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I consider Black Swan as one of the most visually attractive anti-man films I've seen in more than a year.

It depicts a girl with a psychotic problem who destroys herself gradually as she seeks perfection in her job (a ballet dancer).

There is no plot, no struggle, no desire to trascend her problems.

She is just trapped in a spiral of madness from which no escape is attempted.

The message I seem to perceive is "Do not aim at perfection, excellence, beauty, uniqueness, because that will bring you tragedy"

The film is in sharp contrast with, say, A Beautiful Mind, which represents the struggle and final victory of a brilliant man (John Ash) against his schizophrenia.

Since I am a student of Objectivism and still discovering my life-loving sense of life, I would like to hear your opinions about the film and my interpretation of it.

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Consider the *causes* of her problem. I do not think the movie is "anti-man" at all. I think the movie can easily be considered a tragedy. The main character isn't doomed from the start; choices are available to her all throughout. An aim at perfection for its own sake WILL doom someone to failure. Thus the tragedy that occurs. Just because a movie isn't a celebration does not turn the movie into something anti-man.

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There is no plot, no struggle, no desire to trascend her problems.

That is silly. Of course there is a conflict, the internal conflict within Portman's character between the conscious mind and its ambitions and subconscious fears and inhibitions. A third side of the conflict is her repressed sensual and erotic side, which is necessary for her conscious mind to ally with to successfully play the 'black swan' role. Technically the conscious mind succeeds and "wins" the conflict in this movie, but she should have gone to a psychologist for help instead of trying to "brute force" her way through her problems with sheer overwhelming willpower.

At worst, one could say the conflict is not fully and satisfactorily resolved. The movie is ambiguous about whether she dies at the end, I didn't get the impression that she died. If she is dead, then that is the conflict resolved in a tragic way.

It could be said that the way her personality is fragmented to begin with, and the weird personalities of her mother and the previous star ballerina she replaces, all say something bad about ballet and the focus on perfection in general. I don't remember now if the movie mentions obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but that certainly is one of the ways to be crazy.

If any moral could be drawn from the story, it is that the subconscious exists and one ignores it at peril.

Narrative conflict types

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I with Eioul on this one.

The depiction of tragedy does not automatically make something "anti-man".

There is a fundamental difference between a tragedy in which there is a man fighting against an adversary (a disease, an enemy) and being killed by it at the end, and not fighting at all.

When you fight you can win or lose. But you are a heroe as long as you don't surrender your mind, your freedom. That is the essence of romantic art.

In Black Swan, I perceive no fight at all.

Contrary to what Grames appreciates, I don't recall a single scene in which the starring role fights her disease. She justs sinks in the spiral of madness as if she had no free will, as if she was doomed to fail.

So it is not just a tragedy, it is an expensive, visually attractive naturallistic documentary of insanity.

Edited by Hotu Matua

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That is silly. Of course there is a conflict, the internal conflict within Portman's character between the conscious mind and its ambitions and subconscious fears and inhibitions.

A conflict? Well, when the subconcious fears and inhibitions win hands down over and over and over there is no meaningful "conflict". It is jut one side, the irrational, smashing the other, the rational.

A third side of the conflict is her repressed sensual and erotic side, which is necessary for her conscious mind to ally with to successfully play the 'black swan' role. Technically the conscious mind succeeds and "wins" the conflict in this movie

When did you see her concious mind succeeding?

Was an allucination involving a murder the right trigger to awake that erotic side?

When she performs excellently the black swan dance, what I see is pulsion to death (tanatos) connecting to pulsion for sex (eros), but no triumph of a rational mind at all.

but she should have gone to a psychologist for help instead of trying to "brute force" her way through her problems with sheer overwhelming willpower.

Using overwhelming willpower to achieve for the sake of achieving, instead of overwhelming willpower to use your mind, is a Nietzchean view of life, which Objectivism rejects.

The point is that the film does not even consider rational thinking a choice available for the main character.

If any moral could be drawn from the story, it is that the subconscious exists and one ignores it at peril.

I agree with you in this, Grames.

But in general we don't need to go to the movies to learn that,do we?

I mean, we don't need a film to show John not paying attention to his cancer, and therefore getting all symptoms, losing weight, bleeding, losing conciousness and dieing.

That would be a naturalistic, not a romantic film, perhaps interesting for a medical student, but not a form of art.

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The message I seem to perceive is "Do not aim at perfection, excellence, beauty, uniqueness, because that will bring you tragedy"

I agree with this. I think the movie connects Portman's statement "I want to be perfect" with her mental illness. This is underscored by the fact that Lily (played by Mila Kunis) does not aim for perfection, but instead is loose with her dancing and personal life. She eats cheeseburgers, does drugs, sleeps with random men, and does not strive for technical excellence in her dancing. However, she is depicted as mentally healthy and isn't severely injured at the end of the movie. She has the "virtue" of "balance" or "compromise" in her life, and that sets her free from mental illness and injury in the end.

The contrast between Lily and Natalie Portman furthers the message that aiming for perfection is part of mental illness, and should not be attempted. Rather, one should strive for "balance" by mixing food with poison, and in the end, everything will be okay.

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I agree with this. I think the movie connects Portman's statement "I want to be perfect" with her mental illness.

I don't take that from it.

"I want to be perfect" is an undesirable flaw if you want to be perfect for the wrong reasons.

Wanting to be perfect for yourself and wanting to be perfect for others or out of neurosis or shame are entirely different matters.

I see nothing wrong in showing how the futile quest for perfection in an unintegrated mind is destructive.

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I agree with you in this, Grames.

But in general we don't need to go to the movies to learn that,do we?

I mean, we don't need a film to show John not paying attention to his cancer, and therefore getting all symptoms, losing weight, bleeding, losing conciousness and dieing.

That would be a naturalistic, not a romantic film, perhaps interesting for a medical student, but not a form of art.

Your point doesn't follow. The essentials are portrayed: particular events when interacting with the director, her mother, and her "friend." Really the choices made put her deeper and deeper into conflict with her own life, eventually to a point of basically no return. As she lost self-esteem, people took advantage of her as well. I'm not sure how you think the film suggested that "rational thinking choice" was never available. If anything, the choice was made to take an issue and just overcome it with willpower, with bad consequences. There is a concretization involved of an abstract principle. There is a cognitive need for that just as much as getting stories that show the consequences of good actions.

To address Alethiometry's point about the character Lily: Well in the end, we see that "balance" didn't fix anything. If anything, that attempt made things worse. That's especially noticeable when the most extreme hallucinations occurred after a night out with Lily.

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There is a cognitive need for that just as much as getting stories that show the consequences of good actions.

But what are the specific actions that the film depicts as "wrong" in the main character, leading her to tragedy?

My point is that, since there is no clear conflict (or plot) in the movie, it is extremely difficult to tell the right from the wrong actions of the Portman's character.

The film does not answer the question What went wrong, which could have gone right? so that we can learn from that.

Edited by Hotu Matua

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Well in the end, we see that "balance" didn't fix anything. If anything, that attempt made things worse. That's especially noticeable when the most extreme hallucinations occurred after a night out with Lily.

The contrast between Lily's and Nina's character is not about "fixing" anything.

Yes, going out with Lily did not help Nina. I'm not arguing that going out with Lily was a good thing for Nina to do, or that it should help Nina in some way. You are completely missing my point.

Throughout the entire movie, you are beaten over the head with the differences between these two girls. Nina is mentally unstable and on a quest for perfection. Lily doesn't care about perfection, is hedonistic, but comes out looking more mentally balanced in the end. Nina ends up stabbing herself, Lily doesn't. Lily congratulates Nina on her excellent performance in the end and isn't psychotic.

The connection between insanity and a quest for perfection is made because both of these elements are present in Nina's character. The connection between "balance" and mental stability is made because both of these elements are meshed together in Lily's character. These two characters foil each other: you get compromise and mental stability, or a quest for perfection and insanity.

I see nothing wrong in showing how the futile quest for perfection in an unintegrated mind is destructive.

That's part of what's going on with this movie. But the other part of what's going on is that her quest for perfection is linked to her mental illness. The more she struggles to be perfect, the greater her mental illness.

I do see a problem with showing this futile quest for perfection as the main characters struggle. In the Romantic Manifesto, Rand writes:

"Since a rational man’s ambition is unlimited, since his pursuit and achievement of values is a lifelong process—and the higher the values, the harder the struggle—he needs a moment, an hour or some period of time in which he can experience the sense of his completed task, the sense of living in a universe where his values have been successfully achieved. It is like a moment of rest, a moment to gain fuel to move farther. Art gives him that fuel; the pleasure of contemplating the objectified reality of one’s own sense of life is the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in one’s ideal world."

What kind of man wants to see a film or a work of art where the plot revolves around a futile quest for perfection undertaken by a crazy person? Who wants to see a film that connects perfectionism to insanity, and compromise to mental health?

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Throughout the entire movie, you are beaten over the head with the differences between these two girls. Nina is mentally unstable and on a quest for perfection. Lily doesn't care about perfection, is hedonistic, but comes out looking more mentally balanced in the end. Nina ends up stabbing herself, Lily doesn't. Lily congratulates Nina on her excellent performance in the end and isn't psychotic.

You don't know anything about Lily really except that she's pretty hedonistic. I don't think the essential point of the movie is comparing Nina to Lily anyway, just that Lily happens to be a peer. The story is about Nina and her psychological conflict, not a conflict of the type between two rivals. It's frankly irrelevant what Lily's psychological state is, nor can the viewer really tell. The story is about Nina and how a sense of striving for platonic perfection is unhealthy. Given how Nina seems to live through others, other people take advantage of her. Perhaps Lily is "more stable," but so is Nina's mother and the director. That's alright though, since the story is about Nina's internal conflict. There isn't any sort of presentation that compromising is a good option to fix irrational perfectionism. For the most part, Nina had no values to compromise on in the first place.

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The screenwriter for *Black Swan* says that the protagonist has BPD.

"The psychosis I gave her (Nina) was borderline personality disorder."

--Mark Heyman

It's often said that one symptom of untreated BPD is a strong tendency to see life in Black and White...

http://www.picktainment.com/blog/2010/12/black-swan-weekend-continues/

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I plan on seeing this to decide which side of the proverbial fence I'm on... or maybe even a third side. :)

I liked the movie a great deal, but my take on it was very different than what anyone put forth here.

Would love to chat with you about it after you've seen it.

Also, if I were being flippant I might say that the movie is great because it's really just a classy version of Showgirls. :D

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What an awesome thread, I think it deserves a ‘bump’. I have not yet seen this film but now I really want to. I am interested in the difference between adaptive perfectionism vs. maladaptive and neurotic perfectionism. The issue seems to turn around self-esteem as I understand it. Funny it seems like in order to adaptively strive for perfection you need to overcome your ‘fear of failure’ and accept your own flaws. Perhaps this sounds a bit like pop-psychology but this is how I understand it. If I am wrong perhaps someone could enlighten me.

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