by Johannes Goransson on Dec.27, 2010
Thanks to Megan and her interesting post (and the ensuing comment discussion), Joyelle and I went to see The Black Swan yesterday. Needless to say I really loved it. My reading of it is pretty close to Megan’s, though I ultimately don’t see it as much about gender as about art.
I agree with Megan’s observation that the trope of you have to have sex in order to let loose and become an artist is oppressive and pervasive. And, just as importantly, false. Or rather, the “letting loose” that is usually invoked is idiotic – based on a kind of Romantic nature worship, letting yourself be “natural.” Thus all the discussions based on “the authentic” in poetry – “he’s got a good ear” or “he’s the real deal.” I can’t relate to that view of art. I’m way too uptight.
Unlike Megan, I don’t think this movie gives that view of art; quite the contrary. It is true that the Director (Father, Law) wants to bring Nina (Nathalie Portman) into the starring role, both on stage and off (when meeting with donors) by invoking this platitude to accomplish it. And to enter this role, he feels she has to have sex; more specifically, she has to be fucked, to have heterosexual sex. In order to enter into the real of the Father, she has to be made into a heterosexual subject.
[Mirror becomes an “evil eye” of art rather than the mirror of the mirror stage.]
Her “Evil Twin” Lily (the names are almost interchangeable) who is more sexual and smokes (all the classic tropes of the supposedly “liberated” wild child) is much closer to the Father/Director; and she earns that spot by her naturalness – she doesn’t think, she just is (sexual, more adult, grown up etc). She’s the authentic, Nina is the fake.
The movie reverses the typical trope where the rebel/outsider is the sexual one, the smoker. Here the sexual one, “the outsider” is closer to Father. (She is in the end not, what the movie leads us to believe, her evil twin; the evil twin is Nina herself).
But Nina succeeds in the end precisely not by being fucked. She’s a big success, literally transforming herself into a black swan on stage. The way to this success is not by sex, but through a couple of other means: Fantasizing about *homosexual sex* (with Lily) and, much more importantly, fantasizing about killing Lily (Art is Crime, as Joyelle likes to say). Art is fantasizing. She doesn’t actually have sex, but she imagines (homosexual) sex. She performs, but she performs so well she herself can’t tell the real from the fantasy. Art is quite convincing!
I love the fact that the anorexic, uptight girl who refuses to let herself be fucked, who refuses to grow up, to let loose -that that’s the artist, that’s the figure that’s really threatening, that’s the figure who accesses the jouissance of the Black Swan, the Black Art. She doesn’t become daddy’s little princess (except in death).
But she’s also not Mommy’s Little Girl. The monstrous mother figure persistently tries to keep Nina as a child – with toys, pink outfits, “caring.” She won’t let her go out and is horrified when she does run off with Lily. She stays in her room in a horrific scene when Nina masturbates only to realize that her mother – asleep like some kind of dead/scary Hitchcock figure – is alseep in the room with her. Nina has no privacy, no interior. The audience keeps thinking: can’t she just get some space, can’t she just get some chance to fuck and become normal, to get away from all this grotesque self-mutilation, all these wounds wounds wounds.
Mommy is also the mommy of another bird-artist, Hitchcock’s Norman Bates.
I think Megan is right when she writes:
“The instability with which Black Swan approaches self-destruction — at times seeming to fetishize it, at times seeming to mock it (especially at the end) — provides the tension that for me rules the film, and that does so really effectively.”
I’m making things too clear: it’s in that instability, in the collapsed frame, the ridiculous and the fatal, that the movie moves. The Black swan is a ridiculous character, but she’s also the Artist, the artist as a ridiculous, anorexic girl criminal. Decidedly not the typical “real thing” – male, virile, full of ur-energy and booze.
I also love how this decidedly untypical artist generates a kind of excess seldom seen in movies about male heroic artists – the way the narrative collapses, the way blood drips from the ceiling, the way Wynona’s character turns the movie into Ringu, the way Mommy becomes Jack Nicholson in the Shining trying to break in the door (but she’s saying “what’s wrong” or something like that).
As I’ve written before, I’m fascinated by the Anorexic in our culture, in many ways a very abject figure who becomes abject by going through the figure of the Glamorous Thin Girl – becoming too thin, becoming tainted with death and jouissance. And anorexic “hunger artists” abound in this film – not Kafka’s fainting hunger artists, but murderous, back-stabbing, violent hunger artists without tits.
Like Hitchcock’s birds. Like Aase Berg’s guinea pigs. That’s the kind of ridiculous, deathly jouissance of these ballerinas.
I think I will write another post later to address some other topics: wounds and public space, the erotics of the inorganic, the violence of the artificial, the threat of the wax museum, the brilliance of Rodarte, the brilliance of Winona Ryder’s performance.
Also wanted to note that of all the proliferation of film references in this film, the most important are probably to Bergman’s Persona/The Silence (with its homosexual women with slicked back hair and subdued violence). Or to The Shining. Or to Psycho.
Also: I’m reading Keith Richard’s autobiography. He’s clearly someone who espouses the “natural artist” view (Godard is a phony). But he’s also got a really twisted, identificatory relationship to Mick Jagger that reminds me of Nina and Lilly.