Test post

06/04/2017

Seeing if I can get an image across.

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Darren Aronofsky is infatuated with the backs of peoples’ heads. As viewers, we spend most of The Wrestler (2008) literally trailing Mickey Rourke through hallways and back-stages, most of Black Swan (2010) walking behind Natalie Portman through dressing rooms and New York pedestrian ways, and a few segments of Requiem for a Dream (2000) lurking after Jennifer Connelly. But why? Not only are most of our noggins uninspiring when viewed from behind; they’re anonymous as well. Yet, because Aronofsky’s films hinge on hard-hitting portraits of the deluded and down-and-out, his characters’ distinct identities and circumstances matter to viewers. But Aronofsky is not attempting to dillute his characters by filming them from behind; he’s challenging our ability as viewers to distance ourselves from the world of the film.

As he incessantly insists, we don’t always receive emotion through faces; sometimes the backs of our heads can be just as revealing as the front. The whole thing is a lot like playing follow the leader. The Peter Pan clip is telling here: following the leader asks you not only to listen to your superiors, do as your told, and be an upright citizen, but to literally make your body like the leader’s body. It’s an induction ritual — the oldest goes first, followed by the youngest. Following their elder, the younger encounters similar obstacles and must overcome them in the same way. Ease of repetition is everything — jump over the hippo, but do it with the same nonchalance. If you don’t, you won’t belong. All errors are noticeable and unforgivable.

This is the kind of game Aronofsky’s protagonists play. The only problem is that he forces us to partake as well.  We feel like Rourke should stop being a wrestler, and we know that Portman needs a break from the ballet, but we don’t know that we should stop watching. The two of them are following their own leaders — Portman, through hours of practice, the role of the Black Swan; Rourke, through meticulous pre-match planning, his career as a wrestler. Meanwhile, we continue to follow them, plodding slowly in their footsteps throughout their daily routines. Aronofsky has left no space for critique. It’s impossible to stand outside these films when the director models your perspective after the characters’ experiences, when the sadness (The Wrestler) or the tension (Black Swan) that readers experience follows from characters who are themselves following.

Requiem for a Dream is earlier and makes less use of the stalking shot. However, the symbiotic relationship between the viewer and the characters is even more extreme. We don’t just follow Connelly; we’re a part of her.  After sleeping with a man for money, Connelly enters the hallway of a flourscent-lit apartment building (1:00:03) as we watch her through a camera fastened to her body — the fear factor cam. Now, our world turns with hers — we don’t just watch from behind as she shuffles to the left or turns to the right; we have no choice but to shuffle and turn in unison.The visceral experience of fear and disgust — the language of the fear factor cam — sutures the viewer to the protagonists. If before we followed because we were intrigued our because we sought initiation, then now we follow because we have no other option. We’re stuck. Just like the people on the screen.