I needed something to jar me out of the stupor of a suburban Christmas eve. So I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. With all the trash that has come out of Hollywood this year, Black Swan is indeed a case of saving the best for last. Natalie Portman plays the role of Nina Sayers, a naive but hardworking young woman who dances for a high class ballet company in New York. But her ambition to become a star sets her in mortal conflict with a darkness she carries within herself.
Nina wants what every ballerina desires: a chance to shine. But desire, as we all know, is a funny thing. It is the driving force of creativity. But then it can also destroy or imprison the creative mind. In the movie, desire takes on its sinister aspect when it is set against the body, portrayed as a thing– a creature–that is not entirely human. In a sense, Afronofsky uses the dancers body as a space where desire turns the self against itself.
I tend to think of the ballet dancer as capable of defying the boundaries of the normal human body. Whether still or in motion, the dancing body presents itself as invulnerable. In the execution of every seemingly impossible movement, the ballet audience is invited to see a body that cannot break, a muscle that cannot tear, a tendon that cannot be sprained, a toe nail that cannot crack. Perhaps, the power of ballet as a dance form stems from its ability to trick us into seeing angelic grace and beauty where we should see a human body that is fragile and injurable, a body that is repeatedly mutilated in order to embody perfection.
In Black Swan, Afronofsky shows us that the dancer’s body bleeds and breaks–sprained ankles, peeled skin, fractured toe nails. However, and this is where it becomes interesting, he also wants to make the point that creativity is released at the point where the body is exposed to forces that threaten to destroy it. And that the angelic body of the ballet dancer is most beautiful at the point where it loses its boundaries and is transformed into its darkest and non-human form.