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In Perspective: ​Ariel, Medea a​ nd​ Black Swan

Aronofsky, Euripides and Plath use their respective mediums to each explore the mental state of

their main characters; ​Black Swan​ by way of film techniques that cause the viewer to experience

it alongside Nina, ​Medea​ using a chorus to give more insight on Medea's motivations, and ​Ariel

using the poetic medium in order to explore a character that takes on Plath's voice.
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English 102

29 May 2019

​ ​Black Swan
In Perspective: ​Ariel, Medea &

How do you get in the headspace of an individual? Three works have taken on this

challenge by using the advantages of their respective mediums: ​Black Swan​, ​Medea,​ and ​Ariel​.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, ​Black Swan​ is a film that explores and allows the viewer to

experience the breakdown of a ballerina desperate for perfection as she deals with being both the

White and Black Swans in a production of ​Swan Lake​. ​Medea​ is the play adaptation of the Greek

mythological character, Medea, and her tragic and monstrous killing of her children as revenge

of her husband’s betrayal written by Euripides. ​Ariel​ is the final collection of poetry written by

Sylvia Plath before her suicide. Aronofsky, Euripides and Plath use their respective mediums to

each explore the mental state of their main characters; ​Black Swan​ by way of film techniques that

cause the viewer to experience it alongside Nina, ​Medea​ using a chorus to give more insight on

Medea's motivations, and ​Ariel​ using the poetic medium in order to explore a character that takes

on Plath's voice.

Black Swan​ follows the story of Nina Sayers, a perfection-obsessed ballerina getting the

role of a lifetime, both the Black Swan and White Swan in a professional production of ​Swan

Lake​. The film follows Nina as the stress of the role deteriorates her mental state and through its

filmography techniques, “allows the viewer to share Nina’s breakdown with her"
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(Vignoles-Russell 34). There is not a single moment in the movie that does not focus on Nina.

As Alice Vignoles-Russell puts eloquently in “Creating Interiority in Darren Aronofsky’s Black

Swan: An Issue of Composition, Space, and Visual Distortion”:

In​ Black Swan,​ a tight proximity to Nina is seen from the first short after the prologue
until the end of the film (Figure 1). Repeatedly, we see Nina as though we are standing
beside her or facing her front on (Figure 2). When we are not looking directly at Nina,
her close presence is known within the ​mise-en-scène​ on the edge of the frame (Figure 3).
The camera never leaves Nina as she is involved in every single shot in her story. (34)

By doing this, it allows the viewer to enter the viewpoint of Nina, to see what she sees with no

indication on what exactly is real. A good example of this occurring is brought up by Joanna

Scholefield in "Under the Skin: How Filmmakers Affectively Reduce the Space Between the

Film and the Viewer":

As Nina is about to accept her title of the Swan Queen, she looks to her fingers, delicately
holding a champagne flute. The audience is placed in the same position as Nina in an
extreme close-up, point-of-view shot as she looks down at her hands and notices a piece
of skin peeling alongside her nail (Figure 2). Nina is more concerned with and focused on
the perturbance of her cuticle than with the speech Thomas is giving in her honor, and
because of the point-of-view shot, so are we. (47)

As the audience becomes more and more ingrained into the reality of Nina, their suspense of

disbelief becomes more open, becoming more accepting of what would normally be considered

insane, as an event that could be happening. The film starts with few lies, each one only serving

its purpose of foreshadowing and set-ups to recurring hallucinations. By the end, however, it is

impractical to try to discern what is real and not in the moment. When Nina’s mother removes

the handle to her door, it would usually be incredibly jarring; however, the audience has

witnessed the more darker facets of the mother through the broken lens of Nina, it is no longer

out of the question. From this point on, what is truly happening becomes lost in the crumbling
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mental state of Nina as she prepares for her performance. There are events that are ​too​ strange

(her left foot becoming fused), but it is hard to tell if she was talking to real people, if the

Thomas in her dressing room was actually there or even spoke to her. It is during intermission

that things ramp up, more impossible occurrences happen, like feathers growing from her skin.

But there is one moment that is just real enough to confuse the audience. The killing of her rival.

During intermission, it appears her rival, Lily is preparing herself to be the Black Swan as Nina

had fallen on-stage. This brings Nina to kill her, and it is not immediately apparent if that

actually happened. She returns to the dressing room, the scene of the crime, and there remains a

blood puddle. Both Nina and the audience believe that she killed Lily. Until the actual Lily pops

her head in to compliment Nina’s Black Swan performance after intermission. The blood

disappears and Nina and the audience make the horrifying realization as she pulls a glass shard

out of her, she stabbed herself. Keeping in mind that the camera has ​still​ remained with her.

“...we are consistently at Nina’s eye level, which reinforces the sense that we are with her instead

of looking at her. When we see her face it is front on, filling the frame. When she looks away, we

can always see her eyes, expressive and engaged with emotion" (Vignoles-Russell 35).

The viewer is kept in the head of Nina and her mental breakdown. This contrasts with Euripides’

method of getting into the head of Medea.

Euripides adapted the Greek tale of mythological character Medea in ​Medea​, the tale in

which she murders her children in revenge of a broken heart. Stephen Asma relays his own

opinion in his book ​On Monsters​, "Medea, a mother who kills her own children, may be one of

the most chilling characters of all time" (55). Euripides explores this character using a staple of

Greek theatre, the chorus. The chorus in Greek theatre was a set role in performances given to a
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large group of people to represent the voice of society. In this case Medea interacts with an

all-female chorus and reveals “a surprising tour of the interior emotional, psychological torment

of a scorned lover" (Asma 55). When Medea addresses the chorus of women, she speaks her

mind in a natural way, it is not a forced soliloquy, rather a woman venting about a situation she

is in to her circle of friends.

[MEDEA] We women are the most unfortunate creatures.

Firstly, with an excess of wealth it is required
For us to buy a husband and take for our bodies
A master; for not to take one is even worse. (Euripides 8)

Now this specific event did not exactly ​need​ a chorus, it could very well been a part of a

soliloquy to the audience, a monologue to her servants. However, the chorus is a character of its

own, it is the voice of society, or for ​Medea​ specifically, it is the voice of the women of Greece.

It gives insight into how the society of Medea would react without involving the audience.

[MEDEA] ...For in other ways a woman

Is full of fear, defenseless, dreads the sight of cold
Steel; but, when once she is wronged in the matter of love,
No other soul can hold so many thoughts of blood.

CHORUS This I will promise. You are in the right Medea,

In paying for your husband back. I am not surprised at you
For being sad. (Euripides 9)

At this moment, the chorus sympathizes with Medea and her desire to cause pain to her husband

Jason for abandoning her and her children to move up in social status. It shows how Greek

society would not be surprised nor completely unsupportive of causing damage to the one who

caused her pain and grief. However, the chorus does not always agree with her.

[MEDEA] And women, though most helpless in doing good deeds,

Are of every evil the cleverest of contrivers.
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CHORUS Flow backward to your sources, sacred rivers,

And let the world's great order be reversed.
It is the thoughts of ​men​ that are deceitful,
Their​ pledges that are loose. (Euripides 14)

Medea holds the belief of women being the cleverest. However the women of the chorus reject

that notion, instead giving it to the men. It shows the Greek society’s misogyny even affecting

the women and seeping into their own belief. It is at this point Medea develops her plan to

damage Jason by killing her children. The disturbing realization is that this is still in-character,

she is not exactly the paragon of holiness. "She unambiguously demonstrates her willingness to

sink low by chopping up her brother, who is unlucky enough to have joined her on Jason's boat,

and dumping him overboard piecemeal so that her grieving father will have to collect the bits for

a proper burial" (Asma 55). She shares her plan with the women, and they do ​not​ approve.

CHORUS Since you have shared the knowledge of your plan with us,
I both wish to help you and support the normal
Ways of mankind, and tell you no to do this thing.

MEDEA I can do no other thing. It is understandable

For you to speak thus. You have not suffered as I have.

CHORUS But can you have the heart to kill your flesh and blood?

MEDEA Yes, for this is the best way to wound my husband.

CHORUS And you, too. Of women you will be most unhappy,

MEDEA So it must be. No compromise is possible. (Euripides 26)

“You have not suffered as I have.” This statement alone says many things about Medea. This

action of hers is motivated from her despair. She is willing to sacrifice her own kin to destroy

Jason. She will not accept a middle ground, and will be going through her plan no matter what.
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Medea has been completely twisted, her logic no longer aligning with the Greek society she had

lived among. Her grief and suffering shattered her.

MEDEA Women, my task is fixed: as quickly as I may

To kill my children, and start away from this land,
And not, by wasting time, to suffer my children
To be slain by another hand less kindly to them.
Force every way will have it they must dies, and since
This must be so, then I, their mother, shall kill them. (Euripides 40)

Medea believes that it would be better to have killed her own children than have the chance of

them getting worse suffering when exiled. These conclusions could only be drawn with the voice

of society replying to the shout into the void. ​Ariel​ excels in the shout in the void technique,

using a voice to project without a reply, yet a constant stream.

Ariel: The Restored Edition,​ is the final collection of poems written by Sylvia Plath, it is

the edition that places these poems in their intended spots without interference by any family

members. While there is no “main character” there is a projected voice present through these

poems. This “projected Plath” appears throughout the collected poems, as there are recurring

themes that span multiple poems.

The first time it happened I was ten.

It was an accident.

The second time I meant

To last it out and not some back at all. (Plath “Lady Lazarus”)

This connects all the way to “Daddy” when Plath writes “I was ten when they buried you. /At

twenty I tried to die /And get back, back, back to you.” In “Lady Lazarus” it is shown that the

speaker has consistently died every decade. The first time she dies, the speaker in “Daddy” sees

her father buried. A twenty she tries to die, as “Lady Lazarus” does when she tries to kill herself.
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“Dying /Is an art, like everything else. /I do it exceptionally well” (Plath “Lady Lazarus”). Death

becomes a recurring theme in the collection and does become the art that Plath writes

exceptionally well. While these may not actually have been events in Sylvia Plath’s life, they

most certainly come from some aspect of her life. An unfortunate one would be a poem that is

unsubtly inspired from her husband’s infidelity. "If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.

/You leave the same impression /Of something beautiful, but annihilating" (Plath “The Rival”). It

is called “The Rival” and deals with a person who is beautiful but destroys the speaker. This

would obviously draw conclusions to the affair, and a later poem would express what seems to

have been her thoughts with her husband, "I am too pure for you or anyone. /Your body /Hurts

me as the world hurts God." (Plath “Fever 103°”). However not everything is grim. There is a

powerful line in her poem “The Arrival of the Bee Box,” the final line reading “The box is only

temporary.” It can be seen that this projected Plath had found this suffering and knew it to be

temporary. The final stanza of the final poem does build on this, being the last hope that this

fictional arm of Plath’s life could hold onto.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas

Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring. (Plath “Wintering”)

Black Swan,​ ​Medea,​ and ​Ariel​ all entered the mind of different characters and their

hardships, each using their respective mediums to explore their mindsets. Aronofsky used

filmography techniques, Euripides used the traditional chorus, and Plath used the poetic voice to

each explore characters in a unique way. Each of these approaches help develop empathy, and it

makes one wonder how to be able to more efficiently teach this status of emotional maturity.
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Works Cited

Aronofsky, Darren, director. ​Black Swan​. Performance by Natalie Portman, Cross Creek

Pictures, 3 Dec. 2010.

Asma, Stephen T. ​On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears.​ Oxford University

Press, 2009.

Euripides, and Rex Warner. ​Medea.​ Dover Thrift Ed., 1993.

Plath, Sylvia, and Frieda Hughes. ​Ariel: The Restored Edition: A Facsimile of Plath's

Manuscript, Reinstating Her Original Selection and Arrangement.​ Harper Perrennial

Modern Classics, 2018.

Scholefield, Joanna. “Under the Skin: How Filmmakers Affectively Reduce the Space Between

the Film and the Viewer.” Film Matters, vol. 5, no. 1, Spring 2014, pp. 44–53.

EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/fm.5.1.44_1.

Vignoles-Russell, Alice. “Creating Interiority in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan: An Issue of

Composition, Space, and Visual Distortion.” Film Matters, vol. 6, no. 2, Fall 2015, pp.

32–39. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/fm.6.2.32_1.