Why Black Swan and The Wrestler are the perfect double feature

Why Black Swan and The Wrestler are the perfect double feature


“As far as exercise goes it’s still ok, as long as it’s moderate” “Doc I’m a professional wrestler” “That’s not a good idea” In 2008 and 2010, Darren Aronofsky directed two powerhouse cinematic experiences: The Wrestler & Black Swan Anchored by career-defining performances from Mickey Rourke and Natalie Portman each film stands on its own as a towering achievement by the actors and their director. In an interview with MTV, Aronofsky elaborated on his filmography: …and ballet some people consider the highest art. But what was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are. They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves.” Individually each film is effective but when watched together, Aronofsky’s vision of two films as companion pieces becomes increasingly clear. Here is a look at how the two films operate side by side The Wrestler opens with a musically driven title sequence showing Randy at his prime. Black Swan offers essentially the same archetype, except it’s a dream, of Nina’s imagined, future self. A wakeup into reality follows Randy is doing everything he can to keep his dated passion alive and Nina’s career has yet to give her a coveted lead role and her youth is starting to run out. “He promised to feature me more this season” “Well he certainly should, you’ve been there long enough” The stakes are introduced, and now we’re immersed into the contrasting worlds of ballet and wrestling. In both cases we’re effectively drawn into an unfamiliar world of performance. This is done largely in the photography: both films are shot with a gritty, documentary style. We’re given a verite look at two radically different ways of life, paying off in different manners. For The Wrestler, this shooting style helps us stay gritty and grounded for the entire runtime in the ‘low art’ of wrestling. Black Swan takes a different approach: early sequences are shot this way to give us an initial sense of reality, so when the horror components come into play, it is all the more terrifying. Because the world of ballet is viewed as a contrasting ‘high art,’ the cinematic style shifts after the first third into a hyper-stylized cinematic experience; we’re first grounded by the docu-style then get progressively more removed from realism, mirroring the journey of Nina. Take for example, the sound design Starting from a world of theatrics and entering the mind of Nina the sound enhances her subjective viewpoint with numerous flairs Despite being more verite, this isn’t to say that The Wrestler does not include moments of this aesthetic. Take the non-documentary stylization of the sound design here A parallel theme in both movies is how these artists sacrifice their bodies for their art. Wrestling is so often belittled for being fake and staged yet from the cringe-inducing details that Aronofsky highlights, it’s clear the pain Randy goes through is far from fake. The same kind of details are at play for Nina, creating a more visceral, bodily reaction from the viewer. Realistic sequences with trainers help us feel these performer’s worlds up close and personal. Both characters put extra emphasis on technique and physical preparation for their performances. And there is no shortage of mirrors either this emphasizes the importance of looks and body, especially for the aging Randy and for Nina it plays into the motif of her duality as the White and Black Swan. Both characters are given a vision of failure they must avoid at all costs. For Randy, it’s his fellow wrestlers and in one shot we see wrestling has taken a toll on all of them physically. For Nina, a forewarning comes in the form of Beth, the former company lead As both films build to their climactic scenes, each goes on a similar journey to the conclusion. First, the characters have a night of partying to let loose from their stresses, ending in a sexual encounter, that causes them to oversleep. In both cases, the result leads to massive disappointment from their only family members. And in both films, all this work, including lots of second-guessing and doubt, leads to a final climactic performance pushing themselves to the brink with loved ones nervously looking on… And this leads to their final jump, putting everything into the conclusion of their performance “Well I think it’s always interesting to go into worlds people haven’t seen before and ballet is such a mystery you know you just have a sense of what it is but like The Wrestler where we went behind the curtain and showed a whole universe, we kind of wanted to do the same thing with ballet.” In the same MTV interview, Aronofsky said “At one point I was actually developing a project that was about a love affair between a ballet dancer and a wrestler, and then it kind of split off into two movies. So I guess my dream is that some art theater will play the films as a double feature some day.”

5 Comments

  1. Great job man, I always got a sense of how similar they were through the visual style but there's alot more connections than I realised, strangely close in narrative. Keep it up!

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