Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Black Swan: why we need to meet our darkest selves

Early in the film, Nina (Natalie Portman) encounters her own self coming towards her on a road, dressed in black, looking askance at her, with a little smile playing on her lips.

The way, sometimes, we encounter a part of ourselves, just like that, or sometimes when we realize there is more to us than just what even we see in ourselves.

The question is - what is the conversation which ensues? Do we have an internal fight? Or a talk to recognize, acknowledge and accept that we have a different, often darker side? Or do we just shy away from having a dialogue?

Black Swan asks these questions, surreally, inside the head and heart of an emotionally overwrought and totally-on-the-edge girl.  As Nina, a ballerina,  prepares for the role-of-a-lifetime of the Swan in Swan Lake, she is able to essay the role of the pure White Swan with ease. But she is just not able to break loose to play the evil Black Swan. She's just too nice to be able to essay the insidious.

And then life's umpteen pressures start telling on her - her mother's imprisoning nurturing, the snideness of some of her co-dancers, the seduction of a freedom which a new danseuse provides, the extreme tension of delivering what is expected of her, and, above all, her very own lonely fragility.

She is perfect in her dance technique, but is unable to garner the abandon which would help her transcend technique into genius. She is not able to let go - and she is half the performer - and person - that she can be.

I remember there was an incredible episode in the original Star Trek series where Captain Kirk is split into two persons - one which embodies all that is good in him, and the other which has all the evil of his being. And the all-good person is a failure as a Captain - good-hearted but indecisive, compassionate but without the ability to take those hard decisions which leaders have to take. And his evil side kept on exhorting the good one to be ruthless and above feeling, so that he could finish the mission. Ultimately they are able to join both the Captains again, and the true leader which Captain Kirk was, emerges.

Everyone of us has to accept what boils within us. We cannot sit in denial of what drives us and our being, and then expect to live a life of acceptance and truth. Otherwise, we will break symbolic and literal rashes (the way Nina does) and keep encountering our hidden selves in dark alleys, which would have us live diminished lives in the worlds we inhabit.

Black Swan is often terrifying in its intensity, and one has to look away from the haunting vulnerability of Nina, as she deals with the demons fighting inside her. We may never tip over the precipice, as she does, but one understands why, at some point in our lives, we need to meet our darkest selves, however frightening it might be, to be complete as persons.

7th March 2011