Monday, December 27, 2010
Black Swan 
MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (4 stars)
IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert’s Review -
Let it be said right at the beginning that Black Swan is _not_ for everybody.
I find it to be an excellent movie. I do think that Darren Aronofsky will probably (and deservingly) be nominated for Best Director for the Academy Awards. Natalie Portman will probably be nominated (also deservingly) for Best Actress and even Mila Kunis might be nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
However, Black Swan definitely deserves its MPAA R rating and is clearly intended for an adult audience. Yes, there are various quite graphic sexual issues in the movie (without nudity however) as well as some (club) drug use. However, the _biggest issue_ is simply the movie’s _intensity_. I would recommend to parents who would consider taking their kids/teens to this movie to _please see the movie first_ and only then reflect on whether or not to take the kids. I personally do _not_ see any screaming necessity for someone under 17 to “have to see” this movie.
Ok, why then do I consider this to be an excellent movie? Well, it’s about art (ballet), it’s about excellence, it’s about a fair question that can be asked regarding excellence in any field (in the arts, in sports, in your job): How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve excellence, to become “the best?”
This turns out to be a surprisingly universal question and _perhaps_ the arts today have come up with an interesting (and surprising) answer to the dilemma.
Referring here to the recent review that I wrote about the movie Tron, I wrote then that the first Tron movie in particular needed to be understood in terms of the conceptual art movement that began in the latter part of the 20th century. According to conceptual art theory, any work of art can be broken up into two parts: the first being the idea or _concept_ behind the work of art and then its _representation_.
Conceptual art theory suggests that sometimes the _concept_ behind a work of art can be legitimately more important than its _representation_. In the case of the Tron movies, I argued that the _concept_ behind the Tron movies exploring the analogy between the relationships of Computer Programmer/Program and God (Creator)/Man (Creature) was, in fact, more interesting than its _representation_ in the Tron movies and interesting regardless of whatever else one may have thought of those movies.
I noted in that review of Tron that conceptual art theory is actually quite _democratizing_ because, let’s face it, most of us, when asked to draw, could only represent people/things with little more than stick figures. Conceptual art theory suggests that as long as the _concept_ sought to be expressed was interesting enough, even _representing_ it through stick figures would be legitimate. Hence, many more of us could become "artists" than we ever thought possible ;-).
Black Swan looks at the other, representational, side of the equation and asks a legitimate question about the _cost of perfection_, that is, about the cost of _perfect_ representation.
Many folks _laugh_ at modern art and even specifically at “conceptual art” saying it’s a cop-out: Why not seek to produce art which is _both_ strong in _concept_ and of high quality in _representation_?
Well, the movie Black Swan points out that the cost of “perfect representation” can be _very high_. As I pointed out above, this insight has validity outside the realm of the arts, extending to athletics, to one’s job, to any “professional field.” At what point is something perfect enough? or the _cost_ of "perfection" begin to exceed its value/usefulness?
So conceptual art theory is not only “democratizing” allowing “stick figure artists” a chance to express ideas that more technically gifted artists may never think of, it is also more _humanizing_. This is because in the end, it may be better for the artist (and even for the art form) to allow a “chubbier, more stilted ballerina" on stage than to have “the best” who risks destroying herself in the process. Is "good art" (or "good" anything) really worth human sacrifice?
"What profit one to gain the whole world but to lose one's very self in the process?" (Mt 16,25)
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