Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN: from Persona to Black Swan (and everything else in between)

These days I come across a lot of people who call Darren Aronofsky's 'Black Swan' "original". They act like its something they've never seen before. Although i do think that 'Black Swan' is pretty good, I wouldn't go so far as to call it original (even Aronofsky himself sited Polanski many times as a huge inspiration in the making of 'Black Swan'). Lets take a look at some of the subconscious cinematic influences that went in to Aronofsky's film (If you take anything away from this blog entry, at least treat it as a list of movie suggestions for people who like 'Black Swan').

'Persona' (1966)
It's no mystery that 'Persona' laid the seeds for many psychological thrillers. It inspired everything from 'dont look back' (which features a scene where we see the faces of the 2 female leads super-imposed over each other just like the classic scene in 'Persona') to 'Black Swan'. Even films like 'Mulholland Drive' got elements of their plot directly from 'Persona' (an actress or artistic woman breaking down, going insane or switching identities with another woman). 'Persona' is easily one of the most influential films of all time, with some of the most iconic imagery in film (which is commonly associated with "arthouse"). Many of the shots in 'Persona' are used as a metaphor for identity or loss of identity, which is essentially what the film is about. And like so many other films I'm going to mention, it plays on that "lipstick lesbian" fantasy that many men have (even if Bergman meant to or not). The scene when Ullman slaps Andersson is VERY sexual.

'3 Women' (1977)
Robert Altman has admitted that his film '3 Women' was partially inspired by 'Persona' (the rest was inspired by a dream). Just like Persona, '3 Woman' is another film about the loss of identity and women with 2 different personalities who eventually switch roles. At the beginning of the film, "Pinky" (Sissy Spacek) is shy and almost childlike, and looks up to "Mildred" (Shelly Duvall), who is very confident, and pretty bossy towards Pinky. After what appears to be a suicide attempt, and a brief stay in the hospital, Pinky turns in to the bossy (and kinda bitchy) one between the 2, and Mildred slowly turns in to the less dominant friend in the relationship. '3 Women' is very surreal and dreamlike. Along with 'Shortcuts', if there was a ever a film to be used as an example of the influence that Robert Altman has had on PT Anderson, it would be this. Even though the plots are very different, the music and overall vibe of 'Punch Drunk Love' borrows HEAVILY from '3 Women'.
And as you'll see in some more of the films in this entry, at some point the 2 female leads end up in bed with each other. Even when they're in the bed with one another under non-sexual pretences, there's still that element of the "hot lesbians in bed together"
And here in this promotional still for the '3 Women' (this isn't an actual scene from the film), you can see that it was obviously inspired by 'Persona' (look at the way Duvall is holding Spacek and look at the way Ullman is holding Andersson in the Persona Picture)...

'La Ceremonie' (1995)
Of all the films mentioned, Claude Charbol's drama/thriller is the most literal one out of the bunch, but i still feel it deserves to be mentioned. There's no identity switching and the film isn't surreal at all, but over time Bonnaire's character changes drastically after Huppert kind of takes her under her wing (the relationship between Kunis & Portman in Black Swan has shades of Bonnaire & Huppert's relationship in La Ceremonie).
Once again, our 2 female leads end up in bed with one another. 

'Mulholland Drive' (2001)
Just like how David Lynch drew inspiration from Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' for 'Lost Highway', he clearly got inspiration from 'Persona' for 'Mulholland Drive' (the story of an actress who has a breakdown for various reasons). 

'Inland Empire' (2006)
'Inland Empire' pretty much has all the same elements and themes as 'Mulholland Drive' (a struggling actress having an identity crisis, women kissing each other, "lipstick lesbians", etc), but should still be included in this list...

'Dont Look Back' (2009)
'Dont Look Back' is probably the weakest film on the list but the homage to Persona is so blatant that it deserves to be mentioned. Like almost every other film mentioned, in 'Dont Look Back' we have a female artist who slowly starts to have what appears to be a nervous break down and literally sees someone else when she looks in the mirror. As the story unfolds she uncovers something shocking about her childhood.
In addition to 'Persona', De Van got a lot of inspiration from Polanski (specifically 'Repulsion'). What would an "arthouse" film be without at least one scene where the main character freaks out and has a nervous breakdown in front of a mirror?

'Black Swan' (2010)
The Polanski/Hitchcock vibe is pretty obvious, but I'd say 'Mulholland Drive' had the biggest influence on 'Black Swan'. 
Naomi Watt's audition in 'Mulholland Drive' vs. Natalie Portman's audition in 'Black Swan'
Once again, we see the female characters in bed with another in a scene that's very reminiscent of the love scene in 'Mulholland Drive'...

"Men On The Verge Of  A Nervous Breakdown"
And obviously these types of psychological thrillers aren't just for females. There's plenty of exceptions with male leads too (although i feel there's a lot more depth in these films when its a woman in the lead)...

James Stewart in 'Vertigo'
Polanski in 'The Tenant'
Bill Pullman in 'Lost Highway'


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...