I think we’ve all avoided a movie at one time or another. Sometimes we don’t see a movie because we’re “not in the mood,” which often means that we don’t want to ruin a good mood by watching a sad or serious movie. Other times we avoid movies because the subject matter hits too close to home—a character reminds us of ourselves, or a plot relates too closely to a trauma in our life. Obviously movies can effect our moods and mental states, so it seems logical that we choose to avoid certain movies because we suspect they’ll make us sad, unhappy, or even frightened.
I generally avoid scary and gory movies. Some people like to be scared, but I’m really really not one of them. I’m prone to nightmares, and I’m also a very empathetic person, so horror movies and I don’t get along. I watched Silence of the Lambs in high school and had nightmares for weeks, and I’m pretty sure I used a nightlight for awhile after seeing Se7en (for the same class, come to think of it). I’m older (and hopefully wiser) now, but I still largely avoid horror movies, because I know they will agitate and upset me.
The problem is that avoiding movies because I think they’ll bother me means I’m costing myself possible enjoyment and enrichment. I’m not challenging myself. It’s logical to avoid feeling emotions you don’t like, but challenging yourself to see a movie out of your comfort zone can be a rewarding experience. There’s something to be said for forcing yourself to see movies that make you uneasy. I dreaded seeing Melancholia, and while it wasn’t a particularly positive experience (you can hear all about it on LAMBcast #98), I’m still kind of glad I saw it; though it was hard to watch, it made me think about some really difficult things, like mortality, love, family, and so on. (Lars von Trier: that guy knows how to party, amirite?) At the time I was pissed that von Trier made me cry in a movie theater, and I often argue that his films are manipulative, but with some introspection and time I can also appreciate that Melancholia made me feel and think some really difficult things. He might not be my favorite director, but I have to admit that von Trier made me look at the world and myself in new ways, and it’s for this reason that I’m actually glad I suffered through what I once referred to as a “masochistic” movie.
Like Melancholia, I was apprehensive about Black Swan. I’ve watched most of Darren Aronofsky’s movies, and they’ve always haunted me afterward. Requiem for a Dream, in particular, provided such a visceral portrayal of drug addiction that some of its images seemed to root themselves in my brain for an uncomfortable period of time. Just thinking about one particular scene gives me what can only be described using the clinical term heebie-jeebies. Aronofsky’s movies have this paralyzingly profound way of making the viewer feel like they are the main character, and unfortunately almost all of his main characters go crazy. Watching an Aronofsky film isn’t a particularly pleasant experience, like say, watching a movie musical. And it’s because of the challenging nature of his films–their utter brutal nature, the unhinged mental states of his characters, the terrifying visual tricks and moments of horror–that I avoided seeing Black Swan until (yes, I admit it) yesterday.
While watching Black Swan last night, I realized that the reason I had avoided it was the very reason I shouldn’t have avoided it. Aronofsky’s films are a challenge not only to the viewer, but to the film form itself. With Black Swan (as with his other films), Aronofsky created a film experience that made me identify so wholly with the main character that I felt like I was going crazy along with her. I felt like I was inside Nina’s head, watching her/me lose her/our mind. It’s a subjectivity that I consider unparalleled in contemporary cinema, and that’s why it’s so damn unsettling. Because nobody can make you feel so completely, chaotically wrecked as Aronofsky.
I didn’t have nightmares about the movie last night, but Black Swan was the first thing I thought about when I woke up. And I thought about it on the train to work, and while at work, and then I came home and I thought about it while writing this editorial. It wasn’t easy to watch (I even covered my eyes at one point), but I’m glad that I challenged myself to see a film that scared me. It was an enriching experience and a risk well worth taking. I was certainly unsettled by Black Swan, but I’ve realized that being unsettled can be a great thing. I’m not going to run out and rent Human Centipede any time soon, but I think I’ll keep pushing my own boundaries and watching films that challenge me. He may have been a creepy jerk, but Nina’s artistic director was right about one thing: “The only person standing in your way is you.”