There was a time when looks didn’t matter as much for girls. We could run to the playground with our hair firmly intact within braid. Now it’s common to see girls looking into mirrors and watching their reflections through windows and subway doors. Eyeliner, lipstick, and powder are carefully applied. Outfits are coordinated with the latest fashions. Postures are straightened. A true transformation occurs between the times of childhood and coming of age.
There are many movies that depict coming of age and the transformation of women from the “ugly duckling” to the beautiful swan. One movie that deeply connects to many girls is the chilling Oscar-nominated Black Swan. Buddy2eyes says “I’m only 15 years old and already watched this movie, What a beautiful movie in my life! Powerful, Emotional and…PERFECT” quoted from the official youtube trailer. Another user notes the movie parallels her life. However some don’t understand the film’s artistic nature and message. After careful observation of the film, a reflection into the pressures of being perfect, and the emotions felt after the tragic suicide of a friend, I found that Black Swan resonates with the souls of many girls and women.
If you take a look at the film’s awards, you can see it was most praised for the realistic, dramatic portrayal of the movie’s lead character Nina Sayers. Natalie Portman earned the Oscar for her astounding performance as the delicate and tempting Nina Sayers. And that award goes without saying how applicable it can be to the lives of many young women despite the film’s artistic nature.
Portman demonstrated the transformation and rite of passage with her powerful role. Black Swan characterized the transformation within the female gender through the symbols of the white swan, representing purity and fear, and the black swan, representing freedom and independence.
In the film Nina Sayers was a fragile ballet dancer. Nina desperately wanted to be casted the role as the Swan Queen. However she had to perfect both the role of the pure White Swan, which she could master to perfection, and the tempting Black Swan, which she had no idea how to perform. Nina faced the challenge of being two different women as she was simultaneously embarking on a rite of passage.
Throughout the movie, Nina strived to reach perfection. All she wanted to do was be able to dance both roles. Even though by the end of the movie Nina reached her goal of perfecting both roles, she ended up dying as a result of pain she inflicted upon herself.There was no way Nina could have played both the roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan in the real world; they were restricted to her ballet performances. In the film, her dying words were, “I was perfect. It was perfect.”
This idea to remain a simple, pure individual while transitioning to a new independence is quite challenging for many young people. It is hard transition and grow by remaining inside the nest. Black Swan’s director, Darren Aronofsky, used a symbolic, artistic portrayal to show his viewers Nina’s struggle to transform and undergo a rite of passage. We also see many cultural overlaps with that of our own rites of passage.
The 1999 Bollywood movie, Taal, directed by Subhash Ghai, shows a similar rite of passage with Mansi, played by Aishwarya Rai. In the film Taal, Mansi transforms from being the simple daughter of a folk singer to a beautiful national singing icon. Mansi, like Nina, also realizes she cannot be both a simple girl and a diva-like musician. Mansi loses the love that characterized her simple youth and decides to marry her music director, casted as Anil Kapoor. But she cannot go through with the marriage when confronted by her past love.
She later becomes so distraught she breaks a glass in her hands. During the concluding scene, Mansi goes back to her first love and becomes a part of his family. Eventually Mansi is able to develop as a young woman.
Both Nina and Mansi excelled in their careers as a ballet dancer and a singer. But they faced a tremendous pressure to be both simple and perfect. Their self infliction shows the true difficulty in transitioning from being a girl to a woman.
The idea we receive from both films is the detrimental desire to be perfect. Nina and Mansi are characters developed within two different hemispheres, by two different directors, and at two different times. Nevertheless, both characters depict the same message: Absolute perfection is difficult and nearly impossible.
The idea of perfection is something that is always seen as positive no matter how much we realize it is non-existent. There is always room for improvement but instead of trying to reach an impossible goal, we can meld the simplicity of youth and the complexity of young adulthood to bring us to new endeavors.
We all face pressures, expectations, and challenges. It is hard to go from playing tag and sports to gazing at airbrushed models on the front cover of a magazine. As many of us transform, new wings burst out of our backs in hopes that we will take advantage of a rite of passage. We may desire to emulate the beauty like that of a swan. But maybe this perfection is a little hard to exemplify. Instead we can use our wings to help us reach the possible. We can spread our wings and fly to new horizons.