I went to see Black Swan when it first opened, at the urging of a friend of mine who’s a true “cinephile” and worshipper at the altar of Portman. Natalie Portman. I have to admit, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It made me itch uncomfortably. It made me claustrophobic. I didn’t like the main character at all, and her mother, choreographer, nemesis, predecessor (played by an incredibly sinister Winona Ryder) – all were completely creepy. But it was packed to the rafters, in a 400-seat theatre. And every show was sold out. And it’s promising to be a classic of the dancer’s movie genre.
I thought about the film afterward, and my first thought was that it was as though “The Red Shoes” (classic 1948 film about dancers most dancers are kind of obsessed with) met “The Shining”, and had a very colicky lovechild. But what made it so deeply familiar and “iconic”? And of course the answer is obvious: It mirrors the ballet the main character has been cast in, Swan Lake. In Swan Lake, which is perhaps the most popular ballet of all time other than The Nutcracker, the prima ballerina has to play two roles, the White Swan and her dark shadow, the Black Swan. The White Swan is pure and kind. The Black Swan is sexual and devious. The White Swan is the delicate virgin. The Black Swan is the dark whore, a demon who seduces the handsome prince. Since the beginning of humankind, we’ve been fascinated by this duality in human nature, and we know, on some level, what happens when we “split” the light and dark sides of our character: they each take on a life of their own. Creating an angel – automatically creates a demon. And although I don’t worship at the altar of Portman, I was blown away by how well she portrayed both sides collapsing in on each other like a condemned building. Thus proving that something doesn’t need to be pleasant – to be viral or memetic.