Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Advert | Fiction | Frankie Boyle Transmorphs Into The Black Swan, Nation Mourns

I often have nightmares about films I haven't seen.

Usually it'll happen like this; I'll see an intriguing advert, obsessively read up on the film's plot details on Wikipedia, then fall asleep and suffer a dream which is, essentially, my imagined plot of the movie, in which I am forced to engage as a participant rather than as a spectator. Then I'll get round to seeing the film, find - somewhat to my disappointment - that it isn't nearly as primally unsettling as the depths of my nightmare, and I'll never be troubled by that dream again. And my most recent haunting concerned the film Black Swan, being more specifically sparked-off by the uncanny moment in the trailer at which Natalie Portman spins suddenly towards the camera, revealing wide, mad, orange, swan-like eyes.

My dream ended at the film's climax - though my version was rather less triumphal than Arononfsky's. In the movie (turn back now, spoiler warnings, and so on and so forth) Portman's character, dying, exults in the fact that she has killed off her 'good' side in order to more fully become her 'bad' side and thus won the audience's applause. In my dream, dying, she addressed the Cenotaph - which was not, however, the Cenotaph, but rather an obelisk displaying Egyptian hieroglyphs - and mourned the fact that she'd deliberately destroyed her own individuality in order to become an abstraction.

As it turned out, my dream-interpretation was partly right - Portman's feverish repetition of her desire to be 'perfect' is evidence enough of that. But it was off - because her character, Nina, starts out as an abstraction as well, a childish, submissive 'little girl/little princess', created and nurtured by her domineering mother; an "angel in the house" in waiting, as Virginia Woolf might (probably not) put it. It's actually an interesting little take on the angel/'evil woman' myth, because it's born not just of domestic loyalty to a husband, restraint in opposition to Dionysian wildness, but also of infantile the child, adult sexuality can seem not only repugnant, but also evil. Odile (the Black Swan's real name) is not explicitly monstrous in Swan Lake itself, nor to Vincent Cassel's controlling maestro, who is a creature of Dionysus himself.

I remain ambiguous about Cassel's character, who is as unpleasantly controlling in his own way as Nina's mother, but whose unconscious aims are towards Nina's psychological unity - he does not want her to transform from the White Swan 'angel' into the sexual 'Black Swan' - he wants her to reach a stage of individuation where there is enough of her to tap successfully into both without being overcome by them. He's only doing it for the sake of his ballet, of course, but the fact that Nina slips past this opportunity for self-improvement is actually the hidden crux of the film. She cannot be a 'whole person' because she has been raised as an abstraction - and her only method of rebellion is to turn into another abstraction.

Jung fans (I know you're out there) will note the manner in which Nina and Lily - Mila Kunis' character - meet in moments when Lily is not Lily but Nina's psychological other (they might also note the little linguistic mirror-game Aronofsky plays with those two names). The first time they encounter one another, it's a union of sorts, in a sex scene which will no doubt thrill teenagers of all ages for years to come. But the very fact that it's a sexual union and not some other kind of symbolic meeting suggests that the Black Swan is gaining strength. The second time they meet, Lily dies and the Black Swan takes over. Jung frequently spoke about the importance of the 'meeting-place' in dreams - in Psychology and Alchemy, he goes into detail about a patient of his encountering an 'ape' representing his wild unconscious - and stressed the danger of one opposite consuming the other, rather than reaching a state of unity.

Those who read or watched Aronofsky explaining his motivations behind the film - an enduring interest in doppelgangers - will be entertained by Dostoyevsky's The Double, in which the timid, rule-obeying clerk Nikolai Mikhailovsky is haunted by a bacchanalian, riotous twin causing chaos all around him; in the end, he enters a feast held by his doppelganger and withers away into oblivion. It's the very same Jungian pattern, with the caveat that Mihailovsky is a symbol to begin with because of society's laws, rather than an individual's...and so he cannot bring himself to ever consciously become his opposite in the way that Nina does.

I'm also reminded of our old friend Stavrogin - some day, I promise you, I'll be able to stop shoehorning Dostoyevsky into my articles - from Devils, who stretches his behaviour so far to extremes that he can only be viewed by those around him as a symbol; he is seen, variously, as a noble prince towering over men, a great Satan, a charismatic figurehead of the revolution, a buffoonish Fool, and an ur-man and ultimate object of desire and affection by his lovers (in spite of his suggested impotence). The reality is more mundane - Stavrogin behaves like all of these superlative creatures because he is bored, apathetic and lukewarm about his life and life around him, and wishes to experience everything that's possible as a result - but it is very telling that the final symbol Stavrogin attempts to take on before his careless, self-consciously un-symbolic suicide is one of infantilism. He asks Dunya, one of his lovers, if she'll be his nursemaid. As a child, he'll be not simply innocent, but innocently amoral - he'll be able to come to terms with his own apathy without it being a burden upon him; he will have no responsibility to have the moral or the immoral path foisted onto him. Perhaps sadly, this never comes to pass.

I'm reminded, too, of the ceaseless, zero-individuality thumping rhythm of perfume adverts that we were forced to sit through over Christmas. In all of these commercials, a celebrity will embody a Dionysian ideal of perfect beauty and perfect sensuality, with extravagant wealth, nudity, and sex, often with a kind of self-conscious rebellion against the established order thrown in as well (Yeah, Charlize Theron, "diamonds are dead", "a limo's a car, don't pretend". You smash the frippery of false indulgence-consumerism! The only thing that's real, as it turns out, that's really down-to-earth and important, is your brand of perfume. I hate you, Charlize Theron. I hate you more than Matthew McConnaughey, from whom I expect nothing less than simultaneously shilling and flexing his absurd abdominal muscles). They're almost always in black-and-white, as well - would it be a little too Vigilant Citizen of me to suggest that this isn't just because some idiot from marketing thinks black-and-white is classier, but also because, unconsciously, the adverts suggest an opposition of glorious light - the celebrities themselves - and dull, clinging, darkness - the world around them, and specifically the paparazzi who inevitably scurry forwards out of the blackness, trying to get close to the Dionysian hero or heroine?

And - yes - I'm reminded of Frankie Boyle, that very witty comedian and comedy-writer, who's embraced the reaction towards his most extreme jokes by turning into a comedian who is only able to make extreme jokes as an all-purpose pervert and misanthropist, and who's ended up with an easily identifiable, rather boring quip-structure as a result. His last DVD of stand-up and his sketch show might all just as well have been titled, 'This Famous Person Looks Like A Fucking Disabled Child With A Dead Foetus Glued To Their Cunt. Fuck. Rape.' Which is a real shame for those of us who actually admired his surreal turn of phrase and the interesting places his mind wandered into more than his ability to push buttons with a cheeky grin on his face. Come back and be an individual again, Frankie. We miss you.

Jon Ware
Fiction Editor

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