Translated from the French, auteur simply means “author”. There have been varied perceptions regarding this theory, its importance and effectiveness. Auteur theory is essentially “a method of evaluating films based on the director’s involvement and input”. The concept of ‘Auteur’ was first introduced by Francois Truffaut in 1954 in A Certain Tendency in French Cinema. (1) In this work he claimed that film is a great medium for expressing the personal ideas of the director. He suggested that this meant that the director should therefore be regarded as an auteur.
According to him, there are three forms in which a director may be regarded as an Auteur. He agreed with Andre Basin’s idea that the film must be the direct expression of the director’s vision. The second aspect was that the director must be skilled with the camera. He believed the director is to camera as the writer is to pen. Lastly he believed for a director to be considered as an Auteur, he must leave behind a distinctive signature (based on Alexander Astruc’s idea), visually or as an idea in the film.
(2) Years later, this concept was reintroduced by Andrew Sarris in 1962, in a publication titled “Notes on Auteur theory” (3).
Accordingly, for a director to be considered as an auteur, the director must be well versed with the technical aspects of the film. The director must have a distinct style or a signature that distinguishes his films from the others. The movies must have a theme, an inner meaning. The auteur theory has been receiving widespread criticism since the 60’s. It was argued that one person cannot control all aspects of the film. A film is a conglomeration of the efforts of lots of people. Despite this it is found to be very useful as the starting point of interpretation of some films.
Auteur Theory suggests that the best films will bear their maker’s ‘signature’, which may manifest itself as the stamp of his or her individual personality or perhaps even focus on recurring themes within the body of work. (4) Keeping the concepts of the theory in mind, one can safely conclude that if the three criteria have been satisfied, the director may be considered the auteur of the film, these criteria being recurrent style, theme and visuals. Moving on to the discussion of the topic at hand, can the director of Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky be considered as an auteur? Black Swan is his fifth film as a director.
All of his films share a similar theme. They all deal with an addiction in some form, the protagonist is always the one addicted. The movie shows the protagonist realizing his/her addiction, and there by degrading their personal life. ‘Black Swan’ and ‘The Wrestler’, share a single minded professionalism in the pursuit of a career, leading to the destruction of personal lives. (5) Aronofsky has had a lot of inspiration from different films, art forms and in general, all his films have an inherent trace of impending psychosis. However through the course of his five films one would see his stories delve more and more into the human psyche.
With Requiem for a dream, it began as a drug addiction, a hallucination induced by drugs. In The Wrestler, he simply shows persistence, a plain disregard for anything but wrestling. Though this does not show psychosis, it clearly lights up the explosive nature of his pursuit. In some ways, this may be seen as a form of addiction too. In Black Swan, the main character is portrayed as one with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). As the movie progresses, the psychosis of the protagonist progresses further, she begins to hallucinate and she draws parallels between her life and the ballad she is performing (the swan lake ballad).
As a director, there are a lot of similarities in his films. There is always a sense of accomplishment accompanied by sense of impending doom, a tragedy as the price for the success seen earlier. One of the characters (usually the protagonist) always dies or suffers some sort of major personal tragedy. He is also greatly influenced by Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Roman Polanski, Satoshi Kon, Shinya Tsukamoto, Alfred Hitchcock, Spike Lee, Federico Fellini, and Jim Jarmusch. The Wrestler and Black Swan share a great resemblance to Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.
Though the similarities were acknowledged, Aronofsky denied it being an inspiration. (7) Perfect Blue (????????? Pafekuto Buru? ) is a 1997 Japanese animated psychological thriller film directed by Satoshi Kon and written by Kon and Sadayuki Murai based on the novel of the same name by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. (8) Mima Kirigoe (the protagonist) who is a member of a Japanese pop-idol group called “CHAM! ” decides to pursue her career as an actress. Some of her fans are displeased with her sudden career change, particularly a stalker named Me-Mania.
As her new career proceeds, Mima’s world becomes increasingly noir. Reality and fantasy spiral out of control. Shortly after leaving CHAM! , Mima receives an anonymous fax calling her a traitor. Mima finds a website called “Mima’s Room” that has public diary discussing her life in great detail. She confides in her manager Rumi Hidaka, a former pop star herself, about the site, however, she is advised to just ignore it. Othe set of Double Bind, Mima succeeds in getting a larger part. The producers have agreed to give her a leading role, however as a rape victim in a strip club.
Despite Rumi’s warning that it would ruin her reputation, Mima accepts the part voluntarily. Though it is apparent that Mima is indecisive, the atmosphere of the scene traumatizes her so that she increasingly becomes unable to separate reality from fantasy. She can no longer distinguish her real life from her work. She becomes paranoid. Consequently people who had been involved in tarnishing Mima’s reputation are murdered and Mima finds evidence which makes her appear as the prime suspect. Her increasing mental instability makes her doubt her own innocence.
It turns out that the diarist of “Mima’s Room” is delusional and very manipulative, and that an intense folie a deux has been in play. The faux diarist (and murderer) believes that she is Mima who is forever young and graceful, has made a scapegoat of stalker Me-Mania. Mima knocks Me-Mania unconscious with a hammer when he attempts to rape her, and runs to her only support she has left alive, her manager Rumi. When Mima encounters Rumi, however, her manager is wearing a replica of Mima’s CHAM! Costume and crazily singing Mima’s pop songs.
Rumi is in fact the false diarist, who believes she is the “real Mima”. Rumi is angry that Mima has been ruining the “real Mima’s” reputation, and decides to save “Mima’s” pristine pop idol image through the same means she has been using all along: murder. Mima manages to incapacitate Rumi after a chase through the city despite being wounded. Rumi remains permanently delusional and institutionalized. Mima has grown from her experiences and has moved on with her life with new found independence and confidence.
One finds a striking similarity between the two storylines, if one were to imagine Mima as the White Swan – the pure innocent Nina Sayers, and Rumi as the Black Swan – the violent, sensual and dangerous psychosis of Nina. There are too many similarities between the storylines. In both cases, during the fight between the two characters (For the sake of this argument, let us assume the black swan and white swan as separate. ) The antihero of the story attacks the protagonist. In both cases the protagonist is wounded in the abdomen (almost in the same area – around the liver).
In both cases, the protagonist continues their bidding after being wounded. Nina finishes the dance while Mima goes around the city in a chase. In both cases, the protagonist is affected by the job, and they receive threatening messages. Nina sees Whore while Mima receives the fax calling her a traitor. If one were to delve deeper, one even sees the similarity in the naming of characters (however this argument is based sole on conjuncture and lacks credibility. ) Despite this there is an immense similarity between the story line and the character sketches.
Due to the overbearing nature of the similarity I find it hard to accept that Black Swan is not influenced by Perfect Blue. The inspiration may not have been intentional; however, the similarity is too much to be dismissed as coincidence. In this light such an undeniable similarity between the two films disqualifies Darren Aronofsky from being an auteur. Black Swan also draws heavily on what is called the Doppelganger effect and the split personality. These woven into a maze of mirror motif is the central theme throughout the film.
This is a strategy which is well-known in classical Hollywood cinema such as precisely ‘The Red Shoes’. 10) This being said this film has Aronofsky’s stamp all over it. There is a great similarity between the characters ‘The Ram’ and ‘Nina Sayers’. In his own words… “They are both artists who use their body Age threatens them Physical injury threatens them They only have their hands to express themselves. ”(9) In all of his films, the sets have a sense of belonging. The props used are bare minimum. Only those strictly necessary are used. His set design is simple precise yet he somehow manages to bring a sense of belonging, a nativity to his sets.
For example in the Black Swan recital, the set was simple, yet it somehow added to the elegance and grandeur bringing with it a certain ethereal quality with it. Another notable trait in his films is his music. Black Swan marks the fifth consecutive collaboration between Aronofsky and Clint Mansell. In all his films, music is exploited as a medium to dramatize the situation. The editing is also pertinent to the music. This relationship between the editing and BG score is most successfully exploited in Requiem for a Dream which gained acclaim for its hip-hop style editing.
His attention to detail is yet another endearing stamp. For example, in the opening scene of Black Swan, the change in the tutu indicating the change in emotion is subtle almost not noticeable, yet one feels the emotion without really seeing it. The small stiff (classical pancake) tutu, for the innocent cheery bit, the long flowing (romantic) tutu for poised elegance and a graceful waltz, and, the shorter (platter) tutu, for the transition into Black Swan. Also if one were to notice keenly, one would see that almost every scene of Nina alone in the film will also include a mirror reflecting Nina in some angle.
Aronofsky has made great use of this to exploit the two mindedness of Nina’s psychosis. In all respects of style, editing and mise-ene-scene Aronofsky has distinctly made his mark on all five films. In an interview, Aronofsky, says he was deeply influenced by the roller coaster Cyclone, and that he has adopted that intense structure, which keeps the audience on the edge, in his films. He aims to thrill the audience and amuse them with his films. (9) This, he certainly has achieved in his films.