Oscars 2011 Spotlight: ‘Black Swan’ Director Darren Aronofsky

Published 3 years ago by , Updated April 15th, 2014 at 11:23 am,

black swan natalie portman1 Oscars 2011 Spotlight: Black Swan Director Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky will attend the Academy Awards as a Best Director nominee for the first time this Sunday. His film, Black Swan, is a Best Picture contender, and his leading lady, Natalie Portman, is the overwhelming favorite as Best Actress for her portrayal of the fractured, and haunted, ballerina struggling to integrate two vastly divergent sides of one, complete, person.

With Black Swan Aronofsky once again draws us into a world in which an individual is faced with battling the demons that only arise from the most opaque recesses of the human mind. The film invites viewers into a darkly depicted fairytale. With one of the most beautiful and tragic tales told in the world of ballet, Swan Lake, as its template, Aronofsky creates a modern myth about the outward manifestation of an internal war that is profoundly human. For so many of us, our greatest loves, and our darkest fears, become interchangeable – two sides of a very dangerous coin.

Black Swan is unique for Aronofsky, in several respects.

It is his most universally accepted film to date, in that it has received the most expansive and esteemed critical acclaim – and is also his most financially successful project (by far). With a production budget of only $13 million, Black Swan has earned over $200 million in worldwide theatrical sales. It is also, in may respects, one of the more feminine films he has made – his leads are nearly all female, and the world they inhabit is one fueled by the dreams and desires of women. Though, as actress Natalie Portman pointed out in her interview with Charlie Rose, ballet is driven by (and drives) women – yet is often controlled by men.

As singular as Black Swan is, it also fits perfectly within the framework of a career which seems to explore the same theme in a kaleidoscope of guises: That which nourishes me, also destroys me.

black swan natalie portman darren aronofsky Oscars 2011 Spotlight: Black Swan Director Darren Aronofsky

Aronofsky has called Black Swan a companion piece to his 2008 exploration of the raw and grueling world of professional wrestling, aptly titled The Wrestler. There are some striking thematic similarities between the two films, though as Aronofsky himself notes, one centers on what we consider one of the “highest” arts, and the other on the “lowest – if we would even call [wrestling] an art.” Yet both films focus on performers who relentlessly, and dangerously, drive their bodies in the name of their passion and who face inward and outward threats to their careers, careers that each are, ultimately, willing to die for.

In some ways these two films are representative of an individual chapter in Aronofsky’s life as an artist, a chapter which focused on the beauty of capturing the moment, and the performance of the actor – rather than the gorgeous and highly stylized filmmaking present in The Fountain and Requiem For A Dream. Though Black Swan does, in many ways, bridge the gap between the stripped down performance-driven feel of The Wrestler and the fantastical imagery of the director’s previous work.

the fountain Oscars 2011 Spotlight: Black Swan Director Darren Aronofsky

Yet as varied and extraordinary as Aronofsky’s films are, there are certain threads that follow through each of his tales. Often, the central characters are challenged with reconciling their humanity, the part that craves friendship, sex, love, humor, family (and in Nina’s case food), with the compulsions that drive them forward – the side beset with desires that devour the character from the inside out. Desires which become demons that manifest themselves (again) in both internal and external dangers. Perils which are intermittently real and imagined, and often some combination of the two.

They become worshipful devotees to their endeavors, and more often than not, blind and fanatical devotees, the kind that become consumed to the point of annihilation by that which is ultimately unattainable: The numerical sequence that will unlock the secrets of the universe, and the name of God (Pi), everlasting life (The Fountain), a freezing of, or return to, a season that has past in one’s life (The Wrestler)/(Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For A Dream) and of course, perfection itself (Black Swan).

Each of these characters destroys their life, either literally or figuratively (or both) in the pursuit of their goals. In his search for the tree of life to preserve his beloved in The Fountain, Tomas misses each opportunity to fully participate in, and enjoy, the experience of even one lifetime with her. Randy, The Ram, shatters his last chance at a genuine relationship with his daughter, and a significant other, in his pursuit of what is (by all accounts) already over for him in The Wrestler. Nina physically butchers herself in order to unleash the part of her that is unabashed and free in Black Swan. In Requiem For A Dream everyone succumbs to the pull of addiction, and the seductive power of delusion – which is, in and of itself, an addiction for many.

requiem for a dream Oscars 2011 Spotlight: Black Swan Director Darren Aronofsky

Max’s mentor in Pi makes the most blatant reference to the thematic chord in Aronofsky’s films when he tells the tale of Icarus, the man who flew too close to the Sun and as a result, fell to his death. With the wisdom of age he was warning his young protege not to chase what is not his to pursue. Max, of course, did not heed the cautionary tale, and eventually was compelled to drill a hole in his head to ease the pressure of a mind that was trying to contain truths that only a divine being can comprehend.

Aronofsky’s stories frequently deal with pain, both physical and psychological, and work as a metaphor for the suffering inherent in the creative process itself. A process which reflects the blood and anguish of birth, and its paradoxical and necessary mirror, death. As Nina needs both the white and the black swan to be whole, so do we all need the light and the dark, the sacred and the mundane – creation as well as destruction.

Often the director’s characters are touched with both genius (or great gifts) and madness – and always they their own worst enemy. Though there are (as suggested) outward enemies present in each of these films: Nina is of course pursued by the various shades of herself in Lily (Mila Kunis), her mother (Barbara Hershey), and to some degree Beth (Winona Ryder), all anxious to unseat and replace her. Max is hunted by a Hasidic cabalistic sect, and a high-powered Wall Street firm – after the secrets his mathematical skill can unlock (or so he believes) in Pi. Randy, who in many ways is facing the most relatable exterior circumstances, is suffocated by his financial realities and failing health in The Wrestler.

Black Swan Natalie Portman white swan Oscars 2011 Spotlight: Black Swan Director Darren Aronofsky

Yet it is their inability to master themselves, their overpowering drives, and thirst for what is beyond the bounds of possibility, that creates the ultimate undoing of each of these characters – in both their work, and their lives. Artistic director Thomas Leroy attempts to shine a light on Nina’s path to liberation in Black Swan when he reminds her, “the only person standing in your way – is you.”

It is the letting go of that which we do not ultimately control (time, death, God, inspiration) that would free each of these characters to release into the fullness of all that life has to offer, as well as open their eyes to the knowledge that, all that they seek – is already there for them. Again as Leroy stresses to Nina “Perfection is not just about control, it’s also about letting go – transcendence, and very few have it in them.”

As is happens, Darren Aronofsky does.

Source For Quotes: Charlie Rose

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  1. Thanks for writing a very insightful article. Its the kind of paper I wish I was capable of writing while in film class. Of all his movies, it seems that his least accessible film, The Fountain, is the only hopeful movie he had.

    With that, I’m excited to see Aronofsky’s take on Wolverine.

  2. Great article. Thank you!

  3. For me THE FOUNTAIN broke the donkeys back, with this particular director. I noticed this film (BLACK SWAN), but didn’t go to see it due who directed it.

    I like the look of his films, but as stated at the beginning of this rant THE FOUNTAIN broke the donkeys back.

    I sat there with my brother watching the fountain on dvd (as the adverts for it looked really good), the film finished and we both looked at each other and said…. WTF!!!

    So un;ess Darren is making a big budget film with lots of input from the studio, and gonna give all his films a wide birth.

    • I’m typing in a dark room, hence all the typo’s.

      • Did you try turning on the lights in the room?

      • Paul77 -

        I don’t want to sound like a jerk here but Darren Aronofsky’s films are thinking mans films. He never really just lays it all out there for you to see. He makes you work for it almost I guess you could say and in the end interpret it your own way so that it means something to you. So with that all said I’m sorry you do not like Darren Aronofsky’s films. I for one love them and can’t wait for his next one.

  4. Darren Aronofsky directing the sequel of Wolverine? That will be epic!

  5. Great article. Would love to read more of this type of work on this site.

    Love Aronofsky, love Black Swan. I’m rooting for him tomorrow night for everything that’s coming to him.

  6. It sucks that as a director your vision in your mind is limited to a budget. If you don’t have enough money the ideas in your head can’t come to life 100 percent the way you want it too. That Fountain movie was supposed to have brad pitt and a big ass battle between the mayans and Spaniards. but brad dropped out and the budget was cut in half. Darren had to rewrite some of the script and cut stuff out. I imagine what the fountain would have looked like with all the money when brad was in it. i heard he might remake it.

  7. Excellent analysis.