I recently saw Black Swan and absolutely loved it. I found it to be a deeply wise and convincing psychological – even archetypal – account of the inner journey required of the ballerina protagonist in order to fully embody the dual female lead roles in Swan Lake.
For the best review I’ve seen so far, see Daniel Ross’ Jungian article, Black Swan – A Film’s Descent into Darkness.
But I’m writing this blog because, quite by chance (?), the same week I also saw the 2002 film Max, a fictional account of Adolf Hitler during the fall and winter of 1918. This was at and just after the end of World War I, when Germany was destitute and Hitler was wavering between his ambition to succeed as an artist and the temptation of extremist politics.
In my mind, the two films deal with the same theme: the necessity of encountering one’s early psychological wounds – the “dark side” – in order to access and offer one’s gifts to the world. This is a common, even clichéd theme these days, but Black Swan had me asking myself, “Just how much of your darkness are you willing to know, how much are you willing to pay in order to manifest a truly creative life?” As viewers know, the ballerina does enter the heart of darkness and does give the performance of a lifetime, but she pays a severe price.
Similarly, in Max an art-dealer mentor encourages Hitler to “go deeper” into himself in order to create something truly valuable. As we all know, however, Hitler chooses a different vocation. The difference between him and the Ballerina is critical and instructive. Because she is both deeply talented and highly disciplined, she is able (at least for a while) to hold the unbearable tension between her angel and her demon. Some would say that because she symbolically kills the demon, she can’t hold that tension for long. But she does make great art and contributes a lasting gift to the dance world.
Hitler, on the other hand (as portrayed in the film and by historians), is at best a second-rate artist and lacks the self-discipline either to improve his technique or to work the terrible nature of his soul. But he does “go deeper,” and here is both the contrast with the ballerina and the frightening commentary on our current culture and politics.
With neither her talent, nor her commitment to her art, nor an artistic community – a ritual container – he falls victim to his own darkness (think Darth Vader here – “Vader” is German/Dutch for “father”). He succumbs to the easy lure of projection – hatred of the Other – and discovers how hate can make its own community. By doing so, Hitler becomes a conduit for the darkness of the world.