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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

“You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.”

Art may seem inert and benign but it can affect us deeply, especially if it activates old wounds or painful memories spotlighted or triggered by the art itself or a specific time and place in which it was experienced. The spectrum of interpretation that may be proliferated through certain characters’ acts is certainly a treat for a cinephile and a bookworm like me. I’ve always been drawn to ‘dark academia’ and ‘psychological thrillers’ hence I will try and dissect a few of my favorite pieces of art (in the form of books and movies) and highlight how they all circle the same boundaries of obsession that comes with the perfection of an art style.

  1. Whiplash and Black Swan– They are both stories of drumming prodigies who strive to run away from mediocrity. This fear of being prosaic and seemingly unremarkable is the root of their forthcoming obsession with their respective art forms. The presence of a glaringly draconian and oppressive entity- which is ‘striving for perfection’ in Black Swan, and ‘feebly seeking his mentor’s approbation’ in Whiplash. A clear parallel can be drawn between the two movies, which is quite evident when the factor of ‘replacement’ enters both narratives. Art has been a constant facet of my life and the constant urge to seek validation from anyone and everyone is something that I’m privy to. Although it didn’t put me in a car crash or forced me to stab myself to death (as it does in the movies). There is an unspoken and unanimous decision; you get what you earn. We are cautioned by two suicides, in both films. (I found myself screaming ‘red flag’ at the screen but nobody listened.) The suicides come as a direct result of the sky-high expectations and pressure, effectively the same routes that Andrew and Nina choose in their respective roles. Of course, they believe themselves to be better than their predecessors. It’s not like the protagonists would follow in the savage climaxes, would they? The crescendo/climax of both the films is both different and similar at the same time. While both the characters are put through their personalized versions of the seven levels of inferno- bloodied limbs, fights with family, ultimate doom (sad but true), horrible encounters with mentors, etc.- they go on to give performances that simply leave everyone in awe (including me). What differs in their road to this momentary success is the ultimate end that is awarded to them. While Andrew is seen ending his performance on an optimistic note- for he has gained Fletcher’s nod of approval- Nina, on the other hand, becomes prey to sinister lobotomy. Yikes. Don’t get me wrong, she was perfect. But then she died.

The only person getting in the way is you.

  1. If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio– What I like most about this book was how the characters typecast in terms of Shakespearean plays, both informed and distorted their characterization. This book primarily deals with the obsession with Shakespearean plays, which seeps into their personal lives, making the reader wonder about what is being played out and what is reality. The characters almost ‘become’ their parts, making it hard to determine where their acting and their actual personality begin and end. Perhaps them acting is in fact their personality. Perhaps it is all a façade. And perhaps it’s all the same? Those are the kind of questions Rio poses throughout this book, leading to her characters becoming increasingly complex and hard to pin down. Their personalities threaten to detach from reality itself and chaos ensues. What the book also highlights is the probability of their existence of a cult- no demonic entities were mentioned in the book, I promise- and the characters unknowingly being a part of it. The close yet tempestuous relationship between the seven characters of the book makes it an interesting read. They take on these roles in their daily lives, until it gradually tears them apart. Just as in Shakespeare’s tragedies, the characters’ flaws tear them apart, dragging the story to its inevitable conclusion. It all spirals into a maelstrom of rage and passion and obsession, culminating in murder. All in all, pretty tame stuff for a murder-loving kid like me (just saying).

“Do you blame Shakespeare for any of it?”

The question is so unlikely, so nonsensical coming from such a sensible man, that I can’t suppress a smile. “I blame him for all of it,” I say.

It is a human tendency to be drawn to what we cannot have and the aforementioned two films and book warn us that opening Pandora’s box can be lethal. Perfection is what we crave, and yet, it is also the thing we should arguably run away from. We continue to strive to find that level of madness in the things that offer just a smidge of validation to us. Probably because it stands as a testimony to the love that we have for art and all that it entails.

Preesha Choudhary

Delhi South '24

Just your average teenager who loves books, food and music. And then some. She is an English major, her life revolves around reading for college, reading to sleep, reading to procrastinate etc. If you are on her page, she already likes you. Be like her. Read a lot.
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