by Johannes Goransson on Dec.30, 2010
[Laura Mullen wrote this response on my facebook page, and I thought it was really astute so I am posting it here:]
A thrilling and extremely unsettling frottage across layered binaries, Aronofsky’s Black Swan is *possibly* one of the most powerful feminist films of the decade if not the (so far) century. Obviously the film is an important addition to a long tradition of dance films, mostly for and about women: it’s clearly in conversation with Michael Powell’s 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, whose hectic fevered eeriness it escalates. But half a century has gone by and the exploration of the way in which a rigorous and heavily stylized art form (ballet) both allows for and deforms women’s sexuality has taken a drastically darker and more savage turn–although (and this will destabilize feminist claims for the film) we haven’t managed to change the ending. What’s new here is the way Aronofsky uses the jagged edge of each reflection / comparison, so that the tired tale of woman-as-commodity has the fast vicious bloody pace of an ugly bar fight. (That strobe light dance sequence in the club, all red and black, is the secret pace of the film as a whole–just what the choreographer, with his exquisite French impatience, is trying to hold his slow star to…) A strobe light might be, in fact, the secret method or measure of the film as a whole: good / evil, black / white, old / young, innocent / experienced, alive / dead, clean / dirty, whole / broken, hetero / homo–and so on (off / on / off…)–flash each against their opposite so quickly that, in my experience, the subject who watches comes close to knowing the situation of the subjectivity watched. In the bathroom, after, I swear I thought I saw a splash of blood where…it wasn’t–and it took me awhile to stop shaking. (I’m not sure I’ve fully stopped.) This is a Director (and a writer) who knows something about what it means to lose body–and mind–in the effort to be perfect, as perfection appears to shrink to a brutally sharp (penetrating) point. But is the virgin / whore binary really complicated here or only (once again) exploited better than it’s ever been before? “Was I good?!” One character calls out to someone who only dreamed of being loved: the answer is yes / no.