The Black Swan

What makes a brilliant actress?

If you asked me that years ago, I would have come up with the lamest, most insanely shallow answer and named the Teen Choice Awardee my pick. Cut to either Sarah Michelle Gellar. Or… Sarah Michelle Gellar. (Quite the perceptive teen I was.) As much as I love my slayer friend and as obsessed as I was with her for quite a big chunk of my adolescent life, I do not have the audacity to call her brilliant. Not just yet. While it could have been Buffy’s (and I mean both the character and phenomenon) fault for streamlining her into playing one or two dimensionals all the time, it’s possible too that she doesn’t have the same versatility or chameleon-like quality about her as much as other actresses do. Other than Cruel Intentions where she gave the perennial “New York Bitch” a run for that label’s money and added a dash of effortless evil to the character, I can’t say much for the rest of the roles she’s played.

In the world of celebrity, where an actor is only as good as his last role, and where there seems to be a yo-yo of hits and misses, what really gives? What makes a brilliant actress? How is that there are those who have the gift of easily shifting from one role to the next as though flicking a light switch, whereas others seem to have difficulty going from girl next door to belle of the ball to the bitch in heels? There lies the difficulty of the shape shifter. There goes the challenge for actresses who wish to stay in the industry far longer than those infamous fifteen seconds.

For people like The Natalie Portman however, who seemed to have skip-hopped through the whole (typically awkward) transition phase, such an “obstacle” did not exist, or at least, it didn’t seem to faze her.

I saw Black Swan a few weeks ago and it struck so many cords. Why?

    1. I too, was a ballerina.
    I did plies, jetes and pirouettes a good 9 years before hanging my pointes. Puberty struck. Apparently, I got “too fat” for it, said my gay teacher who, I might add, was a pain in the bum. A literal pain in the bum. Notorious for spanking, he gave me (and a lot of other aspiring ballerinas out there), a major blow to whatever was left of my ego. Still, I love watching ballet dancers, seeing them lend and lose themselves to the movement, music, and their own emotion and “soul”. It made me miss what I unfortunately gave up on. It’s always a little stinging reliving an aborted dream.
    2. The Tormented Perfectionist in Natalie’s Nina Sayers reminded me so much of myself.
    I am a perfectionist, most times, to a fault. In my desire to have everything according to plan, I beat myself up for every little mistake and mishap. In my desperate attempt to have my goals and dreams at the palm of my hand, I lose it in the process of gripping too tightly. Dramatic and hyperbolized as this sounds, I do lose myself in the process.
    3. The Mother-Daughter Struggle of a “Sane” Relationship.
    I think we can all agree that relationships with mothers can be the most delicate and difficult. You came from her and yet the irony of it is that you want to deny that ever happened. You repel. You rebel. You do every imaginable thing just to cut that damn umbilical cord, that link that keeps you two going at an incessant tug-of-war.
    4. The Bitch/Threat/Girl Stealing Your Role/Dream.
    Mila Kunis versus Natalie Portman. Doesn’t that make for some steamy sexual tension? Or hot lesbo action? Lesbian angle aside however, we girls always feel the need to be on top, even at the expense of making “frenemies”. You want to kill her because she comes closest to you and what you have going for you. She’s the threat you ought to eliminate. At the end of all the madness however, the most ridiculous of ridiculous truths hits you—the only person or force in your way is really yourself. Cliché as that sounds, it is one of life’s most frustrating things—that you ARE your own worst frENEMY.
    5. To be Sexual and Free or Innocent and Frigid.
    Admit it, people get uncomfortable with the sight and sound of it. The word sex alone makes people cringe, blink and the like. Why the fuss? Why the difficulty with being open to the most human aspect of every human being? Again, this aspect of the film and the way Natalie Portman depicted the struggle of sexuality, moved me. I, along with the rest of the sometimes-too-conservative Philippine society, feel guilty for even being curious about the “S” word. To be completely forthright, I’m still the V word. However, I am not about to pretend that I’m some innocent little retard. I’m not. The turmoil continues. To be sexual and free or innocent and frigid?

Those five things, along with many other aspects and sub-themes of the film, were brought to light with the help of Natalie Portman’s superb portrayal. I found myself drawn in by her rawness and vulnerability. There was something so palpable about her pain, frustration and desperation. I could almost taste it. It felt as though I was part of her journey, transformation and downfall. I found myself smiling, laughing, cringing, crying and experiencing a whole spectrum of emotions. Damn that Black Swan.

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