Posts tagged memento
I’ll cut to the chase: this film is not a pleasure to watch.
Don’t get me wrong; as a nominee for the Best Picture Oscar and probably Natalie Portman’s best work to date, Black Swan is by all means an incredible film. But it does depict, in terrifying detail, the grim reality that great art can come at a great price.
I noticed that I was tensed up for most of the movie, which I guess is why it’s a thriller. Still, it was the most uncomfortable I’ve felt while watching any thriller.
It’s easy to feel uncomfortable when seeing a story through the eyes of an unreliable narrator like protagonist Nina. Similarly to Memento and Insomnia, Black Swan constantly keeps you questioning what is real and what is a figment of Nina’s nervous imagination.
The film’s over-the-top sexual scenes and crazy dramatics, combined with her dizzying hallucinations, are big reasons to feel distressed watching the film, but there is a more profound reason why the film shook me.
When you break it down, Portman plays an incredibly ambitious, disciplined dancer who puts so much energy into mastering her role (two roles, actually, that are literally as different from each other as black and white) that she ends up being consumed by the role, for the worse.
What chilled me about this is that great art, unfortunately, often does demand great sacrifice or destruction. In the real world.
Now, I won’t admit that I may not know the whole truth about the brilliant Heath Ledger’s (far too) early demise, but it sure sounded to me like it was not unrelated to his work for The Dark Knight. The fact that he worked so hard to fully become someone as dark and twisted as The Joker sure brings to mind the emotional process that Nina had to go through in order to become the black swan.
The premise of Black Swan isn’t all that far-fetched: it appears that artists can, like Ledger, undergo self-ruin similar to that which Nina experiences.
Bet you didn’t think of that.
As a Brother of a fraternity (Kappa Kappa Psi) that is dedicated to serving the bands (music=art), it distresses me to watch other artists lose themselves in the pursuit of artistic perfection, a major theme in Black Swan.
However, the tension, anxiety and distress that made me feel so uncomfortable are the same elements that made the movie a Best Oscar Picture in the first place. It is undeniable that Portman and director Darren Aronofsky achieve great art through the tragedy of the film.
One particular element that impressed me was the strong symbolism: dance instructor Thomas’s reflection is shown in double at the corner of two mirrors during his speech about the dual role of the swan queen, and I swear they set former dance star Beth up as a fallen angel (during a scene the features an angel statue very prominently).
Ultimately, Black Swan distresses with its sadness and bizarre psychological intensity while delighting with its great quality and sense of artistic purpose. Consider the dark, distressing elements to be the black swan to the beautiful tragic quality of the white swan. Definitely check out this thrill ride if you can take a bit of heartbreak with your ballet.
If you have already taken this ballet thriller for a spin, however, let me know what you thought of it! I have a feeling that there is a pretty wide range of opinions on this one. What did you think? (Please don’t forget to keep comments spoiler-free, or indicate clearly if they do have spoilers).
If you like Black Swan, then try:
- Open Your Eyes/Abre Sus Ojos (psychological thriller that requires viewer to constantly question what is real and what is not).
Still reeling from having your mind blown by the reality-bending Inception? Can’t wait to see how director Christopher Nolan can follow up on the greatness of The Dark Knight with The Dark Knight Rises? Trust me, you are not alone. But never fear! There is plenty of Nolan goodness to appreciate right now that you have probably never heard of.
That’s right, the incredible Chris Nolan was making minds go asplode with mind-bendingly awesome movies well before Leo or Batman came into the picture. If he isn’t one of the great directors of our time, he sure had his fair share of beginner’s luck, because his old stuff is about as fantastic as his newer stuff (albeit with much more modest special effects budgets than said new stuff).
In particular, Memento and Insomnia share much in common with recent Nolan successes like Inception, so they’re easy to recommend to the droves that (rightly) flooded theaters to see that blockbuster.
All three films rely on concepts such as the unreliable narrator; all three make the viewer question what is real and who can be trusted; and all three encourage multiple viewings to help digest the complicated stories.
It is the fact that these stories are so complicated that makes them excel, however. Immediately after I finished watching Memento, I started the movie from the beginning again as I jotted down thoughts about the movie. A few things that were said in the beginning gave me that coveted “aha!” moment, and I put all the pieces together.
This epiphany made the movie for me. Just as with any good puzzle, it feels fantastic when all the pieces are in place and it’s finally finished.
The satisfaction of figuring out the complex plotlines of Nolan’s trickier films represents only one thread in the greater tapestry of Nolan’s awesomeness (for lack of a better/real word).
Nolan demonstrates in all three films that I’ve mentioned that he is a master of encouraging sympathy for the protagonist despite the reality that their perspectives are distorted and they are unreliable as tellers of their own stories.
It can really be a wild ride once you realize that everything you’re seeing is based on the perspective of one person, who happens to be tripping in some way or another (to clarify, I’m pretty sure that the heroes of Nolan’s films are not actually on drugs).
Although Al Pacino lives up to his name as the lead in Insomnia, Memento provides for a slightly more wild ride in large part because of the sense that viewers, who do not suffer from short-term memory loss as the protagonist does, experience a similarly weak concept of time as well.
Viewers are also exposed to a mood of hopelessness despite the protagonists’ fiery passion in achieving their goals. And somehow this leads us viewers to sympathize with, and even root for, Nolan’s characters, despite the reality that they are not all good.
Heck, even Robin Williams’s surprisingly great performance as a villain in Insomnia encourages a decent amount of sympathy (he’s “just misunderstood”, right?).
Of course, I could go on about any of these films for much longer than is acceptable for a blog post, but the bottom line is that the brilliance of Chris Nolan’s directing is not exclusive to Inception and The Dark Knight. If you haven’t seen or haven’t heard of his earlier stuff, well, get on it!