Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Welcome to another installment of SIDE BY SIDE, where we dissect the differences and similarities between two films, be it a remake/reboot with its original, a sequel with its original, or two similar movies. This week, however, we are taking a bit of a different approach by comparing two seemingly completely different films by two different directors, but both films hold several similarities and these two films are Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN and Damien Chazelle's WHIPLASH

Let's get right into what the films are about and what they share. Black Swan, released in 2010, stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, while Whiplash, from 2014, stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Black Swan revolves around Natalie Portman, who is a ballet dancer in the harsh competitive New York ballet scene, her goal is to be a perfect dancer. This ideal of the perfect dancer is materialized by wanting to receive a role in the famous ballet show "Black Swan". Whiplash has a bit less of this plot. It surrounds Miles Teller, a drummer who is accepted into the top music school in New York. The goal for Miles Teller is, as he puts it "I just wanna be one of the greats." However, there is no goal that is materialized for this film. He just wants to be better and better and better. But enough synopsis, let's get into their similarities.

The first similarity is the base meaning of the films. Both films surround young artists, a young man, and a young woman. Both commit their entire lives to an art form, and will do anything to perfect their craft. Miles Teller pushes and pushes himself, but seems to settle for what has been handed to him in the beginning of the film, but after performing in front of J.K. Simmons, and is accepted into the advanced band class, he is eccentric. Finally, his hard work has paid off but Teller learns that Simmons who is willing to push him and push him until he breaks. In Black Swan, Portman practices and practices and always performs well. When they finally hold auditions for the "Black Swan" play, Portman seizes this opportunity and auditions for the role and receives it. Only to realize that receiving the role will not solve her problems, but only create more. Both strive to reach perfection, and they assume they reach it. But at a certain point in each films, they are stripped from this perfection and must practice and practice in order to re-gain their power.

This points to another smaller similarity in the film, something being taken away and being forced to climb back to the top. I think this is perfectly placed in both films, because both of the protagonists in the films strive for acceptance. Of course being perfect at their craft is on the surface of both films. Both of them want to be the best there ever was, is and will be. But, deep down they want this false ideal of perfection because they think it will allow people to accept them. There are two scenes in the films where the position they worked so desperately for is given to a competitor. Both of the characters react negatively to their replacement, and this ruins them mentally so they both go to the one place they understand that they can find solace, their craft. So they practice. They practice and practice till almost mental and physical breakdowns. Both characters suffer mental struggles, destroying their bodies and their equipment. They both also suffer physical struggles, pushing themselves almost to death, But this whole idea of wanting to be the best, all comes back to this idea of wanting to be accepted.

Another thing that these films share is both protagonists have a single parent, and that parent seems to be the one person in our protagonists life that accepts them. The only flaw with their parents accepting them, is that they are parents. They care about them maybe a bit too much. They want our characters to have "a real job" or "something to fall back on." They allow them to chase their dreams but they cannot fully accept that this what the characters have chosen as careers. So, what do they do? They find a fierce, relentless form of this acceptance in their mentors. For Natalie Portman, it's the director of the play. And for Miles Teller it's the band director J.K. Simmons. What they strive for in these mentors is that they push them, unlike their parents. Their mentors want them to be better, and they will force them to be better. At the end of each film, both characters seek condolence in their parents after rejection by their mentors. This is when the character both break away from the innocence that lies within their parents and make the decision to full and ruthlessly commit to their craft. They return to their mentors, and perform the best that they have ever performed. For Miles Teller, this is interrupting the final show for J.K. Simmons band with an epic, insane drum solo. For Natalie Portman, this is being physically injured in an "accident" and returning to the stage and completing the play with grace and beauty.

There are many many more similarities between these two films and I won't go into all of them but those are the biggest and most apparent points. There are a lot of visual contrasts and similarities that create even more of this companion vibe in the films. Next time you watch these two films, just pay attention to what happens, how it happens, and why it happens.

Joshua's Scores:

Black Swan: 10/10
Whiplash: 10/10

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