Nina (Natalie Portman), a talented but disturbed ballerina, finds herself in a bittersweet position when her director retires the company’s star (Winona Rider) and puts her in the leading role of a revised version of Swan Lake. The taxing requirements of the role—the technical differences a dancer must master in order to play both the innocent white swan and her evil alter ego, the black swan—immediately begin to affect Nina’s already fragile character. When new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), begins to sabotage Nina, intent on stealing her role, Nina begins to lose her grip on reality, and the results are both horrific and profound.
Black Swan is an artful visual work, the direction (Pi’s Darren Aronofsky) both beautiful and stylistic. The dance scenes are amazing, particularly those in the opening night performance, the camera taking one out of oneself for the moment and into the dancer. Aronofsky’s portrayal of Nina’s descent into madness is well done, the visual portrayal of her slow self-destruction both disturbing and absorbing. With that said, the tension that goes along with her torment does not build so much as it does remain unsettlingly constant until nearly the final moments of the film.
hematically, Black Swan is brilliant. Aronofsky show’s Nina’s transformation from innocent and anxious “white swan” into the confident and sexy “black swan” with phenomenal use of black and white imagery. Nina begins in white: her clothing is white, the cinematography is mostly white, and her character is naïve and innocent. The scene in which she stands on the white marble staircase, wearing all white, with white marble predominantly in the background, the show’s director (Thomas Leroy) in a black suit, is a remarkable shot. As the film progresses and Nina slowly gives up more of herself to her art to perfect the “black swan,” she begins to wear grey with her white. As she loses her innocence—both as the result of her director’s sexual advances and Lily’s destructive rivalry—Nina’s clothing, as well as the cinematography, increasingly include more predominance of black imagery.
Even more beautiful, however, is the depiction of the artist’s symbolic giving up oneself for one’s art. Nina’s sacrifice reflects the sacrifice all artists experience in refining their creative endeavors—and also how all-consuming one’s art can become if taken to too dark of a place. Her mother (Barbara Hershey), who had given up dancing due to her pregnancy with Nina, is key to understanding Nina’s character, as her mental illness and need to continue expressing herself artistically (both clearly depicted by her childlike paintings) reflect Nina’s own journey as the troubled artist. Nina’s final scene is both beautiful and profound, and her performance is amazing.
My only two complaints are the pacing of Nina’s anxiety, which I already noted, and the erotic scene between Nina and Lily. While I appreciate the symbolism of Lily’s character, and the concept of her character thematically making love to herself is sound, the actual character motivation seemed a little lacking to me. The fact that Lily had dosed Nina’s drink with ecstasy only makes the scene partially forgiving, but without any prior indication that Nina might have homoerotic fantasies, the scene, as beautifully executed as it is, just didn’t work for me.
Finally, I must applaud the filmmakers and producers involved with this film for such a provocative ending. Black Swan offers hope that there still exists a market beyond the high demand for the happily-ever-after, and I give huge kudos to the people responsible for that. Because of such artistic choices, like so many of Aronofsky’s films, Black Swan is like fine literature on screen and I highly recommend it to fans of art house and alternative film.
When I finished my first novel, I remember feeling not only a sense of accomplishment, but also that amazing sense of having something special to share with the rest of the world. I still had much to learn about my craft and about publishing, but having that heavy stack of paper in my hands--my masterpiece--I felt like I was ready to take on the world. But ready I was not.
I sent out queries to all of my top-list agents, and the rejections started pouring in. Most were form letters, which were always disappointing, but a few were personal and encouraging--they saw the potential, but knew I was not quite there.
I wrote my second novel, then queried it to all of my previous rejections and then some. Same response--no one was interested in my brilliant new book. I was clueless. Luckily, I was developing a thick skin in the process.
Now that I've written ten novels, it has been interesting to revisit those first two. I recently redrafted them both, and I was surprised to see just how far my writing has come. I have to admit ... I'm mortified that I had queried for both in their previous states, and that I had actually thought they were ready for agents' eyes, let alone all the world's. They were good stories in dire need of more redrafts--in dire, dire need. I'm very thankful that they did not get published as they were, as it would have done them a great disservice.
It took writing about a million words (and reading even more) for me to be able to see my old work through new eyes. Writing, like any craft, takes time, patience, and lots of practice--and one can never stop refining one's art. I am eager to see what the next million words will bring.
I recently finished reading J. M. Coetzee's Foe, which has left me contemplating heavily over the concept of the muse. The story presents itself as the narrative of a woman who spends a year shipwrecked with Robinson Crusoe after setting off to find her missing daughter. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes evident that Foe is many layers deeper than it first appears.
I do not want to bore readers with an exhaustive critical analysis, but I do need to share that Foe is a novel all writers--or all who heed the muses--should read. The ending is haunting, yet so relevent.
I consider the stories that have haunted me over the years ... the characters that have begged, sometimes demanded, to have their stories told. I consider every one of them gifts, as maddening as they can be at times. I have a constant desire to write. I answer the call to numerous muses; the thought of adhering to just one genre would be like having to choose one food on which to sustain myself for the rest of my life. Writing sustains my soul, so I listen whenever the muses call, no matter what stories they have for me.
I've been asked before where my ideas come from and why I write the genres I write, and my answer is always the same: "I believe in muses." Sounds silly, I know, but I must give credit where credit is due. Most of the stories I write would not fall under mainstream or popular fiction, but they do have an audience--and writing them is always thoroughly enriching and fulfilling, no matter how hellish some points of the process might be. Most readers who do not write have never experienced the blissful, beautiful hell that comes with being a writer, the hours upon hours of typing, revising, editing, the writer's block, the eye strain.... Writers truly write because we must. The muses can be demanding, however, and the stories if left ignored eventually build like steam in a boiling kettle. They don't always come easily, but they demand to be written just the same.
Sometimes the muses play tricks, throw in twists in the last minute, or change parts of the storyline without advance warning. For example, I found out Andy's pivotal role in the second The Darkness and the Night book only when the the muses disclosed it in the story: I had a moment of silent awe as the scene revealing him played out, and then I went back and read his scenes in the first book, Blood and Coffee, delighted with the twist. I know I'm alone in this phenomonon, and I would love to hear from others on t.
Other writers, what are your experiences with the muses? Readers, what is your take?