only happen after the self is relinquished, and this can only happen after there is a self to begin with,) because she has already been eaten by her life, the company, the mother. Too bad!

So please yourself.