By M. Alexander
Saturday night, I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Black Swan. It is the story of a naïve, perfectionist ballet dancer cast into the role of both The White Swan and The Black Swan in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. To me, a great piece of art is something that I can see many times and relate to emotionally and intellectually differently upon each viewing. This time, I saw the film through the eyes of a recovering Jewish addict and for two hours I felt that I was inside the mind of Natalie Portman.
The three main actresses in the movie Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, and Winona Ryder are all Jewish. The director Aronofsky was raised in a Conservative Jewish household. I saw every scene as a projection of Portman’s subconscious, the battle between her Yetzer Hara and her Yetzer Hatov. For her whole life, she has lived in the Yetzer Hatov. Every move must be perfect; she could not lose herself and let go (in the ballet or in her life). She did not know sexuality, she did not know adventure. Her only passion, ballet, did not even seem like a passion. It became a job, a job that she must perform perfectly. Her obsession was perfection.
She is a perfect White Swan, but the entire film depicts her attempting to find The Black Swan inside of herself; perfection was no longer possible or desireable. She saw perfection as perfecting each step, but as Claude Debussy said “music (read: ‘art’) is the space between the notes”. Enter Mila Kunis: a wild, uninhibited dancer straight off the plane from San Francisco. She is Portman’s projected embodiment of The Black Swan. The remainder of the film presents Portman’s descent into paranoia, into insanity as she attempts to internalize this once external Yetzer Hara.
Natalie Portman’s character is everything that goes wrong if there is not a balance between “good” and “dark” forces. I experienced the same feeling when I smoked my first joint. I had been so anti-drug, so “straight-edge”. But all of a sudden, I was a drug addict. I do not want to make the same mistake in sobriety. Sometimes, I want to do everything “right”. I “should” wake up, clean my room, go to all my groups, eat healthy food, write, read, help a newcomer, and go to a meeting. If I do this every day, the Yetzer Hara will eventually arise with incredible force and vigor. I must feed my dark side every once in awhile; maybe I sleep in on a Sunday, maybe I talk to a girl I shouldn’t, maybe I blow off a meeting to watch a movie. The dark side will always be there; I must keep it close so that it does not ever take over again.
- Natalie Portman: ‘Black Swan’ almost killed me (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- “Black Swan” and related posts (range.wordpress.com)