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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

entry arrow3:21 PM | You Die for Your Art

If there is a thread we can pounce on with the body of work of filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, it may be this: you die, or at least suffer, for your art or your ideal. That was immediately apparent when I first saw π [Pi, 1998] years and years ago. Pi was about an obsessive number theorist named Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) who struggles to understand the string of numbers hidden in the Torah and with a mysterious 216-digit number his computer not-so-randomly spat out one day. Later on, we see Max's cinematic cousins in Ellen Burstyn's Sara Goldfarb who struggles to fit into an old red dress with the use of amphetamines in Requiem for a Dream [2000], Hugh Jackman's Tommy who struggles to find a cure for his wife's brain tumor in The Fountain [2006], and Mickey Rourke's Robin Ramzinski who struggles with an ailing heart to win one last match in The Wrestler [2008].

Now, in the terrific and terrifying Black Swan [2010], Aronofsky unveils his new obsessive in Natalie Portman's Nina Sayer, a ballet dancer known for perfect technique but not for raw uninhibition needed to truly achieve riveting dance. She begins to lose her mind, in a living nightmare reminiscent of Roman Polanski's Repulsion [1965], as she struggles to lose her straight-laced constraints to truly become the titular ballet role. Her perfection -- dull and unseductive -- slowly cracks.

Mr. Aronofsky knows. He knows the terrible beauty and the exacting nature of artistry or the search for that perfection or ideal. In his previous films, however, one does not get a close-enough cinematic depiction of the need -- or the hunger -- to achieve that artistic ideal. In Black Swan, he finally does. Take note of that transformation scene when Nina finally breathes in her terrible achievement: she glows and menaces and walks around the backstage like a predator in ecstasy. I recognized that walk, that breathing, that deadly seduction set in the eyes. I told myself, that's it -- that's the familiar high we get when we are in the very depths of the artistic zone. Mr. Aronofsky perfectly renders it. Which is why I love this film. It is not subtle, and does not aim to be -- and so one should not fault it for being the visceral assault that it is. It perfectly captures that throbbing sensuality of having to surrender, little by little, all that we are in the service of our art. And if we have to die for it, we do so with the comfort of knowing we have created something immortal in the process, the applause we get becoming a mere trifle in the exquisite bloodletting it requires.

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