Black Swan, and Why We Watch Films

While I’m risking sounding pretentious by saying this, I’ve found that many people that don’t study cinema don’t understand the purpose of creating a film in the first place. I talked about this a bit in my post on Rounders, but I’ve been noticing it more and more as I talk to people about the movies I watch. I watched Black Swan last night, a film with a ballerina as a protagonist, and loved it. I mentioned it to a friend of mine who does ballet herself, and she criticized it for not providing an accurate depiction of the struggles of dancers. This frustrated me a bit. With Black Swan, Aronofsky is not attempting to describe the intricacies of ballet life with realistic attention to detail. This seems like a rather obvious proposition, but I’ve heard criticisms like this raised against many films, even by those who are fairly well-versed in the medium and in storytelling in general.

Black Swan, like nearly all films (documentaries and some historical dramas excluded),  and perhaps even all pieces of fiction, attempts to distill facets of the human condition into a condensed form for our consumption and interpretation. This sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s really the best way I’ve found to describe the utility of art. Critics often talk about “authorial intent”; right now I’m certainly not attempting to enter the debate about whether authorial intent matters, but I do think it’s reasonable to say that my definition does not limit the possibility for authorial intent in the traditional sense of the phrase. I’ve defined film/art as an attempt to distill a facet of the human experience into a condensed and interpretable form; I believe that authorial intent refers to what facets the creator intends to distill in the first place, not whether this is the purpose of a piece of art at all. Perhaps that’s a discussion for another time.

Black Swan possesses the heavy stylization present in many of Aronofsky’s films, and it would take pages to discuss all of the brilliant moves he makes throughout its runtime. Just know that, as usual, Aronofsky makes full use of the medium to deliver a fantastic piece of film making. He eloquently brings to a life a story about the destructive capabilities of the pursuit of perfection, the duality of identity, and the endless conflict between passion and meticulous perfection. There were one or two times where I noticed what appeared to me as a directorial slip up, and sometimes things that I would have shot differently had I directed the film, but for the most part Aronofsky upholds his reputation as a master of pacing. These inconsistencies in quality are most obvious in the cocktail party scene, but its certainly not enough to sway the viewer’s opinion about the films overall quality and execution, which is fantastic.

I’ll be watching more Aronofsky over the following weeks, so look out for more posts on his films.

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