Sunday, September 4, 2011

Darren Aronofsky and the Politics of Excellence

We finally sat down and watched Black Swan this weekend.  This was long overdue--I loved Pi and liked The Fountain.  My loyalty to Darren Aronofsky comes almost completely from the fact that he made a movie about a mathematician and about irrational numbers.  I remember watching Pi with some other math majors in college, which greatly disturbed one of us--she concluded that maybe the movie was right, maybe all mathematicians do go crazy eventually.

But Pi and Black Swan aren't exactly about math or ballet, although they do appeal to specific audiences based on those subject materials.  No, they are about obsession, about perfection, about quests for excellence and knowledge.  And (spoiler alert) how those quests destroy the people involved.

It may not surprise you to know that I think anarchotheism poses a strong and important response to these films.  Now, Aronofsky is clearly not an anarchist.  Neither is he a socialist.  Neither is he a capitalist.  Political systems are not what he interrogates in his films--he is an artist, an artiste, one who thinks about art and how it plays out in people's lives. And I think we are supposed to see the sacrifice of Black Swan Nina's sanity and life, the sacrifice of Max's (the mathematician in Pi) sanity and ability to love numbers, as noble, beautiful, tragic.

I say bah.  These are not tragedies in the sense of some internal flaw bringing about a terrible situation.  These movies showcase the logic of capitalism and what it celebrates as the best use of a human life--to be stressed beyond happiness at every point, to lose oneself in a role that profits others, to relinquish all human relationships in pursuit of Excellence.  Nina must push herself to be the best, to obtain honor--but this brings her no joy. She has only fantasies of relationships with other humans, a puppet for others' directions. Max's obsession brings him into contact with people who want him for his product, but he refuses the people who seek a genuine human connection with him.  These are both examples of people unable to live complete human lives because of values incompatible with life.  Good God!  Making art and pursuing knowledge should bring joy and fulfillment; when it only brings a thirst for further perfection, it is pointless.

Let us instead look to Christ and his example of what a worthwhile life entails--spending time with other humans, talking, eating, walking, participating in society, righting wrongs, healing.  Christ IS our perfector--we can be united with the Divine without pursuing a false earthly perfection, instead appreciating all the good things for which God created us.  And the longtime anarchist traditions celebrate similar concepts.  Art is for humans, not humans for art; dance is for humans, not humans for dance; math is for humans, not humans for math.  Anytime these concepts threaten to take over and ruin lives, we should not celebrate but condemn that impulse.  Human life is precious--every second of existence is precious--and we must work against any system that tries to oppress human life and harness it for profit. 

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