Night at the movies
19 Jan 2011
Inside the Classics

It’s been awhile since I’ve gone to a movie on my own, but having an evening off while on the road gave me that opportunity tonight. My flick of choice for this outing: “Black Swan”.

Let me dispense with the accolades first; it was an incredibly engrossing film, and Natalie Portman is fantastic in it. The soundtrack, by Cliff Mansell, is an imaginative reworking of Tchaikowsky’s “Swan Lake” score that perfectly captures the compulsiveness that permeates Portman’s character (and a shout-out to my friend Tim Fain who is featured as the violinist playing during the rehearsal scenes).

Whatever the critics have called the film – “psychological thriller” is the most common moniker – is a disservice, because in the end this is a movie about both the artistic process and an artist’s obsession with perfection.

Taking too much of a literalist view of it (“how can she be turning into a swan?”) subverts the real intent – the figurative metamorphosis that a performing artist must undergo to truly serve their art. Because, in the end, when we’re onstage, we have to be something more than ourselves; we have to be a version of ourselves where all emotions and expression are immediately available, which is not a natural state in which to be.

(Spoiler alert…) And as for the ending, I spent a long, meandering car ride from movieplex to hotel room pondering its intent. And then I realized, it wasn’t about life imitating art (the demise of the Swan Queen/Portman’s character’s death) but something much broader. Artists spend their lives striving for their own form of perfections, never to be achieved; the beauty of it is all about the process, the eternal effort.

But what if you achieved that perfection, or, as Nina Sayers whispers at the end of “Black Swan”, “I was perfect”? There can’t be anything after perfection, because then the journey is finished. Artistic terminus. An unexpected cinematic reminder, for me, to keep my focus on the odyssey and not on a destination.

<February 2020>

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