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.