ATTACK THE BLOCK

ATTACK THE BLOCK is a brilliantly timed, brilliantly witty, brilliantly written horror comedy a la SHAUN OF THE DEAD which also raises – in slightly pamphlet-like fashion – important social issues about the decimation of state-funded education, racism and class segregation in London.

And yet, I feel like I just drank a can of Cola Light. I feel a lot like I just saw TIN TIN, in fact, which the director of this film co-scripted for Spielberg. It’s not just that I don’t trust his honesty about delivering social statements at the same moment he’s working for Spielberg. It’s also that the otherwise brilliant scipt remains, at heart, a feelgood story. And curiously infantile, too, given that the movie depicts the child heroes as more mature than their adult colleagues.

I was reminded of an incident earlier this week. Some students from the HKU, my old media academy, graduated with MAC & CHEESE, a short animation which is about a chase. You can see it here:

In Dutch press I read that (my old) professors at the Academy hated the concept, and advised the students against producing this animation. As the students report, the Academy prefers productions that are only shown at festivals and that have a message. (Indeed, I remember them having this attitude in the time I was studying) However the students were dead convinced that their chase concept, stripped of all meaning & purpose*, would have commercial success; and they were proven right when Mac’n’Cheese received countless hits on Youtube, approaching a million this week.

(* including the post-modern sarcasm of the Road Runner, which they quote as their inspiration; there’s no distancing in this animation, it’s earnestly stupid)

The students explained that they were only interested in commercial effects. In fact, they hoped that the professors would give more space to productions solely focused on moneymaking, instead of fostering all these festival movies with a message.

But they still raise an interesting question: in what form do young people today express discontent? Is the fact that none of it makes any sense a kind of meta-satire?

Here I was reminded of what I read in WHY IT’S KICKING OFF EVERYWHERE, a recent London best-seller dealing with new media revolutions such as the one in Egypt.

Although he doesn’t elaborate well enough for my taste, Mason finds a lot of meaning in the fact that things like mobile phones enable you to simultaneously be an individual, and be connected.

In other words, the instantaneous nature of mobile communication allows for a heightened concentration on the Now, which despite appearing completely flat, is in fact layered: a form of mobile Buddhism.

 

The picture above may lead you to believe that BLACK SWAN is one of those multiple personality disorder movies, with a psychoanalytical plot, great character acting and a positive message about the power of self-healing. These used to star ”quality American actors” like Joanne Woodward, or Sally Field. You’ll also be temped to classify the SWAN in the Moebius narrative genre (e.g. INLAND EMPIRE), where the multiple personality disorder refers to the multiplication of ”reality” itself. In the histrionic relationship between Nina the ballerina (Natalie Portman) and her possessive mother (Barbara Hershey), one hears echoes of gay camp classics e.g. MOMMY DEAREST and CARRIE. And the sordid competition games at the ballet house unmistakably point to the greatest classic of  ’em all, ALL ABOUT EVE.

BLACK SWAN is all of those things, and none of them, at the same time.

Though he borrows a lot in the currently popular Mannerism mode, Arronofsky makes the film his own by  moving the camera along the lines of Tchaikovsky’s SWAN LAKE as though the music and the lens have merged into a synergic embodiment of the heroine’s relentless emotion. Arronofsky had already attempted this in the impressive REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, but that movie lost vitality because of its moralizing on the perils of drug addiction.

In BLACK SWAN, Arronofsky apparently matures, leaving any pretense of social commentary or psychological depth, going for the pure visceral agony, and ecstasy, of body horror, music, narcissism, and ultimately, a celebration of the Drive, where the white swan’s suicide literally does mean perfection.

What is this concretely, readers, without the academic language?

While in an earlier psycho-melodrama, we would be encouraged to think critically about the possibilities of transcending all the psychopathology, in BLACK SWAN, that psychopathology is the only way to go – everything else merely a fragmented mirror. Only at that point where she recognizes that she is, and has always been, the black swan, does the heroine overcome the doubling and fragmentations of everyday life. Her suicide is exemplary, not as transcendence, or sacrifice, but as embodiment.