For Perfection – a review of Black Swan

Finally got around to seeing Black Swan last night – all by my lonesome, surrounded by gigglers and murmurers but thankfully no laughers or talkers or hecklers. And the teenage couple with all lusty eyes and smooches actually watched the movie, so I can say that the movie-going experience itself was mostly a success.

Though I will always remember The Dark Knight at eleven in the morning after opening night, the silence thick as butter, when one child began to cry in the opening production studio titles and a lone voice from the front yelled “shut that kid up.” A bit much, but with no less a feel of reverence rare to find these days.

My name is Karl Pfeiffer and I don’t condone yelling at children in movie theaters.

Of course, neither do I condone bringing them to the Dark Knight.

Respect. That’s what I ask.

So, Black Swan.

Brilliant writing. Not too much. Not too subtle. Brought together at the end, and brutally, elegantly honest. Brilliant acting. I found myself smiling with Natalie Portman, as if encouraging or sharing or participating in her struggles and victories. Her tears are real, her character is real. Her swan is real. Especially in a story of a girl losing herself in a role, acting in this movie is everything, and it is genius. Brilliant directing. Confession, my first Aronofsky film. But I’m impressed. His eye and feel for the story is inherent in every aspect, with a kind of permeance in each nevertheless individually fantastic component, from acting to sound to photography to score to feel.

This movie did it right. Like putting the pieces of a 4D puzzle together, spatially, temporally; this was a prime time for Aronofsky to make this movie. Following the visceral psychological Requiem and the intensely human “sport” film Wrestler, Darren has not only been building to a supernaturally inclined psychological thriller, but a – key point – critically respected psychological supernatural twisted horrific film.

Thank god.

I’m a huge proponent of the intellectual horror genre. I believe that the depths of consciousness (and equally) the heights, and where those meet at the veil are places intimidating, scary, far beyond us in ways that our own small psyches can’t process in our own small bodies. Lovecraftian. Celestian. Of a fear found looking into the eye of a great squid. Human emotion and the richness of things like love and loss and fear and joy intertwines so elegantly with the unseen world, and that’s really at the heart of my own work, my own passion, and most directly at the heart of this movie.

Early on there’s discussion of losing one’s self in a part, of transcendence through passion, perfection by passion and not technique, of a kind of living beyond the ballet and the form and the dance, blurring a line between expression and the thing itself. For Portman’s Nina Sayers, she must fulfill the role by becoming the Black Swan herself, a seductive, sexy, rebellious character. Everything she herself is not. She plays the White Swan perfectly already, Thomas Leroy, her instructor tells her, timid, reluctant, afraid. Oh, and she’s a little bit nuts. (I would be too with a mother like that.)

And so the premise is laid for the tale to intertwine, to study, to rise above. Psychologies and realities, justifications and unions, masturbation and sex, between two, between one, between selves and something higher, about sacrifice.

There aren’t a lot of answers in the film, but by the end they become clear. There’s ambiguity, but a comfortable one. What’s in her head, what’s not, what’s supernatural, what’s insanity, what’s art and what’s performance and what’s perfection.

The story is the hows.

Truly a study, paralleling the story of Swan Lake, of loss, of gain. This movie is a dance of themes itself, and they’re my themes.

In my short story, Dreamland Crocotta, I play with many very similar issues. A man comes into contact with the darkness as he loses himself and his grips on this material, horizontal world. Things get hard then; the world stops making sense, there’s reality and then there’s unreality and then there’s what’s real beyond these things we touch and feel and call real and we start to see a plane and as we reach for emotion and we touch teardrops and speak to spirits, there comes something more. Can we call it perfection? Can we strive? Can we make art perfect without losing ourselves? Is it blasphemous to ask what it is that we really have lost?

Yes, this movie was tailor-made for me.

Yes, it’s immediately become one of my favorites and deals with those issues that I think each of us as artists, as spiritual investigators, as human beings, should be studying.

And for that alone, yes, you need to see it. And I hope you can appreciate it as much as I did.

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2 thoughts on “For Perfection – a review of Black Swan

  1. Debbie T says:

    Love your writing style, you have a great future! Saw the Black Swan last week with a friend who chose it over True Grit because she though TG would be too violent. Snort. I found Black Swan both beautiful and horrifying; my mind still goes back to it occasionally. So well written, so deeply disturbing. I had to close my eyes several times and I’m not a stranger to the horror genre. Maybe it was too realistic. I walked out of the theater in shock. Still puzzling over my reaction to the film. I guess “wow” doesn’t quite cover it.

    • karlpfeiffer says:

      And yet, kinda the only word that comes to mind when you finish watching, isn’t it? Thank you for your kind words! Glad you too enjoyed the film – it’s one I obviously really connected with.

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