A nice reader like you certainly doesn’t deserve this. But what can I do? My right thumb (closer to the delete key) doesn’t know what my left thumb is keying in. So all I can hope is that you won’t notice any difference between when I am in charge and when the other me is.
It all started when I decided to watch Darren Aronofsky’s multi-Oscar-nominated film, Black Swan. I had been told that the movie was ‘dark’, ‘depressing’ and ‘intense’, descriptors that work on me the way a ‘Do not enter’ sign works on a burglar. As I followed the character of Nina, a single-minded young ballerina hell-bent on playing the lead role of the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, I felt the tug of someone inside my head that wasn’t the me who pays the rent, attends meetings, engages in banter, makes tea...
Nina, played with an eerie tightlipness and bottled-up hysteria by Natalie Portman, faces the challenge of playing the Swan Queen both as the graceful, beautiful and rational White Swan, as well as its dark, tempestuous, unbridled mirror image, the Black Swan. The problem is that Nina is obsessed with perfection and being immaculate, thereby lacking in the wildness of glorious unpredictability. In effect, she’s a White Swan who needs to dredge up her Black Swan persona on stage and in life.
The irony of Portman, who plays Princess Amidala in the Star Wars movies — the love interest of young Anakin Skywalker who later crosses over and embraces his dark side to be Darth Vader — playing Nina isn’t lost on me. Nina, with her controlling, failed ballerina mother and her Rasputin-like ballet director, shows neuroses that develop into full-blown psychotic episodes. Aronofsky’s study of madness is also a study of the artist pushing herself to the edge for her art. His 2008 Oscar-nominated film The Wrestler was also about a performer pushing himself to the limit, with consequences. But in Black Swan, we are taken to the horror of such a strain, resulting in a ‘splitting’, a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde fight.
Aronovosky cites Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella, The Double, as an influence. But it is the short story, ‘Debi’ (The Goddess) by the Bengali writer Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyay, that I remember after seeing Black Swan. Adapted to film by Satyajit Ray in 1960, Debi tells the story of a young bride, Doyamoyee, living in a zamindari household.
Doused in Freudian overtones, Doya’s overbearing father-in-law starts believing that she is an incarnation of the Goddess Kali. While his son, Doya’s husband, is the only person who writes off the zamindar as a superstitious madman, everyone else starts believing the divinity of his wife. The full force of the tragedy hits home after Doya herself starts believing in her own divinity. Like Nina’s ballet director, Doya’s father-in-law pushes her into madness, with a ‘divine’ Doya eating up — and spitting out — the old Doya alive.
If Black Swan does win the Best Film Oscar tomorrow morning, do send me a nice email. If it doesn’t, send a stinker to the other me, the one who usually writes this unfathomable column.